Alaska 2014 – Week 3

June 20th, 2016

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July 3, 2014 - A rainy Thursday morning brings to a close our 5-day sea kayaking trip in Glacier Bay. We are all huddled up under a tarp to keep dry so we can enjoy the oatmeal breakfast (and coffee) Kyle prepared to get the morning started. After breakfast we begin the arduous process of packing up the tents and gear in the rain.<br /><br /> Vicky walks over to a nearby stream to take care of business when she notices something in the water. Looking over the rocks she sees a salamander. “That’s odd” she thinks. “I didn’t think they had salamanders here.” I did mention that neither Vicky or I have our reading glasses didn\'t I? Upon closer examination, it was a oblong greenish rock poking its little head out of the rippling water of the stream. Yep, no salamanders in Glacier Bay, too cold.<br /><br /> Since it is raining, and the kitchen has been packed, we polish off some of the snack food for lunch as the boat will be here soon. We have spent a lot of time just observing the beach. The baby black oystercatcher making his fuzz ball appearances when mom or dad make it back from their hunting trips. The concern and chittering the adults make when any of us get closer than they like. The love seat ice sculpture has floated with the high tide and again rests upon our beach, but now transformed into something that resembles a small plane complete with an icy prop. The slope of the beach, jagged rocks exposed at low tide and once again hidden.<br /><br /> Just a little bit before 1:00 PM, we see the Baranof Wind come around the corner to pick us up. Now we had all of the gear piled up in what we thought was the ideal spot for the boat to make a landing. This spot had proven to be devoid of those hidden monstrous rocks that would catch the hull of the approaching ship and keep it in deeper water. But the crew aboard the boat decided they wanted to pick us up at another spot some 75 feet to the east. Without a way to effectively communicate with the captain and knowing they were on a tight schedule, we quickly assemble a fire line and move the gear from one pile to another pile. The fire line reassembles and we start getting the gear aboard the boat. After all the gear and kayaks are on, we all start climbing aboard. Vicky has a knee brace on that is not supposed to get wet, so Kyle and I scoop her up and carry her over to the ladder so she can keep the brace dry. Or as dry as possible - did I mention it is raining?<br /><br /> The boat trip back to the dock takes a couple of hours and we get another chance to see some whales and sea otters along the way. The crew on the boat has also saved us some of those hoagie sandwiches which were much appreciated. We each buy a beverage of choice and toast to each of the members of our party for such successful adventuring, here here!<br /><br /> We check-in to the lodge where we can relax, take a long hot shower (we all needed it, trust me), get some laundry done, and enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant. The Glacier Bay Lodge has rooms overlooking the bay and is quite close to the docks. We briefly considered eating out on the deck overlooking the bay, but as we went through the door from the restaurant out to the deck we see a fellow slapping at his leg. I ask \"Are the mosquitoes bad out here?\" He looks at me incredulously, \"I believe I am under siege!\" I quickly tell the host that we will indeed wait for one of the tables inside.<br /><br /> Later in the evening we meet with Jared and discuss plans for the 3-day whale watching kayak trip which begins tomorrow morning.<br /><br />


July 4, 2014 - Friday morning and we awake to find that it is still raining. But before we begin our next adventure, we enjoy a breakfast buffet at the lodge. Jared, our new guide, picked us up at the lodge and pointed out that there is a humpback whale skeleton exhibit within walking distance. A quick trip to the exhibit for some pictures and we learn that the skeleton is from a whale named Snow that was a local favorite until an unfortunate incident with a cruise ship. Did you know that humpback whales have unique patterns of black and white area on the undersides of their tails?<br /><br /> It takes 10 or 15 minutes to get over to the docks. Of course, Gustavos is small enough that it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to get anywhere. One thing I noticed is that everybody waves to everybody. I think they did that over in Haines, too.<br /><br /> We also found out that the 4th of July is a huge deal in Gustavos. There are many events planned including a parade and fireworks. Our waitress this morning had bought a new dress to wear and said she was going to wear it even if it was rainy. Jared thinks that this particular holiday is such a joyous occasion as it is the one festival that the weather is warmer and the sun is up.<br /><br /> After a 30-minute boat ride across the Icy Strait, the boat drops us off on a rocky beach near Point Adolphus. Rather than setting up camp on the beach, this time we set up just inside the wooded area. The woods are filled with mature Sitka Spruce and a deep mossy cover over the ground. It is a deep peaceful feeling. After getting everything squared away, we hop in the kayaks and make our way over to Point Adolphus. <br /><br /> The geography of the waters makes this an attractive area for the humpback whales to come feed. There is something about the way the tides come in that brings a lot of fish to the area that the whales feed upon.<br /><br /> We sat there for a while enjoying a good old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching the humpback whales in the area. We noticed several boats in the area that we determined were people enjoying the holiday weekend and also out whale watching. It appeared to us that the whales had had enough of the boaters and decided to move to another location that was closer to us! I was watching one whale through my camera when Vicky, Chris and Jared started with the “Oohs and Aahs” Looking through the camera at my whale, I’m thinking, “that’s not much to get excited about.” So I look up from the camera and see this huge splash of water. I missed the whale breaching! We were told that many times they will breach more than once so I stood ready with my camera. Sure enough, the whale breached again! And I caught it on camera!<br /><br /> We also got to see some sea lions and a harbor seal or two swim by before we kayaked back over to camp. It is now time to get the kitchen set up before Jared makes a pesto pasta for dinner. While enjoying the pasta, we see a whale in the distance doing tail slaps. We figure the whale was about a mile away as it took about 5 seconds for the sound to reach us. What was interesting is that the whale was on a roughly 5 second interval between slaps. With almost perfect timing, we see a tail slap while simultaneously hearing the previous slap.<br /><br /> Everyone once in a while we could hear the whales making unusual sounds that I thought were whale songs. But it turns out that they do not sing here… that is something they would do in the winters when they are in Hawaii. For lack of a better term, we called it “trumpeting” which is something they would do when they are excited about something at the time that the come up for air. <br /><br />


July 5, 2014 - Saturday morning and Chris turns 18! Where has the time gone???<br /><br /> Apparently during the middle of the night I was snoring (I’ve never heard me snore) and when Vicky tried to adjust my arm, I woke up. I was startled by the fact that I still had my sleeping mask on and couldn’t see anything. When I peeled the mask off, I must have had this startled look on my face (like I was being awoken by a bear!) because Vicky could barely (get it?) contain her laughter. Fortunately we did not wake up the whole camp.<br /><br /> Yet another overcast morning, but things look brighter with a hot bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. While eating our breakfast, we are fascinated by the eagles in the area going fishing for their breakfast. They perch high in a spruce tree overlooking the cove, then as they see a fish (under the water, more than 100 yards out) they swoop out of the tree upon their unsuspecting prey. Other birds will often come to that area to see what may be available and may give a light chase, but they respect the eagles.<br /><br /> One thing about respecting the eagles though… have you ever heard one? They make this ridiculous sound that is anything but majestic. Benjamin Franklin did not want the eagle to be the national bird since they are basically scavengers. Mr. Franklin instead wanted the turkey as the symbol of nation. I don’t think the turkey sounds any more, or less, majestic than the eagle.<br /><br /> We continue to see whales spouting in the distance, sea lions swimming by, and the occasional harbor seal pass along. A whale is passing off shore from us, and we hurry up to \"the overlook\". Our camp site is up from the beach in the woods and comes out onto a rocky point that is about 25 to 30 feet above the ocean below. From here there is a good vantage point to see north past the kitchen area on the beach out into cove up to Point Adolphus, and south over the beach we landed on out over the Inner Passage side of Icy Strait. We watch as the whale occasionally spouts as he is feeding traveling north to south past our overlook.<br /><br /> After breakfast, Vicky and I took a walk over to the other beach. I was walking right behind her as we were about to emerge from the woods and out into the open area of the beach when she froze suddenly in front of me lifting the can of bear spray. “Shhh! Bear!” she whispers. I laugh… “That was just my tummy rumbling.”<br /><br /> The waters are incredibly calm as we paddled out to a spot called Eagle Rock to the west of our campsite. On the way back a humpback whale was crossing from the Gustavus side of the strait towards us. Jared says \"Why don\'t we just pause a few minutes here, and see what this whale is going to do.\" He came to about 100 yards of the kayaks; it was pretty awesome. Occasionally, you may have to let the whales know where your little kayak is by knocking your paddle a bit, but he was a good enough distance we didn\'t need to disturb him.<br /><br /> For lunch we had what Jared called “Grilled Cheese with Jazz” which is a grilled cheese sandwich with pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, and the last of the pesto sauce. The whole grain bread was having a bit of a issue staying together while it cooked. Vicky and I just noticed that it tasted really good and we said so. Jared looked at us in amazement, \"Well I am glad you like it, I was thinking it was pretty much a disaster!\" Ha ha, I\'ll take tastes over looks anytime.<br /><br /> After lunch we hiked through the woods around the campsite and learned a bit about the local fauna. We were even lucky enough to find some Salmon Berries that were just ripe enough to eat. Alaska has quite the variety of native berries, but unfortunately we were a bit early for most of them. We did hear stories of a luscious nagoonberry that grows in the Yukon and Alaska, oh well. <br /><br /> We discuss that beaches here are different as the rocks seem to have a variety of mineral content. Vicky has come to the conclusion that the rocks on the beaches are not necessarily from the surrounding area. But instead, have been deposited here by the glaciers and icebergs from more distant areas. That would explain the greenish copper rocks and the reddish iron laden rocks when the rock bed of this island is more of a gray color. We have seen many icebergs floating in Glacier Bay carrying along rather large rocks and in the early 1900\'s explorers saw the glaciers actually pushing out into the Icy Strait across from us - there was no Glacier Bay it was just a huge glacier.<br /><br /> Halibut and mashed potatoes for dinner followed by a special dessert that Jared concocted to celebrate Chris’ birthday - Nutella, Kit-Kat, mocha, coconut milk, and granola. After we sang to Chris, Jared gave Chris a copy of The Only Kayak by Kim Heacox, a local from Gustavus. He really did make Chris\'s 18th birthday special out here on this quiet forested island.<br /><br />


July 6, 2014 - Sunday we awake to a very windy morning that is driving waves onto the rocky south beach. As we are packing our tents and gear, we contemplate our available exploration options prior to the 1:00 PM pickup. After a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, we decide on a short kayak and short hike. Keeping close to shore to stay out of the wind and waves, we paddle to an emergency shelter that Jared had found the night before. There was a small marker that was visible from the water, but you had to sort of know where to expect it. The shelter was like a three sided cabin with a metal fire pit/stove and some bunks made out of wood. There was a supply of chopped wood and fresh water from a small pond in back. Quite sufficient if you needed it. <br /><br /> Jared points out a variety of local fauna along some of the trails leading up to a muskeg. A muskeg is a marshy area unable to support large trees. We saw what appeared to be a beaver dam next to the pond, I am not sure if they have beavers here, but something formed the dam. <br /><br /> After our little hike, we took the short kayak back to the campsite. Along the way we see some salmon jumping out of the water. Jared informs us that that is a sign they are about to start running.<br /><br /> Once back at the campsite, we finish getting our stuff together and have lunch. Lunch consisted of a hummus pesto wrap just prior to the boat\'s arrival.<br /><br /> As we were leaving the docks in Gustavus, we noticed people in a nearby field picking wild strawberries. Do we have time to pick strawberries? Of course there is time to pick first of the season wild strawberries. Jared pulled the van over and instructed us on how to find the strawberries. These are much much smaller than the Florida variety and more difficult to spot. However, before long we have a handful of strawberries that are just as good, if not better, than their Florida cousins.<br /><br /> Jared and Kyle were gracious enough to allow us to use the AMG warehouse (including shower) to reorganize and repack our gear prior to our Alaska Seaplanes flight to Juneau. Vicky also spots a Alaska Mountain Guides T-shirt that was a must have.<br /><br /> We all went out to dinner at the lodge after a bit of souvenir shopping at the National Park office and berry picking along one of the pathway, blueberries this time. Chris also had to opportunity to meet the author of his new book. Jared spotted Kim out on the deck of the restaurant and took Chris out to meet him. It seems that everyone in town knows everyone else. Kim signed Chris’ copy after a very nice long conversation. The book highlights many of the places Chris got to visit in Glacier Bay, and Jared say that after reading the book and thinking about his recent experiences, Chris will be coming back to Alaska.<br /><br /> As Jared was driving us over to the airport, we saw a black bear cross the road in front of us. First sighting of a black bear. He paused and looked at us and said \"Car coming, better get across this road!\"<br /><br /> After a short flight over to Juneau, we hike over to Grandma’s Feather Bed and Breakfast where we quickly get settled in and have a good nights sleep in a real bed, but I can not say they were made of feathers.<br /><br />


July 7, 2014 - Monday morning we have a nice breakfast at Grandma’s before heading out to explore Juneau. We had intended to go to the Mendenhall Glacier, but the bus schedule was confusing to the uninitiated. Instead we wound up downtown to do some sightseeing and souvenir shopping. <br /><br /> While walking around, we found most of the shops closed even though it was 10:30 on a Monday morning. Upon further inquiry, we learned that most shops will not open until after the cruise ships arrive. Finding one shop open, and looking like obvious tourists, the proprietor asked, “What are you doing here? The cruise ships haven’t arrived yet.” To which we responded with, “We are independent travelers.” I think that must be a rarity. It turns out that many of the shops are owned by the cruise lines, a few have signs in the windows indicating that they have Alaskan owners. <br /><br /> After getting some coffee at a Heritage Brewhouse (brand originating from Alaska), we set off in the direction of an old Russian cathedral only to find that it was closed for renovations. We did take a tour of the state capitol building which was nearby. Alaska was purchased from the Russians and was known as Sewards Folly until people realized the vast wealth of oil and minerals to be found there. It was a territory of the United States until 1959 when it became the 49th state, yes, for a few months the US flag had 49 stars and we got to see one of these on display. The Alaskan state flag was designed by a native boy. It was a fluke that his design was in the competition at all as native people were not usually allowed in the educational system, but he was an orphan and thus a ward of the state. A trip to the city museum provided a history of the city, whose growth and progress as it turns out was heavily driven by the Gold Rush. There were two mines in the area, one in Juneau and the other across the Gastineau channel on Douglas island. Engineering innovations allowed profitable extraction of somewhat poor quality excavating, but with the onset of the war the mine closed down. After pictures with a bronze bear outside, we went up to a terrace at the state library that overlooks the harbor. From here we could see no less than 4 huge cruise ships in port. I suppose the shops should be open now.<br /><br /> We stopped at the Red Dog Saloon for lunch which provided some lively, if not randy, entertainment. I knew it was going to be interesting when we walked in and the piano player/entertainer yelled, “Look who just walked in!” and everyone in the audience applauded while looking at us. The floors were covered in sawdust and had an ‘old town saloon’ atmosphere. The waitresses were dressed in risque old west can-can style dresses. Tried as we might, we couldn’t convince Chris to get a picture with one.<br /><br /> After lunch we negotiated the bus system back to the B&B where we kicked back and watched a little TV. After a couple of NCIS episodes, we watched ‘The Proposal’ with Sandra Bullock which is partially set on Sitka, AK - a nearby island.<br /><br />


July 8, 2014 - Tuesday morning we have a quick breakfast at the B&B before hiking over to the airport where we will say goodbye to Alaska. Alaska Airlines flight 68 makes a quick stop in Sitka before continuing on to Seattle. While we are sitting on the plane in Sitka, I notice several pallets of fish waiting to be loaded. In addition, a luggage cart is full of boxed fish. To encourage people to takes their seats in preparation of take-off, the stewardess told people to take their seats or they would have to remove the fish. I suppose a lot of people come to Alaska and the take their catch home with them. I am wondering if our luggage is going to smell fishy.<br /><br /> Once we arrive in Seattle, we walk to our hotel and settle in for a bit. We catch the last bit of the Germany vs Brazil World Cup match although the match had already been decided with Germany dominating the game 7-1. We take the train/subway into town and have dinner at Elliott\'s Oyster House, which is on one of the piers extending out over the water. Pacific oysters are quite a bit different than the Atlantic variety, and this restaurant showcased at least 20 different varieties gathered from different oyster beds along the Pacific coast, various prices were attached as well. We happened to get there in time for Happy Hour, which meant the chef\'s selection of a dozen oysters was a reasonable price so we took advantage of the offering.<br /><br /> After dinner we did the Seattle Underground Tour. The tour gives you a history of Seattle’s colorful past. We walked through several underground passageways that were once the streets and sidewalks of Seattle. Seattle was built along the tidal flats and its chief income came from its logging industry. One street was at about a 45 degree angle and was appropriately named Skidrow as the logs skidded down the muddy street. Being built on the tidal flats caused other problems as well. About this time there was a glorious invention by Thomas Crapper, yes it was the toilet as we know it today. However unless the tide was out, the houses in the uphill side of town had the flushing advantage over the unfortunate downtowners. Indeed pulling the lever at the wrong time could cause an unpleasant gusher to erupt. We saw a three foot throne with a toilet placed on top, built to try to mitigate this most unpleasant experience.<br /><br />


July 9, 2014 - Wednesday morning we have to get up early in order to catch our flight home. We take the shuttle from the hotel and get over to the airport with plenty of time - until we see the line to get through security. <br /><br /> How can there be that many people in line at 4:45 in the AM?!?!? Somehow Vicky scored a TSA Pre-Check boarding pass so she goes ahead of us and gets us some coffee and breakfast while Chris and I have to wait in the security line. I have never seen a line move so slow… We find some others in line that are trying to get on our flight as well. Everybody is getting nervous about being able to make the flight. Vicky is at the gate wondering where Chris and I are. She even has the gate attendant paige us - not that I ever heard it.<br /><br /> Just as Chris and I get to the one, I repeat - one, TSA agent checking IDs and boarding passes, they open up a second line. Chris got through security just a bit faster than I did but I lost sight of him… well, I hope he finds his way to the gate! I grab my shoes and am running in my socks through the airport to the gate - of course it is about as far away as possible. I turn one corner after another to only see another row of gates. One thing I learned is that those moving sidewalks hurt the bottom of your feet if you don’t have shoes on. Vicky overheard the gate attendant talking over the phone \"I\'m just telling you there are fourteen people we will need to reschedule\". Finally, I turn the corner and see Vicky waving me in, Chris is breathing heavy anxiously looking my way. I rush up to the gate attendant still in my socks and we make it aboard. There were at least a dozen people that boarded after we did.<br /><br /> The rest of the trip was uneventful until we landed in Orlando. As we pull up to the gate, the attendant announces that due to lightning in the area, all ground crew have been brought indoors and they would not be able to unload our bags from the plane until the storm passes. To make the most of the time, we hit one of the establishments in the airport and had some dinner and watched the first half of the World Cup match between the Netherlands and Argentina.<br /><br /> After collecting our bags and securing a rental car, we were on our way home. When we hit the first toll both on SR-528, I pulled out a $20. The attendant handed it back saying she couldn’t take it. \"Why?\" Because it\'s counterfeit. “Are you kidding me!?!!?!” I responded. We found another bill and paid the toll. After closer examination, we could see that it was indeed a counterfeit bill. There was no metal strip through it and the slightly rough feeling of a real bill was missing. It had been washed and dried or something to give a well worn appearance so on a passing glance such as counting your change you couldn\'t tell, you really had to be looking for it. I was impressed at the quality and it is easy to see how it could be passed off. Vicky turned it into the bank after we got home - only under great suspicion though. Sigh.<br /><br /> <br /><br /> Reflection - The Alaska trip was a fantastic vacation and I would definitely go back. The Alaska Mountain Guides were awesome - thanks Dave, Seph, Kyle and Jared! You guys rock! The food was amazing considering the environment. We all enjoyed the sites and greatly appreciate the extra time you took to educate us. The concern and adjustments made for Vicky’s recent knee operation were very much appreciated.<br /><br /> If I were to go back to Alaska, one thing I would try to work into the schedule would be some fishing. I am not the avid fisherman, but that seems to be one of the things to do when going to Alaska. The decision will be, “Do I go deep sea fishing? Or fishing for salmon?” I think the answer might be two days of fishing so I can spend one day for each.<br /><br /> The photography was a much bigger challenge than I had anticipated. First off was the lens choice. Given my current lens collection, I feel I made the right choice with the 50-150mm Sigma lens (w/ 1.4x converter). There were certainly many times I wanted more reach. Say, to 300mm, or even 500mm, for those wildlife shots. But there were many times where the 50mm was too much to capture the scenic landscapes.<br /><br /> In retrospective, what I should have done was dust of my old D50 and put a wide angle lens on it and give to Chris. I found that many of the pictures that he took with the D7000 have wound up in my collection of favorites from the trip.<br /><br /> One of the photography challenges that I did not account for was the fact that we were always on the move. Whether we were on a plane, train, boat, raft, or kayak, it seemed that we were always on the move.<br /><br />

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