Tuesday, September 06, 2011


On Monday the 29th we put into port at the village on Baranoff Warm Springs Bay.  The community is tiny.  A waterfall tumbled into the bay to the left of the dock.  Several substantial homes clung to the steeply raked hillside on sturdy posts, but being down on the somewhat flatter land by the water’s edge was clearly no guarantee a house wouldn’t slide.

We began to ascend the hillside on beautifully constructed wooden steps through lush growths including the three foot long leaves of the giant skunk cabbage.  So far, so good. But the trail quickly became less wooden plank construction and more bare earth, large rocks and eventually steep climbs up and down on a tangle of tree roots, fallen trees, rocks and erosion.

We arrived at last at two natural rock pools right at the edge of where a highland lake’s water began its fall down to the Bay. 

The thermal spring’s water was up around 105 degrees as it flowed into the first pool, a bit lower after it had flowed into the second. 

There was a small unisex changing area but at least young man had decided to forego swimwear, just dropped trou and left it at that.  I was happy to discover that nobody in our group was at all uncomfortable with that. 

After soaking for twenty minutes, Fritz and I dressed; he stayed to talk with some of our shipmates while I took the five minute walk to the serene lake that was the waterfall’s source.

 On Tuesday the 30th we sailed north and began to see humpback whales with some frequency.  We were headed first to a particular junction among the island where whales were known to feed and when we arrived, several other boats were standing by for the communal feeding that pods of a dozen or so humpbacks do.  The feeding cycle goes like this:

Whales gather, their locations marked by the spouts from their blow holes.  When a sufficient number are present, they dive down to encircle a school of fish and krill, and drive them closer to the surface.  At this point, the action underwater and the arrival at the surface of the krill which are tiny crustaceans attracts gulls and other birds who circle the scene to get what they can snatch. 

The whales suddenly breach the surface, their mouths full of fish and krill, beating their flukes on the surface and sometimes trumpeting a long and deep feeding call.  After they’ve scattered to force the excess water out of their mouths and swallow their catch, the next round begins.

After lunch, we sailed to Tenakee Springs, a village with a population of 98 and something of an artist colony.  Several of the houses had a handmade look and gardens were plentiful.  The houses were spread along both sides of one long street that ran along the shore and were built surprisingly close together as if placed to create a tight community between the rainforest and the sea. 

The “center” of town was actually at one end of the main (only) street, dominated by the late 19TH Mercantile that maintained it’s original fixtures, hand-crank cash register and proudly featured in the window a 1940s box of Oxydol detergent in its distinctive blue and orange concentric circle box with the product name and nothing else.  It stood out on the grocery store shelf in its day and would do so again because of its bold geometric simplicity were it to be picked up again by one of Oxydol’s contemporary descendents.  The post office and a café that served as the town’s art gallery for works in watercolor, wool and other media completed the commercial zone.

The activity here was a roughly two mile hike through rain forest to a suspension bridge over the shallow, fast-moving Indian River -- perfect for salmon spawning.  The trail was easy enough to navigate, the forest filled with caves in the rock, trees growing or dying and rotting in all the bizarre they do in rain forests, and observation of wildlife.

After lunch we sailed to Pavlov’s Bay, where I took one of the boat’s kayak’s to a waterfall frequented by bears, the attraction for them being the fish ladder next to the falls. At happy hour the featured hors d’oeuvres were chicken and cheese quesedillas, which inspired me to shed my margarita virginity to very happy effect. We retired around 10pm, read in bed a bit and turned off the lights soon after.

I was awakened by a tumult of activity just before 11pm, particularly by a loud voice shouting “You’re going to hit our boat!” I looked out our cabin window to see a big white vessel about two feet from me, it’s bridge searchlight shining down on its bow, one of our crew standing inches from me on a six inch ledge along the hull, fending the other boat off, some of their crew scrambling fast to get bumpers hung along their hull to prevent impact.

From calls back and forth between the two vessels I pieced together that the white boat had anchored too close to ours, and that they’d been asleep with no watch posted for the night. Kayaks were launched to check for damage and to see if the anchor chains were fouled with each other while the other boat was cautiously backed away from ours. All this happened in a loud and exciting quarter of an hour.

Fritz slept soundly through the whole thing.

Your photos make me excited to return to Alaska as soon as I can.
Fabulous post to show me the "details" of the Alaska I haven't toured....with perfect photos. SO thrilled you truly immersed yourself in this trip. seems like it will be a life-time memory .....
Blimey - gives Iceland a run for its money. Great photos.
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