Friday July 8, 2022
Kara and Jim arrived early to take us to the Comfort Inn Bloomington, MN near the airport. nice dinner and lots of laughs at our traditional vacation eve place, the Outback Steakhouse.
Saturday July 9, 2022
Kara and Jim met us in the lobby at 8:30 and dropped us off at the airport. Very little traffic seemed strange. Walked through TSA security with only 2 people ahead of us. Gate D3 is only 200 yards from the TSA, so we arrived at the gate 2:05 hours before our 11:00 flight to Seattle. Blue skies suggested no travel delays at MSP.
An uneventful flight, just like we like it! Linda watched the movie The Proposal, which is supposed to be set in Sitka Alaska. I read a book on South Eastern Alaska to be better prepared for our visit.
Landed in Seattle with partly cloudy skies, perfect to view beautiful Puget Sound. With the time change, we landed at 12:48. I flew to Seattle many times when our primary hospital software vendor was based here. I experienced lots of cool damp trips, but it was mostly sunny and 74. With the mountains and lush green trees, it is hard to find a prettier place when the sun shines!
With a long layover, we found the Tap and Pour, with the largest seating area in Sea-Tac airport. I Enjoyed a tasty African Amber from Mac and Jack’s Brewery in Redmond WA. Linda had a nice lager from 10 Barrels Brewery in Bend OR. Ordered lunch at the bar. Realized the crazy price for beer at the airport, so we left to find our nearby gate.
Delta 3523 to Sitka Alaska was delayed from 5:15 to 5:59. Not a big deal. With the delay, we arrived at 7:50. It was beautiful to see the mountains with snow still on snow top. 57 degrees.
We took the shuttle to the Totem Hotel. Checked in and then walked across the street to the Pioneer Bar in Sitka for a couple local beers. The hazy IPA from Harbor Mountain Brewery in Sitka was excellent! Still light at 10:00 local time 1:00am CT.
The harbor next to the hotel is pretty and the ring of clouds around the mountains are beautiful. A long day, but we made it!
Sunday July 10, 2022
Originally, we had planned to board a ship for 7 day cruise, but the vessel was deemed not seaworthy and they canceled the cruise in May. We were fortunate to find a 5 day cruise from and to the same cities. We have a couple extra days to explore Sitka!
Could not extend our stay at the Totem Hotel, so we transferred to the nearby Sitka Hotel.
Room was not ready, we left our luggage and set off to explore Sitka’s harbor area and walk the Totem Trail in Sitka National Historic Park. The many tall totem poles are very amazing! The huge old cedar and spruce forest was equally impressive.
Sitka is the largest incorporated city by area in the U.S., with a total area of 4,811 square miles, of which 2,870 square miles is land and 1,941 square miles (40.3%) is water. That’s almost four times the size of the state of Rhode Island!
Most people live at the base of Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano and along the large protected harbor of Sitka Sound.
The local Tlingit clan held the Bald Eagle and the Raven as their top spiritual symbols. We saw several Eagles and a couple Ravens right away. The Ravens call is very unique.
The park commemorates the 1804 battle between the local Tlingit clan and at a Russian fort built here. The Russians were the first white explorers to find and later settle what is known as Alaska. Sitka was the capital city of the Russian holdings in the area.
Sitka served as the U.S. Government Capital of the Department of Alaska until 1906. The seat of government was relocated north to Juneau in 1906 due to declining economic importance of Sitka relative to Juneau, which gained population in the Klondike Gold Rush.
After our hike through the park, we stopped at the Harbor Mountain Brewery for lunch and a couple beers.
We hiked up the mountain along the Indian River until we reached Sitka’s Cross Trail which stretches above the town before heading back down the mountain into town. It was a beautiful hike! Huge cedar and spruce forest.
Some pretty views of the snow capped mountains.
Stopped to cool off and relax at the Bayview Pub. I sampled a local red ale and a hazy IPA. Linda enjoyed a local blueberry beer. After checking into the hotel, we went back to the Bayview Pub for dinner, Linda was excited to get her first meal of fresh Salmon.
Sitka is only accessible by boat or plane as it is on a pair of islands in the Pacific Ocean. With no roads to the mainland, we saw a surprising number of cars/trucks. Gas is $6.07 per gallon.
Hiked 7 miles. I might have over done it again for the first day (again).
Monday July 11, 2022
Up in time to prepare for our Florida condo board meeting scheduled for 1:30ET or 9:30 in Sitka. As Treasurer I wanted to support our President Bill Althoff and Vice President Terry Hodnik as they made the case for all owners to pay for a $1.4 million dollar improvement to replace the curtain wall facing the beach as well as replacing all the 40 year old windows in the master bedrooms. The proposal was approved by the owners and construction should start this fall/winter.
Sitka averages 219 days of rain every year, so it was not surprising that we were greeted with steady rain as we began our walk. We dressed appropriately and headed out along the harbor to see where the cruise ships dock.
We saw a float plane harbor, a common mode of transportation in Alaska.
For a land locked town of 9,000 people on an island with no access to the mainland, we continue to be surprised by the number of cars, buses and trucks on the roads.
We walked to the end of the harbor so we headed back towards town. Many restaurants were closed on Monday, so we returned to the Pioneer Bar to relax.
My new rain pants are a little baggy on me, so we were on a mission to find suspenders. After several failed attempts, we found the Rugged Gear Store and found just what I needed.
We walked along the shops downtown and were surprised by the number of people. Thought it was like Rhinelander on a rainy day and everyone comes to town, but this was different, a cruise ship just dropped off 3,000 people!
We ended up in a big line of people wanting to have dinner at the Watermark Restaurant. A group of 9 ahead and a group of 7 behind. We snuck through the crowd to grab a couple stools at the bar. We talked to a couple of young women from the cruise ship. Sounds like a big ship, with a pool, a casino and all of the features of a luxury cruise. Not our style.
After enjoying halibut caught by my friend John Cunningham last September, I was looking forward to enjoying some fresh halibut in Sitka. Linda found some fresh salmon on the menu. Everyone is happy!
Talking to the manager, it seems like the local businesses find the big cruise ships as a blessing (more sales) and a curse (a rush of guests that strain staffing).
On our walk back to the hotel as the rain stopped, it was amazing to see the fog rising from the trees in the mountains.
Tuesday July 12, 2022
My birthday! No rain and 59 is nice weather for walking. We hiked up nearby Castle Hill in the morning. In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the USA. The purchase added 586,412 sq mi of new territory to the United States for the cost of $7.2 million dollars or $.02 per acre. Sitka celebrates October 18, 1867 as the date the Russian Flag came down and the US flag was raised in front of the Governor’s house inside the fort on Castle Hill. Only a cannon remains to mark the spot. This was also where the first US flag with 49 stars was raised when Alaska gained statehood in 1959.
The view from the top of Castle Hill is spectacular.
We stopped to look inside Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church. Very ornate.
The Bishop House is one of only four remaining Russian structures still standing in Alaska and several other historic Russian buildings in Sitka.
The downtown area was very busy, two large cruise ships were unloading passengers into smaller boats to shuttle people to shore. Some people boarded tour buses and vans while others just wondered around the shops and historic places.
We walked along the harbor and then hiked through the rest of Sitka National Historic Park located across the Indian River from the Totem Trail. This less traveled area is filled with huge old spruce trees as well as many bushes filled with different berries. Yellow and red salmon berries and blueberries.
Stopped at Harbor Mountain Brewery for a cold beer and a pizza.
Walked back to the Sitka National Historic Park and walked through the museum and watched a brief video on the history of the area.
The flowers were in full bloom, pretty amazing given the short growing season.
A fog rolled in over the harbor in late afternoon. The two huge cruise ships have disappeared in the fog.
After a light rain, the skies cleared a bit, but the mountains tops were still encased in thick fog. We walked to Beaks for dinner. A small restaurant with excellent food at a reasonable price. Linda’s seared King Salmon encrusted with sea salt was outstanding! A nice birthday sundae was a nice treat!
Wednesday July 13, 2022
Washed clothes at hotel. Checked out, but left luggage at hotel. Walked through town. Not crazy busy, no cruise ships in the harbor. Hiked the park on east side of the river. Went through the Sitka Science Center, which was interesting. A young enthusiastic marine biologist led us through how the salmon hatchery works.
The National Geographic people were setup at the convention center. We took our Covid tests and walked to the Mean Queen for lunch and enjoyed the harbor view.
Grabbed our luggage from the hotel and checked in at the convention center for the cruise. Even with our package of tour stuff being delivered to our house in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the National Geographic folks handled everything very well.
2 people failed the Covid tests. So we have 42 passengers, 11 naturalist staff and 22 crew on the National Geographic Sea Lion. A 152 foot vessel with just 31 cabins.
Loaded a bus for a tour of Sitka and dropped us off at the National Park again. Walked through the exhibits and learned some photo tricks with the iPhone from Rich.
Back on the bus to board the ship. Room 219 is a little bigger. Having a queen bed, a small table, two chairs and two windows is nice. The bathroom/shower combination was small, but we had everything we need.
The staff introduced themselves, interesting group with a range of experiences. All very excited and passionate. The crew introduced themselves and covered the safety drills. Formed groups to practice putting on the big boxy life jackets.
The lounge has video screens so everyone can follow along during presentations. The dining room is very nice with a full kitchen and plenty of servers.
Nice dinner, I had chicken and Linda had Salmon. Met some nice people from St. Paul, Portland, Chicago, Charlotte, Tucson, Texas, Palm Springs and San Francisco.
Traveled north of Sitka Sound through narrow channels to Salisbury Sound. Then east through the Sergius Narrows. Can’t believe this ship can travel through such narrow channels. Overnight the ship headed southeast through Peril Straights before turning north on the Chatham Straight.
Thursday July 14, 2022
With the ship in the mouth of Tenakee Inlet, Tour leader Don woke us up at 6:15 to say whales are feeding just ahead. We quickly dressed and went to the bow to watch 9 humpback whales feed using a coordinated “bubble net” technique to coral herring. All the whales were breaking water together, then swimming in a circle to trap the fish. Finally they blew mist into the air, often synchronized with each other, before driving down to start feeding again. Could not believe how close they were to the boat.
Our first sunny day. Everything is so beautiful! After a hardy breakfast, we boarded Zodiac boats.
We went to shore for a nice guided hike along bear paths in the forest to a small stream where we saw a small Sitka black tailed deer along a river. Very cool!
Pretty easy hike on a well defined bear trail, with several sightings of bear scat. The ABC Brown bears are closely linked to Grizzly bears.
With the full moon, low tide drops 18 feet from high tide. The tide rose dramatically during our morning hike.
After an amazing morning, we had a nice lunch of chili and tuna. Relaxed in our cabin for a while.
Rich held a more in-depth session on using all the features of your iPhone camera. Amazing!
More humpback whales were spotted near Point Adolphus (across the channel from the town of Gustavus).
We spotted a big brown bear stretched out on a rock along the shore. He didn’t move much, looked pretty comfortable.
Cocktail hour and dinner of huge beef tips and halibut. We are eating a lot more than at home!
Dessert was interrupted by the sighting of killer whales near shore inside Glacier Bay National Park. The ship is not permitted to get close to shore. Saw a harbor porpoise.
Just after we had gotten ready for bed, the announcement was made that the killer whales were feeding in front of the ship. I jumped up, got dressed, grabbed my iPhone and binoculars to watch quite a show. Saw 7 killer whales, including 2 small whales and 1 very large whale with a huge backfin.
Quite a day! In addition to the amazing scenery, we Saw humpback whales, killer whales, harbor porpoise, Sitka black tailed deer and a brown bear.
Friday July 15, 2022
Don’s soothing school principal voice woke us up at 7:00. Breakfast at 7:30 and the announcement of the day’s activities. We will be in the second group of people to do a Zodiac tour. Need to wear all of our warm clothes to stay dry and warm while on the water.
Saw more birds here. Ducks, cormorants and sea gulls. Fishing boats look tiny in the grand scale of the mountains.
Sunshine and blue skies were a welcomed surprise! The Zodiac ride was amazing! We went around a corner and we looked straight into the snow covered mountains in Glacier Bay National Park.
When the tide rises, it creates strong currents from the Pacific Ocean as it fills the straights and channels. The Zodiac rode the currents like a river. The Sea Lions feed aggressively on all the fish brought in by the currents. Sea Lions catch fish and they come to the surface to shake the fish to break it up to swallow whole. Huge, 2,000 lbs Sea Lions came right up to the Zodiac. We floated in the middle of a pack of Sea Lions. Incredible!
The Sea Gulls and other birds picked up any scraps left by the Sea Lions. Our friends Bennett and Christine got some great pictures!
We pulled into a quiet cove to watch Sea Otters in the kelp along shore. Some we wrestling each other, some were floating on their back. My pictures don’t show all of the activities of the Sea Otters, but George snapped a great picture with his telephoto lens.
Found another group of Sea Lions along shore. Young males, fighting and calling out to each other. Another climbed up on a rock shelf for a nap.
Bald Eagles were everywhere! Mature and immature. Diving down to the water to pick up fish pulled in by the currents. Watched a Bald Eagle fight off an immature eagle for his prime spot over the Sea Lions.
Headed back to the ship along the Mosquito Straight that is only passable during high tide. A great ride!
Next we took Zodiacs to George’s Island, the sight of a World War II outpost with artillery to protect the Inside Passage from Japanese attack. The Zodiac landed on a unique granite beach, with each stone worn smooth by the waves.
Our group included a 90 year old man with his 86 year old wife. They were amazing on the steep rocky trail. He was a boy during WWII.
The “moderate” hike was a bit more strenuous than expected, but it was beautiful.
Views from the top of the island was incredible. The one big artillery piece shot 6” shells 7,000 yards, most likely a 155mm howitzer. How they got that big gun up that mountain is amazing.
42 men were stationed there for 3 years until the end of the war. They had barracks, mess hall, tool shop, ammo storage, fuel tanks and water tanks. This was the very important spot where the men buried the beer!
The Japanese took two islands in the Aleutian Islands, but never made an attempt to gain access to the Inner Passage.
Lots of spectacular views of glaciers, snow covered mountains and the blue Pacific Ocean.
Andy gave a lecture on the difference between Sea Lions that we saw today and Seals that we will see tomorrow (hopefully).
Al explained a mystery of how sealed plastic and aluminum bottles with Japanese printing washed up on George Island in 2012. They were dumped into the ocean after the Tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Al investigated the ocean currents and made a strong case that these bottles floated to Alaska. Mystery solved!
Nice dinner of Dungeness crab with complementary Alaskan Amber. Perfect!
Lauren gave an impassioned lecture on banana slugs. Here is a slug found by Rich.
A spectacular sunset behind the ship was an unexpected bonus.
Saturday July 16, 2022
Overnight, our ship made it up the Lynn Canal and anchored in the Chilkoot Inlet in front of the quaint town of Haines.
Up early to have breakfast at 6:30 and took the Zodiacs to the dock. Steady wind out of south made for a rough trip, but also brought very comfortable temperatures.
Loaded an old school bus for the hour long trip up the Chilkat River, past the village of Klukwan and exhibit hall, which was closed due to a power outage. Our tour guide Wiley was an energetic/hyper young guy that told several long rambling stories, generally around his love of the wilderness.
We put on rubber boots and loaded into our raft, built for whitewater. Our guide was a tiny young woman named Raven who steered us down the river and often pulled us off of low spots. The river is fed from the glacier, so it was filled with small stones washed downstream from the glacier. Water levels change every day, depending upon how fast the glacier melts, so everyday is different for the river raft guides.
We saw many bald eagles feeding on the salmon that are just starting their run back to their spawning grounds. All 5 subspecies of salmon (coho, chinook, pink, drum and sockeye) use this river for spawning. In the peak of the fall spawning run, their are thousands of eagles in this area.
The thrill of the day was watch a big brown bear with two cubs walking towards our rafts. When they got too close, one of the guides stood up and yelled at the bears. The momma bear stood up and saw us and started running away, with the two cubs following behind. It was amazing to watch this big bear run so fast over rocks, mud and water. What a thrill!
A nice lunch along the river before boarding the bus back to Haines. Some people had other activities scheduled for the afternoon, so the bus dropped us off at the harbor. I asked Wiley if the bus could take us to the Haines Brewery, he said sure! 5 other people from our ship joined us.
Paul Wheeler owns Haines Brewing Company in Haines, AK. Paul graduated in 1977 from Owatonna High School with my brother Tim. Tim was one of the founders of Mineral Springs Brewery in Owatonna and Paul’s his brother, John, is currently the assistant brewer at MSB. What a small world!
We had a chance to sample his outstanding beer (his Spruce Tip Ale is outstanding!) and talk to Paul on how he made his way from Owatonna Minnesota to Haines Alaska. He wanted to live in the woods and after trying forestry and working for the forest service in many locations, he found himself in Haines in 1984 and has never left. A home brew hobby turned into a small business with converted dairy tanks and it has grown into an impressive facility with a 7 barrel system.
Later that evening, Andy gave a lecture on why glaciers are blue.
Sunday July 17, 2022
Woke up in Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness. The ship was dodging icebergs as we approached South Sawyer Glacier. Cooler 45 and rain as we went past countless waterfalls coming down from the steep cliffs.
After breakfast, we boarded the first Zodiac to navigate around the icebergs towards the Glacier. A very impressive sight! A valley filled with blue ice topped with white snow.
The face of the glacier is massive!
Watched Harbor Seals swimming and laying on the smaller icebergs. The bigger icebergs were a deep blue, some clear and some white.
With a loud crack, we watched big sections of the glacier fall into the water, creating a huge wave. A young girl recorded a big calving event, a very cool video.
A Pirate Zodiac approached us, bringing hot chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream to take the edge of a cold wet morning in 34 degree water. They had some fun with their Pirate or Viking outfits!
The colors and designs in the rock exposed by the receding glacier was amazing.
Andy gave a lecture on tide pools while the second group were out seeing the glacier.
After lunch, Everyone gave Rich their best photos for the evening slide show.
After lunch, we pulled into Williams Bay, a quiet cove, perfect for kayaking. The staff used a crane to lower the Zodiac s and kayaks from the roof. The crew used Zodiacs to haul the kayaks to the beach.
Despite the rain, several of us took the Zodiacs to shore to launch the kayaks. I paddled across the cove to take a close look at a beautiful waterfall.
As I paddled back towards shore, I noticed all the Zodiacs zooming towards shore. Something was up! A large bear came out of the woods to check out the kayaks and the staff on the beach. Even with all of yelling and the sound of the Zodiac motors, the bear was not scared away.
We were instructed to paddle to the back of the ship and get out of the kayak and into a Zodiac. I am not very flexible, but with the help of two staff members, I was able to get out of the kayak without getting wet.
We watched the first bear was joined by another bear with a scar on its shoulder during the Captain’s farewell dinner and during the very cool end of trip video of the best pictures from the trip.
Monday July 18, 2022
After sailing through some rough weather, we woke to 50 and rain in Juneau. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to the staff and crew.
We boarded a tour bus for a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. We hiked the the impressive Nugget waterfall at the base of the glacier.
After our hike, we boarded the bus and headed to the airport, where our luggage was waiting. TSA was no problem at this very small airport located at the base of snow capped mountains. It has a long narrow lake along the runway for float planes. More helicopters landing than planes.
With nearly 300,000 people, Anchorage is far and away the largest city in Alaska. 40% of the people in the state live in Anchorage. Nice newer airport. Our Lyft driver was excellent, friendly and informative. She confirmed that Anchorage is a big city.
Our hotel, the Copper Whale Inn is a quaint small hotel with a beautiful view of Cook Inlet at low tide.
We walked to the 49th State Brewery for dinner and to sample some good beer. Busy place! We were hoping to sit outside on the deck to enjoy a mostly sunny and 66 degree day, but instead of an hour wait, we found a couple seats at the bar. Their Spruce Tip Ale is almost as good as Haines and Linda enjoyed their award winning Golden Eagle with a twist of lime and sea salt.
Tried a couple of their specialty dinners, beer battered haddock and a Yak burger. Both were excellent.
Nice to wash clothes at the hotel for the first time in a week. Great to take a shower in a full sized bath tub. Slept well.
Tuesday July 19, 2022
Nice breakfast at the Copper Whale Inn. Talked to a family from New Jersey. They had just come back from Denali, cloudy and rain.
Our travel agency, Salmon Berry Tours has been wonderful to work with. They helped with all the details to plan the ground portions of our Alaska Adventure! The van picked us up right on schedule and took us along the Seward Highway to an old gold rush town home to the Girdwood Brewing Company. It made use of lots of old skiing things (skis, lift chairs, etc. ) Linda enjoyed the Kolsch and I thought their Amber was excellent.
The food truck made fresh crepes, Linda had a breakfast crepe and I enjoyed the pizza Crepes
After lunch, we took the tram up Mount Alyeska ski resort. An impressive view to go from basically sea level to 3,000 feet. They typically get 60 feet of snow each year, last year they got 100 feet!
Next we went to the Alaska Conservation Center to see rescued wildlife in a close to natural environment.
For the second time during our trip, we convinced the bus driver to drop us off at a brewery. It was raining hard when we reached the Broken Tooth brewery at the famous Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria in Anchorage. Huge crowd on a rainy Tuesday night. Linda grabbed two open seats at the bar which saved us 55 minutes. Excellent beer, Linda enjoyed the raspberry wheat beer and good pizza.
Took a Lyft back to the Copper Whale Inn.
Wednesday July 20, 2022
After a comfortable nights sleep and a light breakfast at the Copper Whale Inn, Joan, our Salmon Berry Tour van driver was waiting for us. We headed north to the little town of Willow. We had planned to fish the river, but the recent heavy rain has flooded the river, so we fished a local lake. Can’t control the weather.
We met Mason, our fishing guide. He took us to a small lake called South Rolly in the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. Motors are prohibited, so it was a quiet area. We are now used to getting in and out of rubber rafts.
Caught and released four little rainbows on our fly rods on a wholly bugger. As always, Linda caught the first fish. Mason would see schools of rainbows or an occasional northern pike in the crystal clear water and we would try to cast to the spot. We missed several other bites. Nice shore lunch of Reindeer brats.
Paddled close to two adult Loons with two baby chicks.
Nice weather until the wind and rain pushed us off the lake. Joan met us at the landing and took us to the Talkeetna Cabins. A very nice Log Cabin just off of Main Street.
On a clear day, you can see Denali from Talkeetna. Interesting little town with a classic general store with a little bit of everything.
After a walk through town in the rain, we found Denali Brewing Company. Outstanding beer, the Single Engine Red was excellent and good BBQ.
Thursday, July 21, 2022
After steady rain all night, the rain stopped as we checked out of our cabin and we took the shuttle to the Talkeetna train station. For many years, the Alaskan Railroad was the only means of transportation to get from Seward to Anchorage to Fairbanks and past what is now called Denali National Park. A very clean comfortable and roomy way to travel. We upgraded to the Gold Star train with the large windows, perfect for viewing wildlife and the beautiful scenery.
With the thick cloud cover, we could not see Denali, but there was lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy.
Linda thought the train was right out of the movie, The Polar Express so after lunch, she ordered a hot chocolate.
We made a steady climb through Summit Pass, the highest point along the Alaskan Railroad and also the continental divide, where water starts flowing north to the Bering Sea instead of to the Pacific Ocean.
We arrived at Denali Station at the entrance to the National Park. the hotel shuttle took us to the Denali Buffs Hotel. A beautiful view from almost every room.
The clouds lifted and we saw some sunshine for the first time in 3 days. Dinner at the Mountaineer Grill. Great view, outstanding service, good food and I was pleasantly surprised that they had Single Engine Red from Denali Brewery on tap.
Friday July 22, 2022
Up early to board the Fly Denali shuttle bus to the Healy River Airport. With the poor weather conditions we toured the Alaskan Range instead of Denali. Disappointing, but we can’t control the weather. With the bad ice conditions on the glacier, we were not able to land on the glacier. Several other people canceled, so they took us up in a very small plane, very uncomfortable for Linda in the back. To balance the weight, I rode in the co-pilot seat of this Cessna 185.
We followed the Nenana River into the Alaskan Range. The higher peaks were covered by clouds, but we flew over several pretty valleys and two glaciers. We flew through some snow and turned around before the heavy snow hit. Snow in late July!
The light snow and rain created a beautiful rainbow.
We flew over our Denali Bluffs hotel on the way back to the airport. Several independent buildings on the side of the canyon.
Our pilot Michael executed a smooth landing. Felt good to stretch our legs again.