June 23, Friday
Our focus this morning was getting back on the ferry and cruising to Juneau. The ferry didn’t leave until 2:30 p.m., so we had all the time in the world to get ready. Our wifi had pooped out at the Sportsman’s, so we made a quick dash into the library in Sitka to publish yesterday’s blog. When we got back everyone in the lot was preparing for a mass exodus to the ferry, and we realized that we were all heading for the same RV park in Juneau! That’s how ferry travel is – you seem to fall in with a group that is on the same schedule you are, and stick with them till the end!
Our ferry, the Fairweather, was a high-speed passenger/vehicle catamaran that cruised 40MPH. The pilot negotiated the channels at high speed with twists and turns that were noteworthy! The ship itself was a nice layout of small, outdoor, solarium, and large indoor viewing area with reclining seats, and dining area. Tom, headed for the deck – camera in hand. I took a window-seat in the recliner lounge and settled in for the 5 hour trip.
We docked at 7:30 and left the ferry in a caravan and drove the 4 miles to the Spruce Meadows RV Park. Our first impression was that we finally had a “real” campground – loop roads . . . trees . . . grass . . . picnic tables . . . a nice place to sit outside and enjoy nature! Our second thought: “There really are BIG mosquitoes in Alaska!” We walked Charlie around the campground, greeting all our allies from the ferry, and dodging mosquitoes. We discovered another 23FB Airstream, and made a note to go back for a meet & greet. By 10:00 we took cover in the Silvermine for the night and started formulating a plan for the next day.
June 21, Wednesday
Tom had scouted out another hike that he wanted to try – just ½ mile away from our campsite. Knowing what I know now – the blurb on the map (Mosquito Cove Loop 1.25 miles, easy gravel and boardwalk) left out a lot of detail! With the temperatures in the low 50’s we didn’t think we would need to worry about mosquitoes! It was also raining very lightly as we started out.
It started out easy enough, a nice wide path leading into the deep, dark woods, and a bit of gentle up-and-down. Then the trail got down to some serious business – lots of steps --- some board-walk-style, and some made out of halved logs set into the mountainside. Either way – I worked up a sweat. Pretty soon, I was dripping wet, and that was underneath my poncho! As we advanced we saw glimpses of the cove as our path meandered around and up and over the mountainside.
Tom follows the rules when hiking in bear country -- giving the bear a good chance to hear us coming: "We're coming around the corner" . . . "We're hiking up the trail" . . . "We're coming over the bridge." (The original policy was to yell "HEY BEAR" as you go down the trail. But, we have been told that tends to panic anyone that hears you coming.)
The end of the cove was where the trail curved around and looped back to the parking lot via a shorter distance. It was a beautiful hike . . . one that I enjoyed in spite of having to take off my glasses that kept fogging up!
We stopped back at the camper for dry clothes, made sandwiches, and headed into town. I had a hankering for some more Sitka shopping, even if it was to be the same stores over again! At a a grocery store we got some leafy-green to go with our supper, and rented a movie for the evening -- "A Dog's Purpose." This will be the 4th time that we have ever had the TV in the camper turned on!
June 22, Thursday
Today marks our 3-weeks-since-leaving-home observance – and our last full day on Sitka. Remembering that we visited the Sitka Historical Park on Sunday, when the visitor center was closed; we headed back to see what we had missed. Inside was a nice display and video of native Tlingit history entwined with Russian conflict. Also, there was a record number of the totem poles in the area, and a master (totem) carver, Tommy Josephs, working away in his studio (and me without a camera!)
With blue sky making an appearance we headed out on the totem trail for a second time. It is such a lovely, level, wide, trail that skirts the ocean and the rain forest. Back in town we made sure that we had not inadvertently skipped any of the local stores, and we scouted out a fish retail store that would ship to Ohio. Then back to the Silvermine for lunch. We had already decided that the afternoon would be a clean-up of the truck, and that for our last night in Sitka we would head into town for dinner out!
Scratch that! Change of plans! We were talking to our 4 woman/3 generation family next to us (in an A-Liner – from Georgia), and they commented about the beautiful views from Harbor Mountain. Yesterday we investigated the turn-off to Harbor Mountain, but had read nothing about it, and when the road declined to a narrow, graveled road, we turned around and came back. Now the gauntlet was thrown – “you can not miss Harbor Mountain” and off we went.
I think that Harbor Mountain view is Alaska’s answer to Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, Main. And the roadway itself is more like the harrowing road that we took up to Mt. Washington last summer. And, at times, the views were as daunting as those on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park! All this combined made it a GREAT trip. The road was narrow enough, steep enough, and twisty enough (6 full switch-backs) that Tom was constantly on guard of other cars coming towards him and then having to negotiate a drive-by. On top, there was a full view of the Sitka Harbor, and a very different topography of scrubby undergrowth and saturated, spongy, mossy, ground cover.
As for the plans to go out to eat – our gracious neighbor ladies gave us a huge salmon filet that had been given to them by the campground host.They sell for $25 a filet, but we have been told that you should not have to buy your seafood -- someone should GIVE it to you. BINGO! After our jaunt to the mountain-top we stopped by the grocery and bought some easy-fix side dishes to go with the salmon! Tom tried a recipe on the back of a post card, and it will be another entree in the near future . . . it was simple and delightful. What a successful last evening in Sitka!
June 19, Monday
We slept late this morning. Considering that the sun comes up at 3:30, 8:00 is pretty late! The weather took a turn for wet and grey today, and we figured that some of the downtown sites would be a dry pursuit.
St. Michael’s Cathedral is the most prominent structure in historic downtown Sitka and a reminder that Alaska was once Russian. It was built in 1844-48 by Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, the first Russian Bishop in America. Today the parish is predominantly Native Tlingit. The Cathedral is filled with sacred icons, many of which were sent from Russia by wealthy patrons in 1844. (I took the outdoor pictures yesterday, under a blue, sunny sky!)
The Russian Bishop’s House was built down the road from the Cathedral in 1843 by Finnish shipwrights using Yellow Cedar and spruce. The builders specialized in energy-saving construction, and the home was “over-built” for the mild Sitka climate. When the Russian government turned Alaska over to the Americans, the Russian Orthodoxy continued to be strong with the natives, and took over the House. In 1962 it was taken over by the National Park Service and underwent a 10-year renovation with a return to authentic and true replica furnishings.
We made an attempt to locate and hike a trail that left from a back street downtown and climbed up to a viewpoint of the harbor. It was evident as we went along, that we had wrong information, and we would not see the harbor. But, the trail was wide and graveled and the forest was beautiful, and we kept with it for awhile.
Driving back through downtown we spied a movie theater with The Mummy -- Tom Cruise's and Russell Crow's new version. We dropped Charlie Button back at the Silvermine, and made the 4:30 showing. Then back for supper to eat the left-over crab from last night's downtown crab feed. Before going to bed Tom will do a little more research to find some trails for tomorrow.
June 20, Tuesday
This morning I woke up to pancakes and sausage . . . all prepared in the Silvermine by Tom! Then, we were on a mission to do laundry, including all our bedding. This job is a lot easier when there are commercial size front-load washers . . . but at the cost of $7.50 a load it was rather pricy. Dryers for 5 minutes for 25 cents. And I had a feeling they had not cleaned the lint traps for quite awhile. Really – I am in Alaska and talking about laundry!?
As we left I remembered to get a picture of our Sportsman’s RV Park . . . one looking at our rig and another across the parking lot looking at the ocean.
After laundry we did a quick trip to the Fortress of the Bear – a safe haven for orphaned bears in Sitka, Alaska. Until this facility was established if orphaned cubs were found, a ranger would be sent out to kill them. It took five years for the founders to satisfy permit requirements to rescue and house orphan bears in captivity, but they are now home to 8 permanent residents. They also have been able to place bears with other various sanctuaries.
We had a quick lunch and put laundry away and then headed out with a new map to find some promising walking trails. The day was overcast with short periods of rain and 53 degrees, but nothing that really interfered with being outside. From the downtown area we crossed the O’Connell Bridge over to Japonsky Island and tried to find a beach trail. It appeared that the whole area had been fenced in by the Coast Guard and access to the beach was restricted. The only other facilities on the island was the Airport, a hospital, and some kind of community housing.
Next we headed out to Whale Beach where there was a boardwalk along the forest edge and steps (96 – Tom counted!) down to a beautiful viewing gazebo – but no whales!
I woke up in the middle of the night with a hankerin for Mexican food! Downtown there is an Agave's restaurant, and we are going to check in there for supper!
June 18, Sunday
We got off the ferry this morning at 2:00 a.m. and drove out the dock parking lot, down the road 500 feet, and into our campground – Sitka’s Sportsman RV Park. We didn’t even try to get into a site – just pulled over to the side. This morning, while I was still cozy in bed, I was aware that Tom was backing us into a spot. We have full hookups, and while it is just a parking lot, there is grass around to walk Charlie Button, and the asphalt is clean. There are also bath house facilities. and also the view of the bay is fabulous complete with mountains, islands, and the sea.
We woke to blue sky and sunshine, and a word from the campground host to get out and enjoy the weather as it may be the last sunny day for a while. We drove the 6 miles into Sitka, and parked down by the downtown Crescent Harbor. From here, the Sitka Sea Walk took us around the harbor and past a fish hatchery. There were lots of large round tanks filled with thousands of inch-long salmon. From there we walked out to the Sitka Historical Point where the walking path became a wide, smooth deeply-wooded trail lined with totem poles. These poles were not original to the area – but were brought in for repair, preservation, and display. This area is also the site of one of Alaska’s most epic battles between the native Tlingit and Russians 200 years ago.
We climbed Castle Hill with our lunch in hand – the site of the ceremonial transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867. At the time, the native Tlingit’s were not quite sure that the Russians had the right to hand over the land! It provided a nice high view of the harbor and Sitka.
While strolling down in the Harbor area, we noticed a sign advertising a Crab Feed Picnic – all the crab you could eat, plus a variety of sides, for $35/person. It was from 3:00 – 5:00, and we had time to run Charlie Button back to the Silvermine, and rest for an hour before checking out the Crab Feed. The event was an annual party on the wharf to support the summer musical festival offerings. The weather had cooperated with bright sunshine and temperatures around 60 – a cause for the locals to be out in tank tops and flip flops! People were invited to bring their tables and chair and set up under the pavilion or on the open dock. Many brought beautiful table settings with tablecloths, china, champagne and flower centerpieces; Tom and I had camp chairs and folding tables!
The crab was incredible – 500 pounds of Dungeness Crab – cooked and chilled and served with drawn butter and fresh lemons. There were also garden salads, coleslaw, pasta salad, and cornbread. No limit. On anything! When we were done eating our fill, we were able to purchase leftover large crab for $5. to carry out for tomorrow night!
With the weather so beautiful, we took a short drive along the coast and then headed back to the Silvermine to sit outside and enjoy some of the late afternoon sunshine. We both have a distinct crabby-odor, and I suppose showers will be in the plan this evening
We love Sitka. The homes and the downtown are lovely, and very much a cut above what we saw in Ketchikan and Wrangell. The locals tell us that for two years in a row they had no snow to speak of, and the temperatures very rarely get into single digits. We can't wait to explore more of Sitka tomorrow.
June 17, Saturday
Last night we made preparations to get back on the ferry. At 7:00 p.m. there was still a lot of daylight, and we thought . . . why not?! We hooked up the Silvermine, went to the dump station, refilled with fresh water, and drove down to the ferry dock to spend the night! Come morning – we were already in line!
At 7:00 a.m. Dave and Gail got off the ferry as we were preparing to go on. No pictures of each other this time – just a quick hug and “God Speed.” When it was our turn to drive onto the ferry, Tom was told he would need to turn around and BACK DOWN the ramp . . . and at the end of the ramp was a 90 degree turn into our parking space! Later, a lady on board the ship came up and shook Tom’s hand for his masterful backing demonstration. She had taken a video and sent a text message to all of her friends!
Meanwhile, we navigated the cafeteria line for eggs-to-order and a full breakfast line-up. Tom had slightly miscalculated the total number of hours we would be on the ferry, and when he woke up to the fact that it would be 18 . . . he booked us a berth. Probably not as big as the Silvermine, but it had a set of bunk beds and a bathroom with shower. WOW, TOM!
Our favorite place on the ferry is the outside solarium on the upper/rear deck. The covered section is heated by overhead infrared lamps (toasty warm!), and you can easily drag your chair out onto the open deck. Tom stationed here for most of the day – camera in hand.
We had port stops at Petersburg and Kake where we could get Charlie out of the Silvermine and onto a patch of grass to stretch her legs. Port stops were usually only 45 minutes long, with not many leaving or getting on!
In the evening, up on the deck, the vibration of the engines and a very slight rocking motion of the ship made it hard to not be lulled to sleep. The mountain ranges got higher and more rugged. Finally, we headed for the berth to get showers and a few hours of sleep before getting off the ferry at Sitka – at 2:00 a.m.
June 16, Friday
When we woke up this morning we were thrilled to see patches of blue sky and sun! True to our word, we rigged up and headed for the Rainbow falls trail (just down the road from our campsite.)
In the short drive we saw another welcoming sight – a rainbow!
The start of the trail was evident, and the trail was marked along the way with mile-markers and informational pointers that coordinated with a guide book. So far, so good. . . the trail was deeply wooded and scenic. Charlie Button was ready for a big hike!
There were a few steps built into the mountain-side, but at first they were minimal. Then we hit a series of serious non-ending steps! Later we read there were 580 of them! I would have thought . . . .thousands!
The hike was lovely, but the never-ending steps were relentless! In 55 degree temperature I got overheated and sweat was pouring off me! There was also something about the board-walk style steps, covered in wire for traction, that was a bit disconcerting. We both realized we should have brought our hiking poles. On the way back down the steps were equally as intimidating! All for all, it was a beautiful hike -- another tribute to the great Alaskan Rainforest.
After lunch we went on a quest into town to find some sort of fresh fish to cook for our supper. The reality is that there is NO FRESH FISH FOR SALE in any of these island towns! Crab day opened yesterday, and we thought a stroll on the dock would yield us some fresh crab. NOPE! All of the catch that comes off the boats goes directly to the local cannery. We even went down to the local cannery and tried to buy some. Staring at large bins of fresh crab by the thousands, we were told: "Nope! We don't operate like that!"
Tomorrow morning, early, we get on the ferry and head for Sitka!
June 15, Thursday
Raining and grey all day – it was a bust for hiking . . . . or we just need to change our attitude! After all, we are in Alaska and this is what we fully expected – and there is a certain beauty in the mist and the drizzle and grey clouds, grey sea, and grey sky!
We did drive the town again (it was just as small this time around) but we drove out the other side to the Petroglyph Beach. These ancient carving are very much a mystery but are generally thought of as 1,000 years old, but man was present in this area 8,000 years ago . . . There are replica carvings up on a viewing platform for making rubbings, and there are natural Petroglyphs on the rock-strewn beach.
Next we landed at the City Market to fill up on groceries and supplies. Yesterday on our tour, when we saw a container ship making its way to Wrangell, Brenda remarked: “Here come next month’s groceries!” We were pleasantly surprised to have a nice selection of fresh fruits/vegetables, meats, and bakery items, as well as all the staples we needed. At the little soup/salad counter, we dished up two bowls of soup to take back to the Silvermine for Lunch.
At 1:00 we made a bee-line for the Library to find a hotspot to work on the blog. This is the first time that my personal hot-spot on the phone has not worked well. We really enjoyed the quiet activity in the library, which seemed to be a hub for local parents and children.
Tomorrow we have vowed to put on the rain gear, get out the maps, and hit the trails regardless of the weather.
June 14, Wednesday
Today’s chapter in our Alaska adventure was a very special edition with “Alaska Charters and Adventure” and owners John & Brenda Yeager. We didn’t know what was in store, except that we would be on a boat and see a glacier! What an understatement!
Before reporting to board ship at 10:00 we had time to explore downtown Wrangell; I talked myself out of a pair of muck boots and a shirt that caught my fancy. We also had to pose with the resident pirate statues (pirates in Alaska?)
At the charter headquarters we found that our boat-guide hostess, Brenda, was a serious artist. Her specialty is beautiful watercolor interpretations created on authentic maps of the area. They were just stunning
As we walked the plank to board our boat, our first question was answered: the boat was a smallish craft with completely covered seating for a dozen people. There were 6 day-trippers on our tour with our leader Brenda and pilot Bob – a total of 8. It was a very personal affair.
Leaving Wrangell we bolted for the open water thru the Wrangell narrows. In a few days our ferry boat is to navigate this same pass and seeing how narrow it was, we wondered how that would work . . . . Brenda told us the ferry boats literally suck the water from the shorelines.
Our first destination was Petersburg -- a close-knit Norwegian community founded on fishing. We were scheduled for a 1 ½ hour lunch-stop/shop excursion; Tom had Halibut beer-bites and I had shrimp – awesome.
Back on the boat, we headed for LeConte Glacier – one of the world’s most “studied” glaciers. What is surprising is that it is also not a frequently visited glacier by large-venue sightseer excursions; we saw no other tourists on our way out or our way back. It bears the distinction of being the southernmost active tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. While still in the harbor, we saw our first sea-life -- hanging out on the harbor buoys.
We entered an area of light ice flows that were insignificant as far as our speed and navigation went. But soon, we heard Brenda mention to Bob that they had not seen so much ice at this point. Then there was talk about “if we can get through” . . . and then Bob was throttling back to watch for and pick his way through an open lead. The aluminum hulled boat seemed to be perfectly capable of forcing a path through the ice floes, but it made a horrendous sound as it scraped along the boat hull.
At the same time, the ice floes/bergs got bigger and we began to see seals basking . . . many with newborn pups. Brenda explained that the seals retreated to the ice floes from the more open sea with their newborn to escape the predator Orca. We saw a baby seal on the end of one floe, and a bloody blemish on the other end -- probably the birth-spot of the seal pup.
As we got deeper into the ice, and closer to the LeConte Glacier, Tom left the security of the enclosed cabin and ventured onto a small 4’X6’ viewing deck and here he stayed for the next hour – camera in hand. There is no way to describe the beauty of the glacier and the floating ice around us, so I will let Tom’s pictures tell the story.
Bob maneuvered the boat in the bay at a safe distance from the glacier for 45 minutes. Long before the boom/crack filled the air, a piece of the glacier could be seen shedding off into the water where it created a splash and shock waves radiating towards our boat. Floating around the base of the glacier were several very large, recently calved, bergs – one was as blue as a clear, blue, diamond. Tom remained on the viewing deck photographing the whole time and reluctantly came in as the boat turned and headed for home. First, though, Brenda scampered out on the deck and harvested some crystal clear ice for the coolers!
There are no port-a-calls with bathroom opportunities this far out on the water, but Brenda and Bob scouted out a coastline with fairly easy access for a trip-into-the-woods stop for those that needed! Then, we seriously headed for home. At this point we were ready for a little celebration and Brenda broke out the beer -- and the whiskey!
The trip back was not a duplicate route. As we came out of the glacier bay, Bob across the top of a land mass and headed back to Wrangell via a different channel.
We arrived back at Wrangell at 6:00 -- after 8 hours of adventure. Oh what a voyage.
June 13, Tuesday
We had plenty of time to make egg sandwiches for breakfast, before packing up and leaving our little perch overlooking the ocean. We got in line for the ferry at 9:45, and just as we got there, I received a text from Dave and Gail that they were arriving on the ferry and could see us in the parking lot! Of course, we knew all along we would be in Alaska at roughly the same time on points that might intersect – but it sure seemed like a perfect rendezvous. I got pictures of them as they got off, and we had a 30-minute pow-wow in the parking lot to compare trip notes so far! Then they were on their way to the Clover Bay RV Resort where they took over the campsite that we had vacated an hour before.
By 11:45 the loading process began, and there were not nearly as many rigs getting on the ferry at this mid-point stop in the inter-coastal waterway. It was the same ship we had arrived in, so we knew the floor plan, and made a beeline for the outdoor (sheltered and heated) solarium at the top and back of the ship. This is not as popular a spot as the front indoor viewing solarium or the recliner lounge, but we loved being out on the open deck with the option of moving under the covered portion that had infra-red heaters radiating down from the ceiling.
We had a 5-hour pleasant cruise of about 85 miles. On the ferry we met people we have been traveling and camping with along the way – as well as new people that were headed for our destination for the next 4 days. It might as well be a caravan/rally!
In Wrangell we drove to our Shoemaker City Park Campground just four miles outside of Wrangle. One section of the campground is primitive, but our section of 11 campsites has electricity. Except that one of the big motor-homes arriving when we did cut too sharp and took out the electric connection box! The good news is that the city was out and fixed it within an hour!
So, tonight is just a settling in night with a little extra time to plan for a big cruise and glacier experience tomorrow.
Monday, June 12
First I’ll finish up a few pictures from last evening. Our neighbor-lady (Kitty) gave us these beautiful crab for dinner. She is a recent widow, but carries on in wonderful tradition living in a titanic motor home here in the summer and on the Baja Peninsula in the winter. She is waiting for her boat to be delivered and will spend the summer fishing and crabbing! She’s in her late 60’s!
After dinner we left our perch overlooking the Tongass Narrows and strolled down along the docks as the workers were putting the boats to bed for the evening. From there we could look back up at the Silvermine! Before bed, we topped the day off with long, hot, showers in the beautiful individual bath/shower combinations!
First up this Monday morning was another hike. This one left from the Elementary School, just 1 mile down the road. It started out as a boggy mountain meadow, and then eased its way into the typical Alaskan rainforest. The big difference with this hike is that there was a lot of up and down! When we were going up – we wished we were going down; when we were going down – we wished we were going up! Even with temps in the 50’s, we worked up a sweat – what my father, hiking in the Smoky Mts. used to call “boiling your water!”
We got back to the Silvermine to prepare for our Misty Fjords 4-hour boat trip, just to receive a text message that the trip was cancelled – due to boat trouble. Now, are we HAPPY they identified the problem before the trip set out – or sad because the trip was cancelled?
Well, the good news is that we are in Ketchikan, Alaska – and there is plenty to do! We noticed a contingent of eagles flying around the harbor, and headed out for a better view. This guy conveniently perched down on the harbor sign, and he stayed put while I got several different pictures. He is a young bald eagle.
We bedded Charlie down in the camper and took off towards town with our eye on a fish and chip dinner. . . our first meal out this vacation. We had seen the Alaska Fish House yesterday with a long line of people and figured it must be good. We were early, the line was short, and we both ordered the silver salmon fish and chips lunch basket. It was good!
We had not driven all of the Tongass Highway on the island, so we set out for the 10-mile portion that we had not seen. It was a good way to spend the afternoon because it was a bit drizzly! Coming back through Ketchikan, I took a picture of the tunnel that we had been through many times; I had just read that it is the only tunnel in the world that you can go through, around, or over! I think that is noteworthy!
At the campground I gave Charlie Button a quick bath and did two loads of laundry. We are in good order to leave out in the morning to get on the ferry -- destination Wrangell. BTW...a pod of four or five whales (possible Orcas) just passed through the channel in front of us. They were too far away to photograph, but we could clearly see their spouts and flukes as they swam past.
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown