We came in on the Coral Princess ship and had booked this excursion through the cruise line. It was one of my favorite excursions of the trip and hands-down my kids favorite.
Bill, a retired computer science high school teacher from Florida with a passion for history, was our guide for the van ride up to the sled dog camp and back. To our surprise, the camp is actually atop of an old mining camp and we were given lots of information about mining along our trip up Mine Road by Bill. We stopped to see various old mining equipment and the old superintendent's house and he shared his views on the future of mining.
The sled dog camp sits in a beautiful picturesque valley with a small creek waterfall and some mountains still clinging snow even in late August. We met our musher, Tonya Schlentner, who had raced in the Yukon Quest just after turning 18, completing the race in a year that 1/3 teams did not cross the finish line. For my husband and me, spending an hour with Tonya and hearing her experience with racing, with raising dogs, being an actual local Alaskan (she lives in Fairbanks during the non-summer months), etc. was the highlight of this excursion. You could tell she loved her dogs, loved mushing, and loved Alaska. She answered all of our questions and was very accommodating with our children who were so excited to meet the dogs and couldn't wait to hold the 25 day old puppies.
Anyone who says that these dogs are mutts and that mushers abuse their dogs simply don't know what they are talking about. Tonya explained how these dogs are specifically bred for health, personality, mushing capability, longevity, and intelligence; whether or not the dog is pretty has little to do with the sport, and I doubt the dogs care! The lead dog on our sled ride was 14 years old and happily pulling along the cart. The dogs who were not chosen went wild and barked and howled upset to not be chosen. The summer time is very hot for these dogs, and after our two mile run with a break for them to lay down in a man-made watering hole along the side, you could tell by petting the dogs and seeing them pant how hot even a cool summer day is for them. Tonya explained how anything above zero degrees was very hot for them, and in seeing them pull back into the yard, I now understand why these tours are kept short! The dogs that pull the sleds are rotated throughout the different tours of the day to prevent the dogs from getting too hot and fatigued and to make sure that they all get a turn to do what they love, pull!
On arriving back in the yard, we could tour the grounds where Tonya explained the pros and cons of different types of sleds and provided us with cookies and a hot beverage. Then, noticing our kids were about to explode with anticipation on holding the puppies, shortened our tour a bit to give them extra time holding those precious little dogs.
After the tour, Bill provided us with more narration about the Tongass Rainforest and the area. He was really a wonderful tour guide, he even provided us with a map of the area upon our exit from them van and gave us suggestions on where we might have lunch and on other must see attractions for our afternoon.
I can't say enough good things about the people that run this tour. It is clear that they love what they do and they love these dogs and the dogs love them. With 125 dogs on site, they could all name each one on site and tell funny stories about each. Simply amazing!
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