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Lowell Pierce and his daughter-in-law, Diane Pierce, admire the flowers in Ketchikan, Alaska, where houses are built on stilts and up steep cliffs. Submitted Photo

Alaskan cruise: Dreams postponed for half a century is now fulfilled

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The original plan was for two young girls - Doris and Delores - returning from Hawaii in 1952 to take a side trip up the Inside Passage to Alaska.

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The girls had worked summer jobs in Colorado and New Mexico and used their savings to fly to Hawaii, work there for a few months - Delores at the Methodist church in Honolulu and Doris as a car hop at Kau Kau Corner, Crossroads of the Pacific.

This summer, 57 years later, Doris and Lowell Pierce of Balm Lake north of Debs, with the help of their son, Rodney Pierce, and his wife, Diane, of Grand Rapids, booked passage on the Star Princess cruise ship for the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Whatever we earned that summer (1952), we took off with. We lived in a guesthouse for girls on Waikiki Beach. We wanted to take a ship back to the United States because we had never experienced sailing, but the trip was cut short when our ship, the Aorangi, crashed into the pier at Vancouver Island.

The Princess is 17 decks high - we were on Deck 10.

Meals were to die for. We chose "anytime dining," so we had a choice of dining rooms. Most breakfasts we ate at the buffet on Deck 14. Snacks available any time.

Our room had a high glass door looking out on a balcony furnished with table and chairs.

We departed at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, from Seattle, Wash. Monday, Aug. 3, was a full day at sea and ended with a formal dress dinner. By 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, we were docking at a unique town, Ketchikan, Alaska. My favorite.

The Ketchikan houses are built on stilts along the sea passage, and more houses are built up the bank and mountain range. As we hiked up to the salmon ladder, we often sat on people's steps to their homes far above the sea. How could they build or even carry groceries and furniture up those stairs?

We watched the salmon climb the ladder (jump up and over the rocks). When they finally succeeded, they swam across to shallower, warmer water to spawn. Then, as I understand, they die.

We also saw totem poles of Tlingit Indian origin displayed at the Totem Heritage Center.

The next adventure was when our ship went into the Tracy Arms Fjords, which are in a spectacular corner of the Tongass National Forest. They are very beautiful, and what an experience to see out big ship turn around within inches of both sides to head out to sea again.

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, we arrived in Juneau and took the Roberts Tramway up a very steep, nearly vertical track for a great view. After the tram ride, we hiked to the capitol, and Rod and Diane walked on up to see the governor's mansion. Several people went on fishing junkets as we were in Juneau for eight hours.

Thursday was on to Skagway. Lowell and I took the train, a narrow-gauge railroad completed in 1910, up the 1898 Whitepass and Yukon Route, the primary route from Skagway to the gold fields. A steel bridge constructed in 1901 was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world. It was used until 1969 when a 675-foot tunnel was driven through the mountain. A sad point was Dead Horse Gulch where 3,000 pack horses were left to die without water or food.

From our vantage point in the last rail car, we had a super view. We passed the gold rush cemetery and were impressed with the many flowers including fire weed and dark green ferns.

As we traveled on, we saw glaciers calving - dropping chunks of ice into the passage waters. Generally, the water was very calm and just rocked us to sleep.

We did not stop at Sitka, which is similar to Ketchikan, a blend of sea and land, again with houses built on stilts and up the cliffs.

On Saturday, we docked at Victoria, British Columbia, the only Canadian port we visited. It happened to be the town in the spring of 1952 where the Aorangi traveling from Australia to Canada had major mechanical problems and rammed the pier.

This messed the ship up a good bit. A message went out to the residents of Victoria to come down to the waterfront and pick up passengers. My girlfriend and I had a lovely time touring the island. At that time, there was a gravel road from the dock area to the village. Now everything is paved and beautiful flowers are everywhere.

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