Tag Archives: Alaska

Alaskan Rainforest!


Sept. 23, 2011

For this outing in Ketchikan, AK, we dressed for cold, wet weather and boarded a Grayline bus. Five passengers were on their way to drive jeeps and do some canoeing. Jon and I were among 16 to go canoeing and take a short nature walk into the rainforest.

How beautiful!

Lots of waterfalls on the road to the Lake Ward, about 5 miles north of Ketchikan on North Tongass Highway. We were issued life jackets and ponchos then climbed into two large canoes. With that many paddles no one had to work too hard! Still, we used muscles I remember from teaching canoeing as a camp counselor many years ago.

We passed a steep waterfall (though not too closely!). Several times we stopped in the quiet and shouted to hear echoes sounding for as long as 20 seconds. Halfway around an Blueberry Island we stopped for a snack of dried salmon, bread and jam, goldfish crackers, clam chowder, and hot chocolate or coffee. The tour hosts joked that since we had been on a cruise we couldn’t go more than an hour without eating. The chowder and hot chocolate tasted especially good to me.

After the snack, Matt and Christina led two separate groups on a short mile-long walk into the rainforest. Among the hemlocks and other beauties we stopped by a creek with shale in it. Some of the shale has stripes of gold that gold miners used to mistake for the real thing. Alas, it is not even fool’s gold.

There are snags in the forest–dead trees that are still standing; and nursery trees–fallen logs; all of which provide shelter and nourishment for other forest life. A particular tree fungus called “bear bread” is also used by totem pole carvers to make a model for the actual pole. Rituals and prayers precede the use of any log. In the Tongass National Forest, nature takes its own course. Only logs that fall across the designated trail are cut away.

One tree was hollow enough for Matt, a good-sized young man, to get inside. A little mud won’t deter a guy who will spend his second winter in these woods. We made our way back to the canoes (more snacks available if desired!) then on around Blueberry Island. A light rain was falling and I was fascinated by drops of water that formed bubbles on the surface of the lake and remained there for several seconds before they popped. I haven’t ever noticed so many raindrops do that before: was it the relatively smooth lake surface, the air and water temperatures, the lightness of the rain? By the time Matt finished talking about points of interest around the lake I had forgotten to ask him.

Back to the dock to turn in our paddles and such then head back to town. Shops there were closing for the season so shopkeepers were eager to offer discounts and bargains galore. First we spent about an hour in Discovery Center until it closed. I could easily have stayed another hour there to view its displays of marine and forest life as well as the history of industry like logging, fishing, and mining.

When the Discovery Center pushed us out the door, we did do some shopping. There are some beautiful handcrafted items actually made in Alaska. One shop was way out of my price range but they do carry some wonderful items. In another shop I couldn’t pass up a small wooden bear holding a salmon, a signature wooden whale tail,  or a metal sculpture featuring whale and sea turtle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Glacier Bay


Sept. 22, 2011

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl entered Glacier Bay around 6:30 AM, before most of the passengers were out and about. What a day of beauty!

Two hundred fifty years ago there was no bay. Ice filled the entire region. Glaciers have since advanced and retreated multiple times but the net result has been the gouging out of stone into sediment, shoved into the sea or broken off at the edge in a process known as calving. The ice appears blue because all other colors are absorbed.

Last night decks were cleared due to 60 knot winds. No one was allowed on the open decks. Tables and chairs were pushed to the sides; in the chapel, furnishing were laid on their sides. The captain announced that we might not even be able to enter the bay through a narrow strait. Until 8 or 9 in the morning rain poured. (Remember rain? Austin could surely have used 30 minutes’ worth of this downpour!) We were afraid our view of the glaciers would be heavily obscured by rain and fog.

The skies cleared just enough for a beautiful view of mountains of various elevations, shoreline, rivers thousands of feet in length, glaciers two miles wide, and moraines, We spent an hour in sight of Margerie Glacier, circling around so that both port and starboard had plenty of viewing time. From time to time the sun would come out just enough to illuminate fresh snowfall on mountain peaks.

Three National Park Rangers had boarded the ship early in the morning. Throughout the day they made presentations, answered questions, and provided maps and info about Glacier Bay National Park. As we moved south we marveled at other glaciers such as  Johns Hopkins, Lamplugh, and Reid Glaciers .

Between glaciers and ice fields, the trees were gloriously colorful for the Fall Equinox. Plants of gold and red contrasted with evergreen and deciduous trees, dark rock, white snow, and blue ice. Within two or three hours we had come far enough south to see more signs of life: hundreds of sea lions, several sea otters, and a humpback whale coming up for air with a big blow to clear its nose.

The sea lions appeared to be resting on several small islands, but occasionally they would slip into the water to feed. Sea otters lay on their backs out in the water–we could see both head and tail above sea level. Birds flew or floated on the water. A bald eagle sat in a tree at my eye level.

People lined the edges of the ship, from the 7th deck all the way up to the 14th, with our cameras and binoculars and the warmest clothing we had managed to bring with us. We could retreat for warmth to the Spinnaker Lounge where windows surround the entire bow of the 13th deck or to a restaurant for a hot drink. How many gallons of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate can approximately 2300 passengers and 1100 crew members consume?

pix and videos below. A longer video captures a Park Ranger describing the landscape; a brief 5-second one captures a small icefall calving into the ocean just left of center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Ice falls into Glacier Bay

Almost Missed the Bus!


Sept. 21, 2011

Skagway, AK. An early docking where we would meet a guide to take us up to White Summit Pass. Big problem–in our haste to get off the ship and to the bus we forgot our passports! Since we would be going into Canada we had to have them.

Fortunately driver Shawn said he could pick up a couple of passengers from another ship and swing back to meet us. If we made it back in time he would pick us up. We ran back to the ship, got through security, rushed to our stateroom and retrieved those small but essential items. It was a good aerobic workout. We actually beat the Shawn by 5-10 minutes and almost gave up on him. All the passengers cheered when we got on this time. Hooray! (Shawn earned a big tip for coming back for us!)

Instead of taking the narrow gauge train up the mountain, we opted for an over-sized van equipped for about 25 passengers. Instead of the trains or large buses, our driver could stop at many overlooks on the way. At the Canadian border we basically had to hold up our passports while an agent compared the terrible photos with our gorgeous faces. (When we crossed back into the States, the U.S. guy didn’t even look at them, but questioned the driver. After all, he could say it was the same group he had taken with him from Skagway . . .)

One point of interest was a 400-foot steel cantilever bridge built of three hinged arches. Though major earthquakes are rare here, there are hundreds of tiny ones daily. This bridge, constructed in 1901, is designed to allow for that. In a really strong earthquake one end will separate yet leave the bridge attached safely at one end. (No, I can’t quite figure that out, either.) The Gold Rush enjoyed no such amenities, just a hard climb with tons of supplies carried over White Pass.

Scenery was spectacular in every direction from meadows to mountains. So many waterfalls, a range of plant colors, and black or gray rocks. I took a picture of a waterfall with just a little bit of blue sky at the top of a V. We got our passports stamped in Fraser, AB, just for fun. Shawn took pictures of us with our own cameras in front of the Welcome to Alaska sign on the way down.

Back in Skagway, Jon actually found a good sale on shirts and bought a couple of them. Guess what color they are? I bought some souvenir socks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

North to Alaska!


Tomorrow my husband and I will be flying to Seattle in preparation for a cruise into the Inland Passage! The Norwegian Pearl sails (metaphorically speaking) on Sunday afternoon for a week of wonder. I have wanted to do this for years. Thanks, Jon!

Ports of call include Juneau, Skagway, and Kethchikan, a few hours in Victoria, and finally to Vancouver. It is the last cruise of the season. Expected highlight is the cruise through Glacier Bay–everyone raves about it.

Day trips so many thousands of tourists have taken:
Juneau: a smaller boat to go out looking for whales;
Skagway: up to White Pass Summit;
Ketchikan: rainforest canoe and nature trail.

We’ll spend one night in Vancouver then board Amtrak to get back to Seattle. Jon’s daughter, some cousins, and an uncle live there, but alas, we won’t have much time to visit. Back to Austin late the 27th, ready to pick out the best photos to share!

What a grand adventure awaits! Now, let’s see if I can pack an extra sweater….