Glacier Bay, May 2016

One of the highlights of our cruise was the day spent in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  Designated a National Monument by President Calvin Coolidge and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Glacier Bay has been a cruise ship destination since the 1960s.

We spend virtually the entire day on deck enjoying some of the most beautiful natural areas on Earth.  Luckily, it didn’t rain, which, according to the National Park Service, is a rare event.  They call rainy days “glacier making days” and there are a lot of Glaciers in Glacier Bay.

We went on deck early and enjoyed a “special” coffee.  We asked the waiter for coffee with a splash of Kahlua.  His response was “Ooh!” and then he made our coffee.  We liked him a lot.

Cruising Glacier Bay is a thing of beauty.  Everywhere you look you see wilderness virtually untouched by man.  It’s quiet to the point of feeling like you’re in a religious shrine.

Glacier Bay CFX Double Tone and Darken

We were on the lookout for wildlife.  Glacier Bay is home to whales, sea otters, seals, brown bears, mountain goats and many other species.  We did see a couple sea otters, a humpback whale and a bald eagle (resting on a small iceberg), but the excitement started for us when we spotted mountain goats high up the sides of the mountains.  It’s amazing to see these animals make their way across nearly vertical walls of rock.

The stars of the show for most, though, are the glaciers.   There are a lot of glaciers in Glacier Bay but the queen of them all is Marjorie Glacier.  The railings along the deck were packed with people waiting to see Marjorie Glacier.  It had the feel of fans lining the red carpet at a movie premier.  And, to be fair, Marjorie Glacier is quite a sight.  Big and beautiful, calving icebergs every few minutes, the glacier puts on quite a show.

If you can tear your eyes away from Marjorie Glacier and manage to look over your right shoulder you’ll see another glacier.  The Grand Pacific doesn’t have the eye appeal of its neighbor but is no less impressive.  Grand Pacific is black, covered with dirt that the glacier has dragged along in its journey to the bay.  Because of this Grand Pacific doesn’t attract thr attention that it’s neighbor does.

Grand Pacific Glacier CFX Detail

We spent an hour or so at these two glaciers before heading for our next glacier, the Johns Hopkins Glacier.  This 12-mile long glacier gets its start on the eastern slopes of Lituya Mountain and ends in the Johns Hopkins Inlet.  Interestingly, the western slopes of Lituya Mountain were the site of the highest tsunami ever recorded.  Damage from a 1958 earthquake along the Fairweather Fault were seen over 1,700 feet up the side of the mountain.

Johns Hopkins CFX Graduated ND

A second glacier terminates in Johns Hopkins Inlet.  Lamplugh Glacier is quite pretty, with lots of the glacier blue ice showing at its terminus.  Just over a month after our visit, Lamplugh Glacier was the site of a huge avalanche that left 150 million tons of debris on it’s surface.  Nature can be awesome.

Lamplugh Glacier CFX Graduated ND

Our time in Glacier Bay is a day we’ll never forget.

Historic Skagway, Alaska

The third port on our Inside Passage cruise was Skagway, famous as the lawless entry point to the Yukon Gold Rush.  Skagway grew from a handful of settlers in 1896 to over 30,000 in 1898, when thousands of prospectors started up the Chilkoot Trail and White Pass on their way to the Yukon.  Today the downtown area of Skagway is a National Historic Landmark District managed by the National Park Service.  Among the restored buildings in the historic district are the Arctic Brotherhood, one of the most photographed buildings in the country and famous for its facade of over 8,000 pieces of driftwood, and the Red Onion Saloon.

There are other things to see in Skagway as well.  Opposite the dock is a granite cliff known as the Ship Signature Wall.  Starting in 1928 ship crews began scaling the wall and leaving a painting to commemorate their visit to Skagway.  Although the practice was curtailed in 2001 there are still a lot of signatures with dates later than 2001.

Ship Wall Kitschy Postcard

The ship crews were not the only entities to make use of the granite cliffs.  High above the town an advertisement can be seen for Kirmse’s Curios, a local business established in 1897 and still in operation today.

Kirmse's Curios Kitschy Postcard

Behind the Railroad Building there are two really cool old train engines.  The first is an antique N-scale steam locomotive.  The second is a huge snow plow engine that dwarfs the N-scale locomotive.  It’s an amazing piece of equipment, with a rotary plow that literally eats the snow as it moves along the track. There’s also a coal car and a caboose attached to the snow plow.  Great stuff if you’re a train buff.

Cool Railroad Engines Color Efex Pro Custome Preset

There were other things to see, not the least being Soapy Smith’s grave, but we had booked an excursion into the Yukon, so we had to cut our Skagway tour short.

 

 

Yukon Territory, May 2016

One of the things we were most excited about when we booked the Alaska cruise was the opportunity to see some of the last true wilderness areas in the world.  Our excursion to the Yukon territory let us do just that.  It also gave us the opportunity to see wildlife, snuggle puppies, and ride a historic train.

We took a bus from Skagway along the Klondike Highway.  We made a few stops along the way so everyone could get out and enjoy a beautiful day and the spectacular scenery.  Along the way we crossed an unusual bridge, the Captain William Moore Bridge, an earthquake-proof suspension bridge.  It’s only anchored on one side, so if the ground shifts due to an earthquake the other side will move freely.

Captain William Moore Bridge HDR Dark

The scenery was amazing.  I would have never imagined the amount of greenery and blooms that we saw in May in the Yukon.  There was still plenty of ice on the ground but there were plenty of signs of spring as well.

The main destination on the excursion was Caribou Crossing, a tourist stop not far from the little town of Carcross.  Carcross, by the way, was once named Caribou Crossing, but the town changed its name to Carcross to differentiate it from the other six towns in the Yukon named Caribou Crossing.

We had a nice lunch at Caribou Crossing and then explored the taxidermy museum.  We were not excited about taxidermy but I will say the museum was really interesting and the taxidermy was some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Caribou Crossing was also our first opportunity to interact with sled dogs.  The sled dogs at Caribou Crossing are racing dogs and are a good bit smaller than working sled dogs, the National Park Service sled dogs, for instance.  We got to pet on some of the adult dogs, watch a team pull a cart filled with tourists, and pet on puppies.

After our time at Caribou Crossing we took a short ride up the highway to Emerald Lake, a lake known for its intense green color.  Quite beautiful.

Emerald Lake HDR Outdoor 1

Our last stop before connecting with the train ride back to Skagway was the small town of Carcross.  Carcross has been the home to Tlingit and Tagish First Nations people for at least 4,500 years.  The town of roughly 300 residents and is where we caught the train.

After a quick stop in Carcross we hopped on the bus to catch the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad for our trip back to Skagway.  We were delayed for a few minutes so we could observe a black bear that was scavenging along the highway.  It was our first bear sighting of the cruise.

Black Bear Color Efx Detail and Vignette

Black bears can be any color, like this ginger colored bear.  Similarly, Brown bears can range from black to a unique blush color.  Black bears are smaller that brown bears and are missing the large hump over their front shoulders.  Also, black bears don’t have the dished out nose like brown bears do.

Finally, we were ready to board the train for our ride back to Skagway.  The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is an N-scale that had its origin in the Yukon Gold Rush.  The railroad was started in 1898 and when it opened in 1900 it supplanted the Chilkoot trail as the primary route into the Yukon.  Today it’s primarily a tourist train but does make several stops along the way to pick up hikers, campers and off-gridders who need a ride into Skagway.

The train ride is one of the more popular excursions on the cruise lines and it’s no wonder.  The trip was enjoyable and the train ran through some of the most beautiful scenery in North America.

Juneau, Alaska

The second port of call on our Alaska cruise was Juneau, the only state capital in the United States has no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska (there is ferry access for cars).  Nestled at the base of Mount Juneau and adjacent to Mount Rogers, Juneau may be the most beautiful capital city in the country.  Waterfalls tumble down Mount Juneau and mountain goats and dall sheep can frequently be spotted on the surrounding mountains.

Juneau PC Landscape Ektachrome 100 Graduated ND

My wife and I are dog lovers so we were excited to see the monument to Patsy Ann, a local legend named “the Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska” by mayor Isadore Goldstein in 1934.  Although deaf from birth, Patsy Ann could unerringly sense when a ship was arriving and the dock where the ship would moor.  Although owned and cared for by a local dentist, Patsy Ann was more of a dog about town, making her rounds to the shops and businesses around the docks and eventually choosing to live at the Longshoreman’s Hall.  She continued her job of official greeter until 1942, when she passed away at the age of thirteen.  Upon her death her coffin was lowered from the dock into the Gastineau Channel near where her monument stands.

Patsy Ann Ektachrome 64 HDR Outdoor 2

The weather was beautiful on the day we visited Juneau and we had a great time on our excursion, a whale watching tour on Stephens Passage and a visit to Mendenhall Glacier.  The whale watching tour started at Auke Bay and there was a short bus ride to get there.  On the way we saw one of the most remarkable sights of the trip.  We passed over a small creek and saw about fifty eagles standing at the edge of the creek.  As an Easterner who thinks seeing one eagle is a special event this was amazing.

The whale watching tour was great. Although it was very early in the season we quickly located a pod of six orcas.  We also saw several humpback whales, a group of stellar sea lions and several eagles.

From the whale watching tour we went to Mendenhall Glacier.  The glacier is part of the Juneau Ice Field and is located across Mendenhall Lake and about a mile from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, the first U.S. Forestry Service Visitor Center built in the nation.  When it was opened in 1962 the visitor center was located at the foot of the glacier.  Due to the retreat of the glacier it’s now a mile from the visitor center to the glacier.  Another popular sight is Nugget Falls, a 377-foot waterfall adjacent to the glacier.  Inside the visitor center we were able to use spotter scopes to view mountain goats on the side of the Mount Bullard.  It was our first view of mountain goats.

After our visit to Mendenhall Glacier we returned to Juneau for a quick visit to the Red Dog Saloon, recognized by the Alaska Legislature as the oldest man-made tourist attraction in Juneau.  We sat at the bar and had a great view of the memorabilia displayed on the wall, including a gun that Wyatt Earp checked but failed to claim on his way out of the bar.  With live piano music, the bar was a fun place to enjoy lunch with a beer, or in my wife’s case, a duck fart, Alaska’s original layered shot named for the sound you make when you drink it.  Red Dog Saloon is very touristy but a fun time was had  by all.

Ketchikan, Alaska

In May of 2016 my wife and I took an Inside Passage cruise of Alaska.  An Alaska cruise has long been on our “to do” list and we were fortunate enough to be able to do it.  The first port we visited on our cruise was Ketchikan.  The city of just over eight thousand residents is the fifth largest city in Alaska.

Ketchikan calls itself “Alaska’s First City”, not because it was the first permanent settlement in the state but because it’s the first port on the cruise route.  The city is also known as “the Salmon Capital of the World”.

1st City Sign HDR Efex Deep 1

It was raining when we debarked because, well, it rains in Ketchikan.  A lot.  Ketchikan is in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, a moderate rain forest that keeps the weather fairly mild by Alaska standards.  It also makes Ketchikan one of the rainiest places on earth.  The average annual rainfall is 153 inches (over 12 feet) per year with the record year of 1949 seeing 202 inches of rain.  Ketchikan celebrates its rain with a “liquid sunshine gauge” located at the welcome center.

Rain Gauge Ektachrome 100 HDR Deep 2

We had booked an excursion to the Misty Fjords National Monument but the trip was cancelled due to the weather.  We decided to make our time in Ketchikan nice and leisurely with a self-guided walk through the town.

Next to the rain gauge on the cruise ship dock is a relatively new attraction.  The Rock is a beautiful sculpture by Ketchikan artist Dave Rubin.  Unveiled in 2010, the massive sculpture celebrates Ketchikan history with seven life size figures- Chief Johnson, a logger, a fisherman, a bush pilot, a Tlingit drummer, a miner, and an elegant lady.

The Rock Ektachrome 64 HDR Outdoor 2

Just up the hill from the cruise ship dock is Whale Park, a beautiful little green space.  One of Ketchikan’s many totem poles is located in Whale Park, The Chief Kyan totem, a lineage pole.  with three figures celebrating the history and social standing of Chief Kyan’s family.

One of the things that surprised me about Ketchikan was how many flowers were blooming in and around the city.  May is the beginning of the tourist season and I expected it to be cold and gray.

Chief Kyan Totem Color Efx Yarra Sunset

Just a few yards from Whale Park is the Chief Johnson totem, a very tall story pole which depicts the legend of fog woman and the creation of Salmon.  It’s 55 feet tall and carved from a single western red cedar log.

Chief Johnson Totem Agfa Optima HDR Deep 2

Just past the Chief Johnson totem is the entrance to one of the most photographed streets in the world, Creek Street.  Creek Street was the red light district for the first 50 years of the 20th century.  It’s actually not a street, but a boardwalk running along the east side of Ketchikan Creek.  During the summer the creek is full of bears who come to feed on the salmon.  We were there too early for the bears but it was still an interesting place.

Creek Street Ektachrome 400 Pro HDR Deep 1

Originally the red light district in Ketchikan, Creek Street is now the location of shops and the occasional museum.  Dolly’s House is a museum that was once the bordello of Ketchikan’s most famous madam, Dolly Arthur.  The museum is full of photos and memorabilia belonging to Dolly and the rooms have been left much the same as when Dolly lived there.

Dollys House HDR Efx Deep 1

The last place we visited was the Raven Stealing the Sun totem, located at the Tongass Historical Museum and near the Ketchikan Creek Waterfall.  On the east side of the creek is the Yeltatzie Salmon, a sculpture by local artist Terry Pyles.  The mosaic sculpture was commissioned to replace the original cedar sculpture which had been removed due to extreme deterioration.  The original sculpture had been created by Haida carver Jones Yeltatzie.  Pyles named the replacement after the the creator of the original salmon sculpture.

Yeltatzie Salmon HDR Deep 2

While it rained the entire time we were in Ketchikan we didn’t let it stop us from enjoying our time in the town and from learning a little about Alaska.