Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ketchikan, Alaska

usbackroads destination-Ketchikan, Alaska

The ship left Glacier Bay in bright sunshine in the late afternoon.  We traveled through the night and morning found us in Ketchikan, Alaska under more typical south-east Alaska skies.  Foggy and rainy.  The ship is heading south at a rapid clip so we have only four hours in Ketchikan.

The view from the ship of Ketchikan shows different sides of Ketchikan.  There are the cruise ships parked next to each other just steps from downtown.

And downtown you look down on downtown.

So Alex and I decided to jump ship for the four hours and wander aimlessly throughout Ketchikan.  Heidi Muller has a great song about Ketchikan and if you can find the CD it is a great song that will forever color your view of foggy Ketchikan town: Cassiopeia.

So we started walking the streets of Ketchikan in the rain.

We found a totem pole.

We then saw some shops clustered around a rushing stream.  And there were signs about salmon spawning areas in the creek.

So we wandered upstream to see if we could find any spawning salmon.  Just above the stores we hit a section of stream and carefully looked over the side to see if we could see any spawning salmon.  It took a second to notice that the creek bed was covered in spawning salmon.  Click on photo to enlarge.

As we kept heading upstream we noticed more and more fish.  There were more fish than water it seemed.

We continued to walk through the neighborhood in the vicinity of the stream  Yep, this is Alaska from the bumper stickers to the boat parked next to apartment buildings.

On the way back to downtown we found the Forest Service boat and a view of the cruise ship.  Now it would be worth it to spend some work time in south-east Alaska just to get a ride on the Forest Service boat.  However, I am not sure I could handle the constant rain!!

Soon our four hour stroll through town was over and we watched the harbor activity from the ship.

And then it was time to leave for Victoria for a stop the following evening.  This was our last view of foggy, Ketchikan town.  A four hour stroll full of adventure and new discoveries.  The best part of travel are those unexpected perfect days when you were expecting nothing special.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Glacier Bay, Alaska

usbackroads destination-Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Glacier Bay was one of those lifetime destinations for me.  I could do without Paris, but Glacier Bay was on the list for a long, long time.  So the only requirement for the Alaska cruise, was that we needed to go to Glacier Bay.  The Park Service has put limits on the number of cruise ships per day that are allowed into the park at two per day.  So check your Alaska cruise itinerary carefully to make sure it includes Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay was once totally filled with glacier all the way to Icy Strait in 1750 when it was first discovered. The glaciers have been in retreat since that time.  The National Park Service brochure is quite good and shows the extent of the glaciers during the past 250 years.

There are copies on the cruise ship, but I would download a copy here prior to your trip:

John Muir wrote the definitive story on Glacier Bay and you can download a public domain copy for your Kindle from Amazon for free:

If you do not have a Kindle or the app on your IPAD you can still do a search for John Muir Travels in Alaska public domain and get a version that will work on your ebook reader or laptop.

The glaciers are in retreat and Glacier Bay is totally different than it was just 150 years ago.  So go now. Don't wait another 150 years!!  You will miss it.

I made the mistake of NOT having my camera with me for the morning cruise up to Glacier Bay since it was cloudy.  However, in the afternoon the light was not as good.  The other issue with photography in Glacier Bay is there is no sense of scale.  Here is a picture of the famous John Hopkins Glacier from FIVE miles away.

This is as close as the cruise ships can come to this glacier.  Even at five miles what a spectacular site.

The ship does spend more time at Margerie Glacier.  Though once again that issue of scale comes into play. I do recommend that you take binoculars with you to explore the glaciers up close and personal.

The Margerie Glacier is where the "calving" takes place.  That is the glacier ice dumping directly into the salt water.  This is really what most folks want to see on the trip to Glacier Bay.

Be forewarned it is crowded on the ship railing when viewing the glaciers.  And it is easy to miss a front row seat by being late to the party.

The views up and down the bay are very interesting and I would remain above ship for the entire trip up and down Glacier Bay and through Icy Strait.  It is the most interesting part of the entire cruise visible from the ship.

This is the view of the Grand Pacific Glacier moraine.  As recently as the early 20th century the glacier dumped directly into salt water  Moraine's are interesting and all you that have hiked in alpine country out west have experienced them.  On many alpine lakes, that last steep pitch of trail to the lake is usually crossing a glacial moraine.  Right on top of the moraine is Canada.  I suspect the border crossing is unmanned.

This is the NPS map of the cruise up Glacier Bay with times as you past certain landmarks.  The National Park Service provided interpreters that clambered up a rope ladder to reach the cruise ship and then they provided running commentary on the area and set-up interpretive tables in the lobby of the cruise ship.  Get the route and times to make your trip up Glacier Bay more rewarding.

The cruise ship will announce when the interpreters are boarding the ship.  The cruise lines pay a fee for entering the Park and the use of the interpreters services.  This must be one of those profit centers for the National Park Service.

As we were leaving John Hopkins Glacier I spied this fellow leaving the area.  Enlarge the photos and you can see that the top of the ship has rafts and kayaks.  Wait, I would trade our swimming pool for those rafts and kayaks.  It was at this moment that I realized that National Geographic also runs cruise trips to Glacier Bay.

Here is a link to their trips:  Much more expensive but they spend more time on the Tongass National Forest so it must be a better trip!!  Oh, check to see if shore excursions are included.  The price is spendy, but if it includes all those day excursions it is might only be slightly more expensive than Princess.  So if you would rather have a smaller cruise ship there is one alternative.

There are other small cruises to Alaska and you can find a brief summary of them here:

The important thing is to go visit south-east Alaska by boat.  The only way you can really do it.  A camper on a truck and passage on the Alaska Ferry system will get you back into some destinations rarely visited by the average traveler.  But no matter how you go you will enjoy your trip.  Just match your interests to the various offerings.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Skagway and Haines, Alaska

usbackroads destination--Skagway and Haines, Alaska

Morning found us in Skagway with typical south-east Alaska weather.  Cloudy and spitting rain, but the forecast promised us warm, sunny day.  Last year, the report was that they had FIVE sunny days.  That is for ALL of last year.  Definitely a tough place for those of us use to living under sunny skies.

The agenda for the day was a sea kayak trip on Chilcoot Lake.  That entailed taking a short 45 minute ferry trip to Haines.  We were more interested in exercise and have been contemplating buying a sea kayak so thought that the kayak trip would suit us better than staying in Skagway.

Skagway is a tourist National Park.  It is really a historical National Park for the Alaska gold rush.  If your into history and the follies of man definitely stay in Skagway.  There are some great off-ship excursions including a rail trip into Canada.  Both Skagway and Haines can be reached by automobile from Canada. In the future when we head north through the Yukon both communities will be on our list of stops.

Haines was a pleasant surprise.  Wide open skies, unlike the steep canyon that is Skagway.  Here is the ferry terminal.  The mud flats around town make it a short from the terminal to land.

Here is Alex on the rear seat of her kayak.  The good thing about having a daughter that is a certified lifeguard is you can take your personal lifeguard along on all your water trips.

The sea kayaks had rudder and were steered by pedals within the cockpit.  Now as a canoeist my first thought was wimps.   You steer with your paddle.  It took about five minutes to get rid of that notion.  That rudder and steering pedals are the best thing since sliced bread.  Ok so I was wrong on the steering, but it only took me five minutes to realize it was time to change my opinion.

Here is Alex landing her boat at the dock.  Notice that she is pulling out her hair.  She was paired with a Indian software engineer.  Unfotunately, he was sub-continent Indian rather than North American Indian. The concept of a kayak and paddling was "foreign" to him.  Alex, did point out to him that he also had to paddle!!

 I on the other hand had my life long paddling partner up front.  And though she no longer wants to go over waterfalls in a canoe, she does know enough to paddle.  That first date through a swamp was over 35 years ago so she feels much more comfortable about giving me "advice" on our canoe trips.  Has it been 35 years that I have been looking at the blond hair in front of the boat??

The kayak trip finished with lunch on a deck overlooking the lake.  Pretty good recreational facility.  If your lacking for flat ground, make your own with a deck.  They should have put a cover for that liquid sunshine, but it was sunny for our trip.

Alaskan's always do things slightly different than in the lower 48.  When I first moved to Idaho, the tourist slogan was "Idaho is what America was".  Well, Idaho has joined the mainstream, but fortunately Alaska is still there to remind us about how different we once were as a country.  I am sure only in Alaska will you find a 12 year old ferry captain.  Ok, so maybe he was just training.

The folks on the back of the ferry were too busy to notice their captain.  I guess the rare sunshine was enough to drag everybody outside.

After our return to Skagway we left on the cruise ship heading for Glacier Bay in the fading sunshine.  It back to Haines and then a turn to Glacier Bay with arrival scheduled for next morning.  On the ferry there were are few people looking for mountain goats on the hillside.  So as we left port, I took the binoculars and started scanning the surrounding mountains.  No goats, but I did spot two grizzly sows with their cubs way up above timberline.  That's about the right distance for viewing grizzlies....couple miles, several thousand feet of elevation difference and at least a half mile of water on a boat with high sideboard.