June 29, Thursday
Today – Tom is back on! Let me explain: For the first 7 days of this trip Tom drove, towed, navigated and masterminded every major location change of the trip. When we landed at Prince Rupert he was able to sit back and let the ferry . . . do the driving! This morning we left Juneau at 8:00, and when we got off the ferry in Haines, we were again on the mainland, done with the water highway, and Tom took over his duties as chief pilot. We got a few pictures loading on the ferry, our last stretch on the channel, and as we entered the dock at Haines.
Here is a picture from the internet to locate us at this point in the trip -- and the layout of Haines.
From the moment we drove off the ferry, into Haines, and out to the HitchUp RV Campground – I loved Haines! It has a totally different feeling to it from the seaside, island, ports – more removed from the frenetic, cruise-ship lifestyle. We had heard rave reviews about the HitchUp RV Campground, and from the moment we got out of the truck these guys were smiling and helpful and full of advice of what we should do . . . "you're going to love Haines!"
We didn’t waste any time. . . a quick set-up, and we were off with a list of things we wanted to see and do on our first afternoon. Haines is truly the place where the Inside Passage meets the northern mainland and where two great landscapes converge. It has been popular with filmakers as the quintessential Alaska town – “White Fang” and “Gold Rush” were both filmed here. There are two main rivers, The Chilkoot and the Chilkat, and having heard that Grizzly and Alaska Brown Bears were beginning to make an appearance along the Chilkoot River we scouted that out first. We found the 2-3 mile section noted for bear viewing, and learned that feeding time was likely to be at 5:00! We would come back!
Then, we went into town to visit the Haines Packing Company where fresh fish is brought in daily, processed, packaged and shipped out. We were able to walk down a long poster-narrated boardwalk outside, with viewing windows to the inside, where workers were busy cutting off the heads, cleaning out the guts, and preparing the fish for either 9 hours of smoking or direct packaging. We bought a different type of fresh salmon to try for tonight’s dinner – same recipe. The Packing Company also had a very nice little gift store called “Some Things Fishy”, including unique handmade gifts and fabrics.
We dropped our fish back by at the Silvermine, re-grouped, and headed out again for what we hoped would be our first bear encounter! Down by the river we talked to a “local” who said that bears are not yet fishing for salmon – instead they are grazing for grubs in the tall grasses beside the riverbank. He said to try again at about 8:00!
At the HitchUp, the two couples camped next to us showed us their grizzly pictures from the night before – a sow and 3 yearling cubs. One picture showed all three cubs standing upright, peering out over the tall grasses. We made one more try – driving down to where the ocean meets the Chilkoot Creek. Nothing. You just can’t rush a good thing – and we have several weeks left in the Alaskan Interior!
Wednesday, June 28
Before I start on today's details, I want to share a couple pictures of Tom's Sockeye Salmon steak dinner last night . . . the same recipe we had last week and swore we would cook again!
Our tour of the summer dog sled training camp was to meet at the tram ride in downtown Juneau at 9:00 a.m. The girl that met us said there was a “mix-up” in the drivers, and wanted to know if we could go at 11:00. We figured that they just wanted to cop out because there were only two of us. . . and because we had a coupon for buy one ($132) and get one free. We walked on!
And, there we were standing right under the Mount Roberts tram ride – and the day was clearer than we had seen in the past 5 days! Up we went. We had a BOGO coupon for that, and so for $33 we both got a hand stamp that was good for all day. The ride up was just 8 minutes and was narrated by a native Tlingit who spoke a bit about the mountain in his native language -- and then translated. The view was beautiful!
On top we were pleasantly surprised to find a variety of things to do. An excellent movie about the Tlingit history in the area, a quality restaurant with all-you-can-eat Dungeness Crab (did not do!) quality stores with native artisans and crafts, a Loop Trail around the top of the mountain, and finally a live performance in the theater by a local family/band (free) that has recently been featured on PBS! Well, only 1/5 of the family (the father) was there today, but he put on a nice singing, narrative, and slide show presentation.
There was a Lower Trail that hiked from where the Tram perched on the mountaintop back down to the streets of Juneau -- it was just a mile. But, signs cautioned: "This trail is uneven, often muddy, steep, winding, and can be blocked by blowdowns, roots, and boulders." The tram seemed like the best option.
Today is our last day in Juneau, and that always calls for a bit of clean-up and preparation to get on the ferry. We have some of the local shrimp to cook for supper tonight, and we need to leave here at 6:00 a.m. to make the ferry. Goodbye Juneau!
June 27, Tuesday
This morning we returned to the Mendenhall Glacier (the first Forest Service Visitor Center in the nation built in 1962) to do some more of the hikes in and around the Glacier. The Trail of Time was an excellent illustrated walk, showing the path of the glacier over a century. The Mendenhall is only one of 38 large glaciers that flow in the 1,500 square mile Juneau Icefield.
Our next hike was the Steep Creek Trail that was through a swamping section, via boardwalk -- not to worry -- it was not too steep! It had a lot of illustrated signs showing the different species of salmon and the months of their spawning. The salmon are able to smell the different plants and vegetations of their particular stream, and this guides them back to the exact location of their birth for their spawning.
There are many things we have never seen before -- and one is a wild porcupine. And this guy gets a double-take because he was up high eating in a tree!
Signs on both trails had warned us of bears. Even that there could be bears on the direct walking trails. No such luck for us -- but we did see signs of bears! And, it looked to be a pretty FRESH sign!
We ate our packed lunch in the truck (it was raining--again) while we headed into town. I had seen a pair of rain boots that I couldn't get off my mind, and I decided to go back to try them on. Not successful -- I really needed a size bigger, but the other deciding factor was that the ankle-high boots were hard to get on. I tried on a larger size in another pattern, and got the information on the make, model, style. Yep -- they have them in my size on Amazon.
We had one more little chore -- to pick up Charlie Button at the Pet Nanny. We had requested that she have a bath, and called to see if she was all done. On the way out of town we were able to pick up one happy little doggie. She was all clean and nice -- and very happy to see us!
Tomorrow we have a little consolation trip for not seeing Glacier Bay. We are heading for a summer sled-dog-training-camp to hold puppy sled dogs, and be pulled in some kind of training sled on wheels!
At 1:00 we dropped Charlie off at the Pet Nanny for the next two days and drove on to the airport for our flight to Gustavus and Glacier Bay. We checked in, navigated the security, and sat down to wait for boarding. There were very few people in the airport, but then a flight from Seattle landed disgorging a lot of people, and they all sat down to board our flight!
Settled in the plane (next to last row) there was an unknown delay the stewardess and pilot kept minimizing . . . we were in the air 30 minutes late. Shortly after reached cruising speed the pilot came on to inform us that Gustavus had a very low “ceiling” and it was getting lower by the minute. Our flight was only 20 minutes, and we knew we were close when the plane dipped down --- far down – under the clouds to skim the water. Then he winged back up, did a big looping turn, came on the intercom announced we would be returning to Juneau.
Off the plane in Juneau, I stood in the long line for the ticket refund and Tom scouted out other flight options to Gustavus. There was nothing that would get us there for our all-day-boat-tour of the Glacier. Next he phoned the Glacier Lodge tour company – and received a FULL REFUND for our night’s stay and tour boat! Combined with the airplane refund – we weren’t out any money. That was ALMOST enough good feeling to negate the bad feeling of the aborted trip.
We left the airport and headed to a bar that was just miles from our campground – intending to lighten up a bit. On the way inside the bar, a smoker on the deck commented that we looked a little “down” – we told him our sad story. After we were seated he came to our table and sat down with us to buy us a round of drinks! He had a summer home on Gustavas, and just felt bad that we would miss seeing it. What a nice guy – he really raised our morale -- and the burgers and wings weren't bad, either!
OK – so we were back at the Silvermine, a big refund burning a hole in our pockets, and two days to spend it! Life is Good! I'll leave you with a few pictures of our aborted trip!
June 25, Sunday
At 9:00 a.m. we were off scouting. Across the Gastineau Channel from Downtown Juno is a bridge onto Douglas Island. It was raining, so a drive along the Douglas Island was a dry choice for the morning. There is one highway on Douglas Island, and it runs about 20 miles along less than half of the coastline. A few miles have residences with the homes facing the Channel and Juneau. There is a side-road that goes up to the Eaglecrest Ski area, but other than that, the Island is just a small downtown and a short strip of habitation.
Back on the mainland, we looked for the State Capital Building and found it about 5 blocks off the main waterfront drive. At that point, the streets were narrow and vertical – almost like San Francisco! Beyond the Capital building, the road continued to climb Mt. Roberts, and became incredibly narrow heading back to the Perseverance Trail and the Last Chance Mining Museum. After parking, there was an up-and-down-and-up hike to get to the museum. Along the way we crossed a river with people panning for gold. The Historic AJ Gold Mine was home to the world’s largest air compressor (fresh air for the miners in the hole) and had a beautiful 3D glass map and many mining exhibits.
Following lunch at the Silvermine, we headed out again, driving to the west end of Juno to Eagle Beach. Along the way we saw our first wild bear – up close. Unfortunately, he was walking alongside the busy highway, and there was no stopping for a good picture. I managed to get the back portion as we drove by! We have read that bears are often seen in downtown Juneau, and once recently walked into a bar! So, a bear walked into a bar and said . . .
The drive out to Eagle Beach was about 15 miles along the coast, passing Mendenhall Glacier that we had seen, and two other Glaciers, Eagle and Herbert, that only have hiking trails to get to them. We were delighted with the walking paths at Eagle Beach, and the rain let up as we enjoyed a walk along the beach path and the primitive campground.
We headed back to the Silvermine in the middle of the afternoon with a few chores to organize for tomorrow. We are dropping Charlie Button off at the Pet Nanny (for an overnight spa treatment) in the morning, and we are boarding a plane to fly over to Glacier Bay National Park where we have reservations for a night in the lodge. Come back to read all about it!
June 24, Saturday
Our first day in Juneau we wanted to get the lay of the land, so we headed into downtown Juneau. Our campground is about 11 miles outside of town, with a straight-shot drive to get to the shopping district. Downtown Juneau, much like Sitka and Kitchican, is dedicated to servicing cruise ships with store after store of souvenirs, Alaskan-made crafts, and jewelry stores. A cruise ship had already disembarked passengers when we arrived downtown, and we arrived just in time for the sidewalk shuffle!
There were some nice shops – a quilt store and a wonderful beer paraphernalia store. In it saw a little stainless, growler/keg that was just adorable, with copper fittings . . . and a hefty price. On a whim, we bought sweatshirts from the Red Dog Saloon (kind of like if you go to Sloppy Joe's in Key West!) We walked down one long street, and back down the other side, and then decided to save the rest for another trip.
We headed back to the Silvermine for lunch, and then planned an expedition to the famous Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Center. The Glacier is one of the most visited Glaciers – they did everything but park it right downtown! It is a real “urban” glacier – practically a “drive-up” glacier! There are lots of hiking trails around the Glacier to various viewing points, and we enjoyed the Nugget Creek Trail to the waterfalls that flows beside the glacier into Mendenhall Lake at the base of the glacier. It was a paved, level walkway of only 2 miles and a relaxing hike. A small portion of it took place in a light rain.
This was our first hike and view of Mendenhall Glacier, but I am sure there will be more to come. On the way back to our campsite, we stopped for grocery supplies, and chose a rib-eye for the grill tonight. This will be the first time in Alaska we have had a nice setting for grilling. There are signs and reports of bears in the campground, and we’re hoping to get the steak on and off before they come calling! We'll eat inside!
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.
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