Saturday, August 17, 2013

Juneau, Alaska

usbackroads destination--Juneau, Alaska

The cruise ship heads north from Seattle and out in to the Pacific Ocean for the run to Juneau.  It takes a day and night to arrive in Juneau.  Juneau is sort of a usbackroads destination.  A friend that lived there said there was a total of 42 miles of road.  Seemed like a bit more than that for me, but I would rather have a boat than a car in Juneau.  Rain.  Lots of it in Juneau.  But it did stop raining once we arrived in town.

The trick with cruise ships is picking the right shore excursion.  In this case, it was a easy.  Both Susie and Alex were into whale watching and with the food on the cruise ship we decided that a hike would also probably be a good idea.  So it was whale watching in the morning and hiking to the local glacier in the afternoon.

This was our whale watching boat.  Not sure why Alex is wearing sunglasses, but the guide is wearing the fashion footwear for south-east Alaska.  Yep, everybody except the tourists were in knee high rubber boots that I suspect were insulated.  The guide trip was through Gastineau Guiding (Gastineau Guiding).  We were pleased with the tour and guide.  The boat was small with only 14 or so tourists and one guide.  The guide graduated from the University of Montana Forestry School, but somehow managed to avoid taking Silviculture!!  Kids!!

The first stop was to visit these guys.  So yeah, we change habitat on land as well on water.  They really did appreciate the platform.  While we circled around the buoy these guys took turns pushing the other sea lions off the platform.  I guess it was musical chairs without the music.

But the attraction was the whales and we did get to see those.  Here is a picture of a whale and one of the other larger whale watching boats.

In Montana, there  a country band called "Ghost Riders in the Sky".  Not sure if they are still around since it has been thirty or more years since I heard them in a Montana bar.  I suspect in Alaska there is probably a band called "Ghost Halibut in the Passage".  This picture shows the remains of Halibut laying in the bottom of the harbor next to our excursion boat.  In Alaska, this is what they mean by recycling.  Notice how clear the water is at 30 feet.

After the whale watching we took the trail to Mendenhall Glacier.  The glacier and visitor center are on the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest.  A place that I was fortunate to avoid in my career.  Rain, is not my cup of tea.  Give me sage and aspen with a few Ponderosa Pines for good measure.

We did get to see the flower Monk's Hood.  It does look a little different at our place at Camas Meadows.

However, the wildflowers took second place to the bears, porcupines and fish we saw on the hike.

Oh wait, the point of the hike was Mendelhall Glacier.  Which you can drive on one of the 42 miles of road. However, the hike over the glacier moraine was worth the exercise and does give you a perspective that a vehicle never does.

It was a great shore excursion in Juneau.  With a promise of clearing skies the ship sailed for Skagway through the night for a six am arrival.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

North to Alaska.....north to Russia Zone

usbackroads destination--Southeast Alaska

Alaska.  It calls to every American.  It is what America was not so long ago.  A trip to Alaska  is usually considered a trip of a lifetime.  Which is rather unfortunate since Alaska is so large that many trips rather than ONE need to be considered.

At minimum there are two Alaska's.  The southeast rain forest and the rest of the state.  The original plan was to get a camper and take the Alaska Marine Highway north and then drive back home through Canada.  The Forest Service  was kind enough to send me to Alaska a couple of times, however, Susie and Alexandra have never been to Alaska.

This was the year for Alaska, but once again life got in the way and we had to postpone the BIG trip. However, Susie found a "cheap cruise" to cover Southeast Alaska in a quickie one week tour to major highlights. It left from Seattle so no airfare, parking fees, or hotel expenses.   My only request that it go to Glacier Bay.  The rest was fine whatever the destinations.

Well, there is no such thing as a cheap "cruise".  More on that later.

Alexandra decided that a week with her parents cruising Alaska was better than a week at work.  So the trip was scheduled for the first week in August.  As we were leaving Seattle she looked like it finally dawned on her that she was spending a week with her parents in a very small room!

Susie, on the other hand was all a-twitter about the trip!

Late July and early August is usually the best weather in Southeast Alaska.  The true southeast Alaska is shrouded in fog and clouds for most of the year.  However, I really wanted to see those mountain tops and hanging glaciers.  Rain is not an experience for me that I treasure.

So plan your trip for the best weather possible, but even then a week long trip can easily be clouded out.  A sunburn is a highly unusual by product of a trip to southeast Alaska.

There are cheaper and more inexpensive travel methods than a cruise and I suspect they are probably more fun if your younger.  I would get a camper on a truck and take the Alaska Ferry system north stopping at ports of call for several days and then moving north.  When you finally run out of ferry service head north on the highway until you run out of land and then head south through Canada to back home.

However, a week was all Alexandra had and I heard that the cruise ships do have good wines and a soft bed on board.

On a cruise the days off-ship are critical to exploring and enjoying new country.  So don't forget to add the cost of those to the price of the cruise.  And a few "hidden" expensives while on board.  Well, that fine wine list that comes with dinner is extra.  I would just add 50% to the advertised cost and plan on spending that.....unfortunately, that still means buying "value" wines at dinner.

Is it worth it??  Well, it was my "first"cruise unless you count a Soviet ship that went between Hesinki, Finland and London, England.  Everybody should do a cruise at least once in their lives.  The Alaska cruise is probably that perfect "first" cruise.

We have an old cowboy friend with a world traveler wife.  He won't leave the mountain except for hunting season in Montana.  Well, she did manage to talk him into ONE trip and he took two more on his own volition cruising south-east Alaska!  More on cruising the marine backroads of Alaska in mini-suite in the next posting.

The Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Peninsula as we left Washington state on our "seven day" cruise.