Fran Golden and Midgi Moore, authors of 100 Places To Do in Alaska Before You Die, talk with Lea about the travel superlatives of the biggest, most northern and most spectacular state.
-- We start with cruising. Does size matter when it comes to seeing glaciers, up close? (Not that much, as in other things.) We name glaciers and describe some of the best excursions off the ship, including food tours, whale watching, flight seeing to a salmon bake, sports fishing, the Skagway train -- and dive bars, of course.
-- Fran loves snorkeling in the cold Alaska waters, among the "surprisingly colorful purple, orange and red starfish," and even an octopus. And she wants to try standup paddle boarding among the icebergs.
-- Midgi suggests you "get into the sky" to see Alaska, land on glaciers, dogsled, hike and flightsee. Lea tells of flying from Ketchikan to the Tongass National Park to see bears, and helicoptering to a glacier that had never been walked on before -- maybe.
-- We talk of Alaskan coastal cities including Juneau, Haines, Ketchikan, Skagway and Sitka.
-- Then we turn to the land. Denali National Park "wild, like the Serengeti. And Fairbanks, with its spectacular northern lights.
-- Fran and Midgi each talk of five of their favorites of the 100 Things they write about.
-- Then they each end with their favorite memories of Alaska. (And Lea adds hers!)
Fran Golden is a long-time Alaskaphile and author of numerous books and articles about Alaska. An award-winning travel writer and specialist in cruises, she has explored Alaska by land and sea. Fran lives in Cleveland with her travel-writer husband, David Molyneaux. Midgi Moore, who lives in Juneau, is a culinary travel professional who owns Juneau Food Tours and Global Tours Connect, an online marketplace.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written many travel books, including Places I Remember, and has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter, Travelea on Instagram, and blogs about travel at forbes.com . Contact her on her Facebook page, Places I Remember by Lea Lane, or her website, placesirememberlealane.com.
Follow Places I Remember with Lea Lane wherever you listen to podcasts. New travel episodes every Tuesday. And please review it on Apple!
*Podcast edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 00:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. 49th State is home to magnificent mountains, immense glaciers, and massive stretches of wilderness. Alaska is a unique place where people live in close proximity to the natural world. 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before you Die, is written by our guests, award winning travel writer Fran Golden and certified culinary travel professional who lives in Juneau, Alaska, Midgi Moore. The book is just out and I'm happy to have them here. Welcome, Fran and Midgi. Okay, there's so much to talk about Alaska. So let's just start with something that most people are interested in right away is cruising. So what are the highlights? Let's start with that. We'll go into some details. But tell us.
Fran Golden 01:12
Well, the big highlights when you cruise in southeast Alaska are the glaciers. That's what everybody you know, if you ask, what's your number one thing, you're probably gonna say glaciers, eagles and bears with some variations, but the glaciers are our best viewed from the water. And they're astounding, you're looking at giant walls of ice and with a blue tinge often, and as you're looking how sized chunks fall off into the sea. And it's a visceral experience. You You hear it? It sounds like thunder. You see it you feel the spray, you feel the ripples under your ship, and it's just an unforgettable experience.
Lea Lane 01:53
Do you recommend a smaller ship so I can get closer? Or does it not matter much?
Fran Golden 01:58
You can get a closer view on a smaller ship, but really you can you can get a magnificent view from a large ship as well. And the captains do an amazing job steering the ship around in circles so that everybody gets a view so you don't have to run from one side of the deck to the other side. Yeah. And you know, so small ship if you want a little more intimate view, they don't get that much closer. I mean, they get closer, but they don't go right up to it because that would be dangerous. You could get a view from a kayak too, which I've done in Glacier Bay, which is also amazing. But but it's it's no less astounding seeing it from a large ship. Yeah.
Lea Lane 02:38
What are the famous glaciers that that people should note? Midgi, what are the names of some of them?
Midgi Moore 02:44
In Southeast Alaska, many of the cruise ships will go into the Sawyer glaciers at Tracy Arm, and then they'll go into Glacier Bay. And there is the Margaret glacier, I believe that's in Glacier Bay. And it's so they do get really close the difference between Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm is Tracy Arm is really narrow. And you're going to go through this really beautiful, narrow passageway where the mountains just go straight up. And you're very likely to see mountain goats and bears and different wildlife. And then in Glacier Bay, it's just vast, it's huge and wide and big. And so you get two very different experiences doing kind of the same thing. And so it's pretty exciting to be able to go do that.
Lea Lane 03:31
Can the big ships go into Tracy? Yes. Yeah.
Fran Golden 03:36
There's also several glaciers named for East Coast colleges, which is kind of a
Lea Lane 03:40
I heard about that, Harvard and Yale. That's funny. Who named them, do you know?
Midgie Moore 03:48
A lot of times they have school children name them, they do contests to name glaciers and things like that. And I think probably back in the day, they had you know, somebody worked for the state name or something like that, like
Fran Golden 04:01
An explorer. Some of them are.
Midgie Moore 04:03
Yeah, for sure. And another one that actually there are two others that I think that are must sees, if you come up, is if you do come up on a cruise, you have an opportunity to take a flight scene excursion, called Taku lodge through wings airways, and that one will take you flying over an ice field, you land on the Taku River and you go in the lodge for this amazing salmon feast. But right across the river is what they call a tidewater glacier with a water in the glacier knee. And that's the hole in the wall glacier. And it's really close to you and it's huge. So the views are just magnificent. So you're having this amazing meal, you go out and you just start walking around the grounds and then right across the river is this incredible glacier. And then the second one that which is the most popular thing to do here in Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier and that you can when you come to town, there are dozens of different excursions. that you can either book on your ship or book directly or even just take a cab out to and that to go see the Mendenhall Glacier where you can do a very easy walk out to the nugget waterfalls, which are these huge waterfalls right beside the glacier and get just incredible views and a lot of people actually you can canoe and kayak into that. Mendenhall lake which is the lake in front of the glacier.
Lea Lane 05:23
That was terrific. I like to ask you what tours off a ship would you recommend but are some really interesting ones? I mean, we all know about certain ones that you can do but what are some special ones?
Midgie Moore 05:35
Well, I'm going to be biased to say food tours because I own the food tour in Juneau and our tours are sold on cruise lines. So I'll be a little biased there. But a lot of fun ones too are whale watching. And we are watching in southeast spectacular and sport fishing. That is one of the things people like to do when they come to Alaska is check off their bucket list is to go sport fishing and so those are fun. And then some of the off the beat ones are in Ketchikan you can go snorkeling, which is one of France favorite things, and I think she could speak to that better than I could. But then in Skagway, there's the train which is one of the most popular things to do. But then there's also little dive bars that you can go into and just hang out with the locals. So there's a lot of different things you can do in each port.
Lea Lane 06:23
Tell me about snorkeling and those icy waters.
Fran Golden 06:27
Oh, it's fantastic. It's actually surprisingly colorful under the sea in Alaska. There are purple and orange and red starfish. The salmon going by they're kind of ugly fish but they might swim by I've done it at Ketchikan I've also done it off of a small ships of UnCruise Adventures. So the last time I did it, I was in the wild and I hung out with an octopus.
Lea Lane 06:51
Oh my, my favorite. My octopus teacher right?
Fran Golden 06:57
And it's cold you know you're either in a dry suit or wetsuit depending on the operator but you know, then you warm up afterwards it's not you're not gonna freeze it's you know, by cold. It's maybe 60s not not 30s
Lea Lane 07:10
You know really that's not, I would assume this is summer summer fun.
Fran Golden 07:14
Yeah, I have never done it in winter. I have done in early fall. That was a chilly.
Lea Lane 07:20
Yes, so how about paddleboarding? Have you paddle boarded around the the glaciers or the icebergs.
Fran Golden 07:26
I have kayaked extensively, but I have not paddleboard it. That's something that's a skill that I have yet to conquer. You know, with with the shore excursions another thing is it's really worth it to get into the sky. I'm always getting asked, you know, should I spend all this money on a flight seeing or helicopter trip? And the answer is, you know, when's the next time you're going to go to Alaska? Exactly. So it is it is worth doing it. With helicopters, they can actually land on some of the glaciers of ice field. So you can land on a glacier and go dog sledding or go through a hike, go on a hike through the crevice, you know, seeing the crevices, looking down at crevices and with the flightseeing. I mean, you fly over glaciers, but also get a really good idea about how these towns you're visiting are totally surrounded by wilderness. So you're seeing mountains and forests on streams is really quite amazing.
Lea Lane 08:25
I took a flightseeing trip from Ketchikan is that the Tongas Forest there? Yes, it was exquisite. We went to an area where we could see bears all around us. And there was a salmon farm and so forth. It was one of the best tours I ever took. And another one when I took a helicopter up, I don't know if this is for real. But they said they have a map and they take you to a glacier that has never been walked upon before. Is that true? It could be. I didn't see any beer cans or anything.
Midgie Moore 09:03
So I think it might be true that you can see beer cans. I mean that there's so many glaciers here and they could be you know, maybe it's a part of the glacier. That is new. I mean, it's really a fun fact about Juneau. It's the largest land wise largest capital city in the United States. But two thirds of that is an ice field. So we have 1200 square miles of ice field. And so you could find all kinds of different new places to flightseeing land that no one's gone to before because they may be going over to the Herbert glacier, the Mendenhall Glacier, one of the other ones that's nearby and so yeah.
Lea Lane 09:39
That's likely. There's a charming little town called Haines near Juneau. That's such a pretty little Harbor Town. It's very special. There are lots of little towns like that. Let's talk about the couple of the other towns around the coast. We mentioned mentioned Ketchikan. I know there are lots of totem poles there. What else do you see? In Kenya? Chicken.
Fran Golden 10:00
Well Ketchikan is you know, a lovely little town that's gotten a bit commercialized. But there are there's an amazing totem pole pole collection, I think one of the best anywhere. So, so to take the time to see them, I recommend you do a guide. You go with a guide, who is an Alaska Native who can really tell you how to look at the totem poles, because they're not just works of art. They tell a very significant story. And there's areas outside of catching Henry, you can go with the feet, the elders or other people from the tribes really describe what you're seeing.
Lea Lane 10:37
How about Skagway, we mentioned that that's a goal. They're a gold rush era town everybody loves to walk around there and go in the little bars and so forth and the railroads goes there. What does that railroad go to?
Fran Golden 10:48
So the white pass and Yukon railroad actually goes up to Canada and it goes through the actual area where these crazy gold miners the Gold Rush took place in around 1898 8097 8098 8099 and and the white pads actually shows you how crazy they were because you go up these amazing hills and mountains and gulches and you know, there's there's dead horse Gulch where people discarded their dead horses and mules because so many of them died during the trek to give you and they're doing this in not like beautiful summer conditions in winter. And they're trying to get to the Yukon and Canada for the gold rush.
Lea Lane 11:33
Can you still go pan?
Fran Golden 11:36
You can pan a lot of places in Alaska and and you know when you're in an area that has gold panning, you'll find that the hardware stores even sell the pans, it's kind of a cool souvenir even if you don't get gold.
Lea Lane 11:49
At least you get the pan right.
Midgi Moore 11:50
Yeah, yeah, they're still gold in the hills.
Lea Lane 11:54
How about Sitka? That's the last town it's very Russian. I think you can see Russia from Sitka right?
Fran Golden 12:01
No. at all, from Alaska is in the way, far Arctic on these islands that you can you can get to on some luxury cruise ships occasionally go past that area, when they're doing these Russian Arctic itineraries. But no, you can't see Russia, but there's a strong Russian heritage. Again, that really strong Alaska Native Heritage, including beautiful totem poles and a wonderful totem pole.
Lea Lane 12:33
Well, it sounds wonderful. We haven't even mentioned whales, eagles, and so much wildlife but we know it's one of the great places on Earth to find wild life and water animals especially. So cruising is a winner. How about land a lot of people do not get to the land part. Just tell us what are some of the highlights? I know one is Denali National Park. Tell us about that.
Fran Golden 13:00
Yeah, if you go on a cruise in Alaska, and you don't stay for Denali, you really miss something. Because again, you were talking about the wildlife and Denali is kind of like the Serengeti, you know, it's almost like going on safari there because the wildlife just roams freely in this vast Park. And then, of course, you got a clear day, you get views of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, which is so tall that it's shrouded in its own weather systems. So it's often cloudy.
Lea Lane 13:30
The day I was there that guide was so excited. I don't think he had seen it in three months. And we saw the whole thing. So it was really exciting to watch him. I want to mention Fairbanks because of the Northern Lights. I was up there. And I just thought the Northern Lights I had seen them other places. I thought they were so spectacular. There was so much purple and every night they were excellent is there. There's a reason I read about it, but I'm not sure what it is. But I think if people want to see Northern Lights, that's about as short as you can get if you go in the cooler months, correct.
Midgie Moore 14:07
Is a hotspot for it. Absolutely. And one of the things that we actually talked about in the book is seeing the Northern Lights, but also the Chino Hot Springs, because there's nothing more Alaskan than sitting in a hot spring and looking up and seeing these this amazing painting in the sky. It's just so mind blowing. It's just it's very surreal and beautiful. It's
Fran Golden 14:32
It's crazy. You know, I did it last year well right before COVID And I'm sitting there and it's like minus 30 degrees outside and I'm looking at the night sky and my body is warm in the hot springs with my hair is completely frozen.
Lea Lane 14:49
Frosted over your hair. No, my vision is of those snow monkeys in Japan was sitting with ice on their face but that's really nothing to Be here. So to get there, there's a rail. I know I took a rail road from Anchorage up to Fairbanks is that the one everybody takes? Right? There must just be the one Line Railroad. Yeah, it was very comfortable. Very nice. And I do recommend that I think if you can do both, it's really a perfect trip. Now, I just would like to ask each of you, you have 100 places in your book of things to do. I would like to ask each of you have five of your favorite things in your book to do that would give us 10. Start.
Midgi Moore 15:38
Can you go first?
Fran Golden 15:40
Well, so I'm kind of the wild child between us in that I like to spend a lot of time outdoors, you know, mid, she's a little more sophisticated. So so so in the book, we give you some of my favorite places to go hike kayaking. I definitely expand on snorkeling. My personal wish list right now I haven't been there. But we do feature in Book is getting up to the Arctic where there are sand dunes in Kobach National Park.
Lea Lane 16:11
I heard about that. How is that possible?
Fran Golden 16:14
I've seen the snow, I've been up north and I've been up above the Arctic Circle in winter. So I've seen you know the snow and experienced my deep minus 50 degrees. But now I want to be warm in the sand dunes. Um, I love dive bars. And my favorite is ketose K in Petersburg, which is a major fishing capital and you'll you'll definitely hang out with fishermen and hear their true tales. And they're tall tales.
Lea Lane 16:41
Is that near any city, any town that we would know.
Fran Golden 16:44
It's near Petersburg.
Lea Lane 16:45
It's near Petersburg.
Fran Golden 16:48
Where there's very strong Norwegian heritage as a matter of fact, other sort of discoveries. I've lost track of how many I've had. But other discoveries that I made during the during writing the book is there's a place in Kodiak Island, you can actually watch rocket launches, they launch rockets in Kodiak Island. You know some things that you just don't think of Alaska, and to bring it more home to Alaska. Outside of Fairbanks. There's a reindeer ranch where you can go hiking reindeer, but you can also do yoga with reindeer.
Lea Lane 17:17
Oh, I've heard of yoga with goats. This is bigger, and they're more Alaska, but they don't get on your back.
Fran Golden 17:23
I hope they don't get on your back. But they're very gentle and lovely. And you know, it's a beautiful experience being with them.
Lea Lane 17:30
Well, that's interesting, for sure. Midgi, what about you?
Midgi Moore 17:34
So my five are a little bit different because I do enjoy more of the Food Wine, the dining scene and things like that there are certain Alaskan experiences that I love top of my list is whale watching. We list the importance of whale watching in and when you're especially if you're coming on a cruise ship, that you might see whales from your ship. But there's ship is not going to stop and let you really embrace that moment where whale watching charter companies take you right to the whales, you'll get to see bubble net feeding if it's the right time of year. And oftentimes, you'll see the baby whales with the mamas. And it's just amazing. So that's one of my favorite things to do. The other one is sport fishing. I'm married to a charter captain. So I love fishing. I really love to eat it. I love to catch it. And I think that's tons of fun. And then one of the ones that I haven't been able to do yet but actually had so much fun writing is I want to go to a DAC and see the unofficial, smallest National Forest. They it was built or planted. Back in World War Two, when their commanding officer was trained. They were there for the war. And the commanding officer was trying to bring a little joy to US troops. So he had them plant these trees, and they decorated them as Christmas trees. And if you've been to a DAC, it's pretty it's hilly and Rocky, but not a whole lot of trees there. And it's very, very windy. And so it's really kind of cool. I would love to see that my husband has been a DAC and he was just like, yeah, there's a little forest. It's weird. It's like 2530 trees is tiny little, like a bonsai forest. Yeah, I'd love to see that. So that's three.
Midgi Moore 19:15
My one that I do get to do is go to my favorite bar in Juneau called The Narrows, which was an old dive bar and it was purchased by a young man who was a local kid grew up here, and he and his dad completely stripped it down and redid it made it into this beautiful high end cocktail bar. And he serves cocktails with glacier ice, and he actually there's a job here called an ice Wrangler. And he hires ice wranglers to go out and wrangle icebergs, and he uses that ice in his cocktails. That is old ice. That is old days. And so you are having a you know, a cocktail with ice that's 1000 years old. You're really like literally drinking in Alaska. And then the last thing I think would be because I am a foodie. And that's what I do is eat local and drink local. We have so many distilleries in bars throughout the state and are and breweries and so you can really have a wonderful time experiencing Alaska and I would recommend big swig tours out of Anchorage, which takes you on the Alaska railroad up to Talkeetna. And you see all the beautiful sights and scenery and everything. And then on your way back, you're in a private van, and they stop it for different microbreweries. And you get to taste real Alaskan beer brewed by real Alaskans. The difference between Alaskan beers and and especially the distilleries is that they forage a lot of ingredients from our rain forests, and from the surrounding areas. So you might get spruce tips, you might get Labrador tea and all these different herbs and things that grow here in Alaska. So again, you're drinking in the state. And I think that's such a wonderful way to experience Alaska.
Lea Lane 21:02
Sounds fabulous. Let me just ask you the name of the podcast is places I remember I've already asked you some of your favorite things to eat up. You have a very favorite thing you want to share.
Fran Golden 21:13
We talked about my favorite Alaska story. So my favorite Alaska story. I'm of course, you know, going off on my own, but you have to be careful. You know, I'm off a cruise ship. I'm in Skagway, I'm hiking to see a glacier like so I'm hiking straight uphill. To see this turns out beautiful clear glacier lake. And I like to blame the height for this little misunderstanding. But I get around the lake and I see a creature that I'm pretty sure is a wolf. And as the creature comes closer to me, I was with a couple friends I start freaking out. And I start seeing the Red Rock RIDING HOOD Wolf, you know, completely teeth and everything. And my friends and I decide, you know, we know that if you see a bear, you're supposed to gather together to make noise. So we gather together, and we're making noise and we're throwing rocks against trees and banging sticks and shouting. And at the wolf keeps coming closer. And then from behind the wolf comes a woman. And around this point, we realize that our wolf has dog tags. And she says what's the matter? Did you see a bear? That we did.
Lea Lane 22:26
Midgi Moore 22:27
I have to say that many, many years ago I was an army wife. And we were stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, which is in Fairbanks. And I had moved there from Georgia. So I had not been in cold weather for a very long time. And it was in February and it was 70. Below it was a little little chilly. But I had a job where I used to do singing telegrams in character. And so I was my husband at the time was picking me up and driving me home from one of my little singing things. And as we're looking are in, it's pitch black, and we're looking at we're driving home, I look out the window and I see this stuff in the sky, these colors. And I was like pull over pull over, pull over. So he pulls over and the sky just came to light with these beautiful colors and ribbons and they were swaying. And it was almost musical. And it was my first time seeing the Northern Lights. And I to this day, and this was over 30 years ago to this day, I can still feel that feeling of awe and magic and wonder when people talk about it. Because I was like I know, I know. And it's very difficult to describe. You need to see it for yourself.
Lea Lane 23:42
And I think it's probably number one on everybody's bucket list today. I say to if you can do it, try to try to see them. I have a little story. It's very short. But you were talking about talk call Kena is that the name? I don't pronounce it right but is a very quirky little community which brews beer, it's very pretty. You can go kayaking, and it was lovely. But the highlight was when I got to meet the mayor, and you might have met the mayor as well. But you can't do that any more. Unfortunately, because Mayor Stubbs is no longer with us. And the mayor was a cat. Yeah. And he was a very he's my favorite politician I think I've ever met. But I remember that that's a favorite memory of Alaska. Look, it's been terrific. Boy. It's one of the great places in the world to travel to and your book 100 Things to Do in Alaska before you die is available wherever books are sold. I want to thank you Fran golden Michi more. We have learned the best of Alaska and I think everybody wants to go immediately.
Midgi Moore 24:44
Well, thank you. They can also buy it from us directly at our website, 100 things alaska.com And if they do, one of us will autograph it for you. So we're super excited about that but truly appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit, why we love Alaska so much, and why writing this book was just such a joy for us.
Fran Golden 25:07
It was really a labor of love. You know, I don't live there, but I've been there more than 25 times. I'm a little bit addicted to Alaska.
Lea Lane 25:14
Yeah, it's a great place.
Fran Golden 25:15
It's one of my very favorite places.
Lea Lane 25:16
Thanks so much.
Lea Lane 25:24
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.