Day one and two.
Our journey started with getting up at 3:30am on Thursday, July 8th. It was a long tiring flight with a change of planes in Seattle. The flight over British Columbia was great with the snow-capped mountains and the fjords. We even saw a few glaciers.
We landed in Juneau and got a cab to our hotel in town. We were treated with seeing over 50 bald eagles on the way in. They seemed to be everywhere and in large groups. We are staying at the Silverbow Hotel, a boutique hotel, in downtown Juneau. We were tired but did get out and explored the harbor. We had a great meal at Tracy’s Crab Shack on the wharf. Maureen worked getting the fresh crab meat out of the crab legs, Bill opted for crab cakes and less work.
On Friday we explored the old town historic area of Juneau where our hotel was located and spent lots of time at the wharf. Juneau depends on the large cruise ships and there are none. The large cruises won’t start up until the fall we are told. There are lots of empty storefronts. We found the Juneau residents friendly but there was an edge to many of them and the town felt edgy. There are lots of Bill’s favorite bird, common ravens about the town. We enjoyed listening to the many sounds they make. We saw a pigeon guillemont in the harbor. We ate halibut at the Hangar on the Wharf and Alaska Fish and Chips Company at the Flight Deck. The fish and chips are as good as our previous favorite from Aukeryi Iceland. We also did a few more things then eat – the Alaska Museum was interesting but also disturbing – the usual story of what happened to the natives. Today we catch our boat and we’ll hopefully see lots of wildlife.
I hadn’t planned on talking about food so soon again but we ate lunch at a funky outdoor place called Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos. I had the fish tacos and Maureen had the fish and chips – halibut again and it turned out this was the best halibut we had. The fish just got tastier and tastier.
We caught up with our National Geographic tour in the afternoon. We had to get tested again for Covid with a rapid test and after passing we were put in a room (bubble) until time to leave. We took a bus up the Eagle Crest Ski Area and had a short hike through the rain forest. There were so many shades of green in that rain forest.
Finally, we got to our ship, MV Sea Lion, and got settled into our ship’s cabin. We have 37 passengers plus crew on this voyage. The ship left in rain and traveled south through the inside passage. The Sea Lion is the smaller of the two Linblad-National Geographic vessels.
We woke up and saw a black bear and one humpback whale before breakfast. Great start! The weather was overcast. Eventually we got to the Endicott Arm (fjord) and the sun came out. We traveled up the Endicott Arm to the Dawes Glacier. The fjord had many U-shapes coming into it. There were waterfalls everywhere. The steep walls of the fjord told the story of the glacier receding – the steep sides got less and less vegetated until they were quite bare of vegetation. These bare walls were quite colorful.
Icebergs became more plentiful as we got closer to the glacier. Many had a deep blue color indicating really dense ice that probably was from the bottom of the glacier.
Dawes Glacier is one of the southernmost glaciers that empty into the ocean.
We saw a number of harbor seals basking on the icebergs near the glacier.
After Dawes Glacier we went up Ford’s Terror, a small fjord off the Endicott Arm. It is rare to get to go this fjord but we had the right conditions with the tide. We saw more interesting rain forests and waterfalls.
The Sea Lion had to rescue some knuckleheads in a small sailboat that lost its steering. They were lucky we came along. They had no radio or any way of communicating with others and these folks were just odd. They didn’t seem to “get” the predicament they were in. We towed them to a place where their friends agreed to meet them and then we hung out at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. Ford’s Terror was named for a man who surveyed the area years ago. Ford and his partner went up the fjord and were trapped there when the tide changed. There is a huge, fast tidal change in this fjord that can surprise you. Ford thought they were trapped there and would never get out. Eventually they got out and survived to tell the story.
We left Ford’s Terror and got back to the Inside Passage. We watched several groups of hump back whales. Unfortunately, there were a couple multi-million-dollar yachts also there and people from the yachts in kayaks and paddle boards were harassing the whales, getting too close and flying a drone over the whales. All of which is illegal, but I guess the super-rich don’t pay attention to rules and regulations.
Day 6 saw us at Grindall Island in Misty Fjords National Monument for some tidal area exploration, rainforest hiking, and zodiac cruising. We weren’t told about the tidal area conditions (rocky beach with many slippery rocks) that needed to be navigated to get to the trail. Bill would probably not have gone on the hike if he had known; this tricky beach area was difficult walking and probably aggravated his injured ankle. The tidal area was interesting nonetheless and we took a short hike through the rainforest into a muskeg area with sphagnum moss and sundews.
The zodiac boat ride resulted in some animal observations. We explored along the rocky fjord edges and found a mink. It very inquisitive and watched us for some time.
We then went around a small island. It was low tide and there were many sea animals exposed including sea urchins and sea stars of many colors. We saw numerous bald eagles in the trees on the island.
At the tip of the island was an even smaller island covered in sea lions. We spent some time watching their antics and listening to them. Most seemed to be sleeping.
We left the Grindall Island area and sailed towards Ketchikan which would be our final destination. We were treated with seeing a brown bear feeding along the shore. We watched the bear for quite a while. It didn’t seem to be bothered by us. It was feeding on grass.
Late in the afternoon we stopped for more whale watching. The whales were off in the distance but the scenery was fantastic with the sun setting.
Day 7 and 8
In the morning the Sea Lion ship got us to Ketchikan and we disembarked.
National Geographic took us via bus to Saxman totem park. We saw many totems and learned about them.
The totems were erected to tell stories, honor events and to honor important people.
One of my favorites was this one of William Seward who was Secretary of State and bought Alaska. The tkinkit people held a potlach for Seward. Potlatches were ceremonial feasts where gifts were given away. Tradition was that the recipient of a potlatch must give one in return. Seward never returned and gave a potlatch. This totem is of Seward. They painted his ears and lips red to show their displeasure with Seward not returning the favor of having a potlatch.
It was bittersweet leaving the boat, but our hotel in Ketchikan was great. We stayed at the Inn at Creek Street for three nights. This gave us a chance to unwind from the ship and explore the area in a leisurely way. Our Inn is the tan structure on the left. Our second-floor window looks out over this scene. The Inn is located in the old bawdy area of Ketchikan. The houses were built along and above Ketchikan Creek. Creek Street was famous for its prostitutes and bootleggers.
Across the creek from us is Dolly’s House. Dolly was one of the most famous prostitutes and her house is now a museum. There were lots of men and very few women in Alaska at the time. If a woman was looking for a man, Alaska was the place – there was a saying “The odds were good BUT the goods were odd.”
We enjoyed walking around Creek Street, the harbor and the town of Ketchikan. We ate more delicious, fresh halibut and salmon. Wildlife was plentiful, and we didn’t have to go far to see it. Bald eagles were everywhere. Here are three along the pier.
We saw sea lions swimming in the harbor.
Each day we were entertained by a family of harbor seals that we watched from the windows in our room or off the deck. They’d come up Ketchikan creek each day looking for fish, especially at low tide when the water was shallow and fish were more restricted in their movements. We even watched a fish get caught. It was quite a show because the seal had caught it by the tail and didn’t have a good hold on it. The fish escaped several times but in the end the seal got its meal.
We took a bus to Bight Totem Park, an Alaska State Park with magnificent specimens of totems and a clan house you could enter. The interesting thing is that because of the weather totem poles don’t last long and the tkinkit tribe had to make new totems to replace the old ones. Totem making is an art and it is still practiced.
Reflecting on it all, we had a great trip and are sad at leaving although we both agree we don’t want to live in Alaska. We’d just miss too much. I found it interesting that most common birds I saw were bald eagles, ravens, marbled murrelets and glaucous-winged gulls. The rainforest was very quiet and I didn’t hear many birds.
Early tomorrow morning we fly back home to Chicago. Farewell, Alaska, for now!