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.
Today we hiked several trails of beautiful rainforest. Evidently, we completely forgot we were in Alaska and didn’t prepare very well for grizzly bear encounters! We forgot the bear spray! Our first hike was in the Settlers Cove State Recreation area. We took the Lunch Falls Loop Trail.
Charlie Button got to go with us, and she loved the trail. Walking the trail takes a lot longer when you have to stop and sniff!
At this point we were still going strong, so we headed for another trail -- the Ward Lake Loop Trail, winding all the way around a small lake.
We found a picnic area for our picnic lunch. Today I packed a raw meaty bone for Charlie Button to enjoy.
This is NOT a totem pole! It is a tree stump in one of the primitive campgrounds; evidently someone got a little artistic!
Speaking of campgrounds, we did scout out several wilderness campgrounds in the rainforest areas. They are all beautifully, deeply wooded, and completely without hookups -- $10 a night, and $5 for seniors! They are mostly smaller than what would accommodate the truck and the Silvermine. But, for the price of $5 – we could take two side/by/side sites and fit very nicely.
Mid-afternoon we headed back into downtown Ketchikan to scout out our meeting location for tomorrows Misty Fjords Tour. We found our meeting place and long-term parking space, and enjoyed walking the tourist ambush streets again. All four downtown berths were full with different cruise ships from yesterday! A finally stop to buy some salmon for supper, and we headed back to the Silvermine.
Saturday, June 10,
When we woke up in the Walmart parking lot, we were in the company of at least 15 other overnighters – all from our ferry. We were the first up and off, and we headed 14 miles down the road to Clover Bay RV Resort, where we had reservations. The “resort” is a collection of sea-side buildings including rental rooms, marina services, restaurant, fishing tours, and several tiers of parking lot back-ins for RVs. The entire parking lot is the “dirty” stone that includes a lot of black grime and behind our camper there is a small patch (we’re talking 6’ X 4’) of grass. Actually, we can sit our camp chairs on our patch of (long) grass and overlook the ocean! For camping purposes I would not call it a paradise, but it is a place to headquarters out of and it has all the services and full hook-ups we need. And, the people that run the place are extremely helpful and pleasant. And, most importantly, the internet is the speed of light!
We headed out to explore Ketchikan in the morning – taking sandwiches with us. On the Tongas Highway, back towards town, we stopped at the Totem Bight State Historical Park. . . so named because from the air it looked like a “bight” had been taken out of the coastline. In the early 1900’s Alaskan Natives were rousted by a growth of non-native settlements and they left behind their villages and totem poles which were quickly overgrown by forests. In 1938 the U.S. Forest Service began salvaging and reconstructing the large cedar totem poles. The CCC hired skilled carvers from among the older natives, and suddenly young artisans began learning the art of carving totem poles and many of the rotting totems were repaired or duplicated. We jumped in front of a tour bus group and followed the trail map around the park.
Our next stop was smack downtown where the cruise ships port – the Disney Princess had just arrived and gushed out her tourists. The stores are definite tourist traps, with barkers standing in the doors saying: “You know you want to come in and look!” We have been warned many times that the jewelry and “native crafts” are not indigenous – but we still had to go in a few stores for a quick look.
We took our sandwiches on down the road to the Rotary Beach picnic area, and had a nice little walk along the shore, and Tom added to his around-the-USA water collection. (it is a farthest North, and a farthest West sample.)
A long-awaited goal was our first Alaska Seafood dinner. While walking the streets of the tourist entrapment area, we couldn’t help but notice the prices posted on the restaurant door ($29. for a single king crab leg!), so we opted for a fish market where we purchased Black Cod and shrimp. A grocery store produced all we needed to go with it – fresh corn/cob, lemon, small red potatoes, etc. Back at the camper we had a bottle of Oliver Bubblecraft White to baptize the meal!
After dinner, Tom accepted advice from a teen-aged girl – she said if we wanted to see bears, drive to Herring Bay in the early evening. We bit! It was a 30 minute drive back down the Tongass Highway and back up the other side of the point. No bears . . . but a beautiful drive!
We lined up for the ferry at 2:00 – arriving to find that there were at least 25 other rigs in front of us. We pulled into line . . . and waited. After several hours, our rig was officially measured at 45’ and we were told to report to the custom’s office to get tickets and instructions.
Then more waiting. The word seeped up through the line that the ferry was several hours late! By 7:30 pm we were slowly being directed onto the ferry with some kind of master plan that would allow some of us to get off at Ketchikan, while other’s remained on for destinations down the road . . . uh . . waterway!
The ferry left at 9:30 pm – precisely three hours late – for the 6 hour ride to Ketchikan.We were packed into the hold of the ship, settled Charlie Button in the Silvermine, and climbed the steps to the upper decks. The Matanuska was an old girl, but had everything needed for a comfortable 6-hour cruise.
We passed by the private cabins and the cafeteria, and headed for the upper rear deck. A mother that we had met, traveling with two kids in a small motorhome, had her tent all set up on the deck and was in the process of securing it firmly with duct tape! Her children are home-schooled . . . and the lessons never stop!
We busily got pictures in the fading light, and settled on the open deck as the ship got underway. After an hour, the chill chased us inside where we had our choices of lounges. The one at the front of the ship was very crowded with a view out the front of the ship. Up another level and more towards the back, we found a completely different type of lounge with recliner chairs set up in pairs, with ample room to stash our gear and lean back for a side-ways view.
After it was dark and there was no more view, napping and reading and gaming and napping some more got us through the next six hours. When the announcement came that we were 30 minutes out from Ketchikan there was a migration towards the cafeteria for a last cup of coffee. When fully docked at 3:30 there was an exodus to the vehicle deck. It didn’t take long to disembark, and drive three miles to a friendly Walmart to spend the rest of the night! There was a time-change, and so our Alaska Adventure began at 2:30 Saturday morning! Goodnight!
We looked forward to a leisurely take-off this morning – without the trailer in tow! Our first objective was a big breakfast at a downtown, hometown, resataurant . . . Naomi’s fit the bill. I had wonderful eggs Benedict and the home-style potatoes were noteworthy. After that we toured the little town of Prince Rupert -- in the drizzle and high 50’s temperature. We like to cruse the residential neighborhoods and get a feel for how people live day-to-day life. Homes are not especially pretty – and life does not seem very exciting in Prince Rupert.
I requested a stop at the local pet store and with Charlie Button in tow I bought her a large bag of raw blade bones and a pretty little fur-lined rain coat. We also went down to the Alaska Marine Highway office to ask a few questions about loading on the ferry tomorrow. We picked up books for our first stop – Ketchikan. Afternoon was laundry – easy because the RV park facility was right across the road from us.
For dinner we had purchased a frozen pizza and popped that in the oven. The heat of the oven helped take off the chill and dry up the damp!
Friday, June 9
Today was the big day to get on the ferry – but only after a whole day of waiting! We will get in line for the ferry at 2:00, but won’t load until later and leave dock until 6:30.
Here is a basic map of the ferry route through the inside passage; our first leg today is from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan, and we are to arrive sometime around midnight. We have directions to a church parking lot to pull in for the overnight, and then will drive to our campground in the morning.
To kill time we did another drive into the town of Prince Rupert and walked through some interesting artisan shops and strolled a little boardwalk to get a good picture of the harbor. Everything in Prince Rupert seems a little run-down, and there is just nothing appealing about the store or restaurant fronts that entices. We also observed that this is a very high concentration of Oriental peoples – running the shops, restaurants and other places of business -- and wonder what in Prince Rupert's past accounts for this influx.
We came back to the RV park at 11:30 to have time to over-think what we would be taking onto the ferry with us. We’ll each have a backpack, and we won’t be able to go down to the truck/airstream. Charlie will spend the 5 hours in the Airstream as dogs are not allowed on the ferry decks. We will be able to go down and get her whenever the ferry stops at a port. Our understanding is that the ferry has open deck and closed deck heated solariums, a cafeteria, restrooms, etc. It also has cabins for people that are going a long distance and want privacy, and tents are allowed to be set up for sleeping on one of the decks. We can't wait to see what it is all about!
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