Wednesday we came home from a two week trip to Alaska and the American Northwest. We had done an Alaska Inner Passage cruise last fall and had a very good time. But this year there were a couple of important anniversaries and birthdays among us and two other close blogger friend couples; they proposed Alaska and I found a cruise company and ship that didn't duplicate any part of last year's itinerary. More to the point, it promised to be filled with kayaking, nature walks and a hike to -- as well as on -- a glacier. This was very different from last year, so we "signed on the dotted line." I'll spread the pictures out over several posts.
The Columbia River with one of its famed dams, shot as we began descending toward Seattle/Tacoma Airport. Three years ago, we cruised the Snake and Columbia Rivers, passing through this dam's locks and heading to the Pacific Ocean.
We spent a delightful afternoon in Seattle with a friend for lunch, a visit to an outdoor market with a series of sculptures he loves -- like the one above, they all depict street signs with the black glyph springing out three dimensionally -- followed by a visit to the hill of the Asian Art Museum, it's great round tower and the incredibly beautiful conservatory. Then, dinner with a couple of his friends, after which we spent some catch-up time with him before we turned in for the night.
Seattle's Russian Orthodox cathedral. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian diocese of Alaska actually stretched from Kamchatka in Siberia to Northern California. The archbishop responsible for administering this immense diocese was headquartered in Sitka, Alaska -- but that was LAST year's Alaskan cruise!
We then flew to Juneau where it was foggy with rain, VERY Alaska in other words. The next day we got together with our cruising companions Doug Taron and Leon Halloran from Chicago; and Michael Rockwell (the noted blogger UrSpo of Spo Reflections) and David Wright from the appallingly hot Phoenix, Arizona (118 degrees we were told on the TV weather).
We walked about a while and then took the tram 1800 feet above Juneau. We hiked the trail around the mountain top, seeing this amazing bit of tree growth, which reminds me of nothing so much as Arabic script.
Ravens are part of the daily life of Juneau, lots of ravens with several different cries. They enjoy sitting on ledges and cornices but always facing the building, not the street. Alaskan ravens are good-sized birds who are also found on the ground with little fear of walking right up to you.
The Alaska State Museum has an excellent collection of native art, artifacts, clothing, tools and boats. The masks were my absolute favorites.
The Museum also had a fascinating exhibit in documents, artifacts, art and photographs of the virtually unknown occupation of parts of Alaska by the Japanese in World War II.
Came mid-afternoon and we boarded our boat at the Juneau City Dock (the massive cruise ships tie up at a promenade along the foot of the mountain). The Wilderness Discoverer accommodates 72 passengers, has three pontoon skiffs and a fleet of kayaks. If I recall correctly, she's 169 feet long and very nicely refitted just a couple of years ago. The lounge/bar/dining area was roomy and bartender Shaun was both skilled and knowledgeable; he gave an excellent beer tasting one afternoon with detailed description of ingredients and brewing methods, none of the beers being from major American breweries whose products he (and most of those on board it seemed) didn't think worth considering.
One of our first adventures was to South Sawyer Glacier. This picture was taken from one of the skiffs. The brown silhouettes on the ice floes are harbor seals, comfortably rolling around in the sun. Ships and boats of all sizes maintain a 1/4 mile distance from any glacier whose face is in water. The Sawyer fjord is 800 feet deep, meaning that the glacier's ice extends 800 feet below the water line. During our time by the Sawyer glacier, it calved chunks of ice three times from its face. However, had it calved from anywhere below the surface, the icebergs would have shot upwards (in fact, they're called shooters) and would have been capable of destroying most boats or seriously damaging them at the very least. Thus the 1/4 mile stand back.
A bull harbor seal checking us out as the Discoverer left the glacier at slow speed so as not to disturb the seals as far as possible.