Musher’s Camp & Sled Dog Experience #TuesdayTravels

Tuesday Travel buttonOne of the highlights of my recent Alaska cruise was our afternoon excursion from Skagway to the Musher’s Camp for a sled dog ride and a chance to hold a puppy. Wild horses couldn’t have prevented me from going.

Our guide for the day was a young man from South Carolina named Jay, or J-dot as he liked to be called. He drove us out to the musher’s camp in a national forest outside Skagway. It’s a beautiful rural area, as you can see in this photo.

Alaska sceneWe had to stop the bus some distance from the camp. After a short hike, we were loaded into this military-style vehicle (I forget the official name) for the drive to where the sled dogs were waiting.

military vehicleFour teams of sled dogs awaited us, some of them barking madly, apparently ready to run! Now if you’re expecting to see photos of beautiful purebred Siberian or Malamute huskies, you’ll be disappointed. The dogs used for sled racing in Alaska are mixed breed. The mushers breed huskies with other breeds that are bred for speed, like greyhounds. What they get is a Heinz 57 of mixed breeds of various colors, including some with blue eyes, though the body type is typically long and lean. (Huskies are good for expeditions where strength is more important than speed.)

sled dogsThis one had green eyes, though I never could get him to look into the camera lens to prove it.

white sled dogWe piled into four golf carts, each one pulled by a team of eight dogs.

mushers campIf you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.

sled dog team

Each team was made up of an experienced sled dog paired with a younger dog, typically about eleven months old. The dogs are harness on either side of a trace that runs down the middle of the dogs to the sled. Once they got started, it wasn’t difficult to figure out which ones were the newbie. One of them jumped a little too high and ended up straddling the middle trace. He didn’t look too comfortable.

sled dog team

At one point, the vehicle slowed a bit and I saw that one of the dogs had paused to do his business. Others just lifted their leg out to the side, and not always the outward side! I imagine they had to be hosed down at the end of the day. We were all laughing during the run. The kicker was when one of the dogs jumped over the middle trace to hump the dog next to him. That had everyone laughing. What can I say? Dogs being dogs.

Jay and friends

J dot (on the left) and friends

When we got back to the camp, we watched a short presentation about running the Iditarod. Then came the high point of the trip for many, esp. the children (of all ages) in the group. We got to hold two-week old puppies. Charlie Brown was right: Happiness is a warm puppy.

brown puppy

Linda cradling a two-week-old puppy.

Another litter was taking a nap. I love the way they sleep all piled on top of each other. They really are pack animals from birth.

puppiesWhen we got back to the cruise ship, we saw that another musher had brought a group of older puppies on board for people to hold. It was a fun day for all.


Londonderry & The 12th of July #TuesdayTravels #history

Tuesday Travel buttonSince it’s the 12th of July, I’m taking a short break from the Alaska cruise posts to focus on Derry or Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The town’s original name was Derry, Irish for Oak Grove, but was later renamed Londonderry to reflect the funding of its building by the guilds of London.

Part of the walls which surround the city of Derry

Part of the walls which surround the city of Derry/Londonderry

Last July, Linda Prine and I took a cruise around the British Isles with my brother Mac and his wife Renee. One of our ports of call was Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland. For our shore excursion, Linda and I took a motorcoach tour to the city of Londonderry, or Derry, as it was originally called. There aren’t many of the old walled cities left in Europe, and I wanted to see and to walk the walls of Derry.

If you’re not familiar with the 12th of July as a holiday, it’s probably because you don’t have ancestors who were Orangemen, i.e. Irish Protestants from Northern Ireland, like I do.

Here’s the background:

In the early 17th century, plantations were set up in the northern province of Ulster by James I of England (James VI of Scotland) son of Mary Queen of Scots. The land was confiscated from the Irish chieftains and handed over to wealthy British landowners who peopled the plantations with Scottish Presbyterians, mostly from from the Lowlands of Scotland, since the land had been severely depopulated during wars in the previous century.

Northern Ireland Political Map

Northern Ireland Political Map,

In 1688-1691, another war broke out, this time between supporters of William of Orange and the Scottish Jacobites, who hoped to restore James II to the throne. (In Britain, this conflict is known as The Glorious Revolution.) The Williamites won, thanks to victories at the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne on July 12, 1690, which later became a holiday.

Northern Irish Protestants still celebrate the 12th of July, which is also known as Orangemen’s Day since the main celebrants are the Orange Order, a fraternal organization dating back to the 17th century. Yes, some of my ancestors were members of the lodge.

The animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was the cause of The Troubles in the second half of the 20th century. Derry was particularly affected by the Troubles, which mostly ended with the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement of 1998. You can still see sights like this Protestant enclave in Derry.

Loyalist Mural In Derry

Loyalist mural seen through ancient city walls via license

A better sight is the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Foyle River, which opened in 2011.

Peace Bridge (Derry)

Londonderry, Northern Ireland : Peace Bridge over Foyle river,

The recent Brexit vote has led to talk of Northern Ireland finally leaving the UK to join with the Republic of Ireland. Wouldn’t that be an interesting development?

Happy 12th of July, even if there aren’t any parades in your neighborhood.