Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Juneau -- And a Whale Story

When we started on the road we had several things in mind that we wanted to do and after seven years we have added a few to do items to the list.  A new one is to visit every state capitol building.  We have missed a few along the way where we did not stop, so not being sure if we will ever return to Alaska, we decided we needed to go to Juneau and add the Alaska state capitol.  While that was the goal, the trip on the Fjord Express exceeded all expectations with the most fabulous whale story I have ever had the chance to tell. 
No, we were not sitting still, I even got to drive the boat.  I guess Captain George felt safe leaving it in my hands when he knew we were in over 1000 feet of water.
The Eldred Rock Lighthouse was built in the early 1900's.  It has been automated since 1973 and they are now looking for a buyer.  Even Nanc with her love of lighthouses is not interested in a house on a rock in the middle of the Lynn Canal in Alaska.
More Stellar sea lions.  We have seen them on every boat excursion we have taken.  This time one of them was putting on a show rolling and jumping out of the water. 
These ones where hanging out on a buoy.  We stopped and Captain George, who is trying to teach them to ring the bell, was not able to get them to cooperate on this trip.
Something a little different, an eagle overlooking a group of harbor seals.
Downtown Juneau is a compact area between the water and the mountains.  While it is geared to the tourist, it has all the capital city offices related to the state and federal government you would see in any capital.
The houses extend up the side of the mountain directly above the downtown.  It reminded us a lot of Pittsburgh with a few long stairways going to the higher streets.
The public art is all about Alaskan heritage from the animals, to the natives, to the miners.
Ravens are everywhere.  This big guy was giving Nanc the eye.
The state capitol is one of the most nondescript of the capitols we have visited.  Unlike most capitols, you could not pick it out from any of the surrounding office buildings.  The work on the left side is to reinforce and earthquake proof the building while replacing over half the bricks that have been damaged.  
Even the forty seat House chamber was a small, low ceiling room unlike any of the grand chambers we have seen in other states.
The 49 star flag was only used a few months until Hawaii became the 50th state later that year, 1959.  The outline of the state is carved from a piece of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  The state seal and a drawing celebrating Alaska's diverse cultures and economy.  Like many of the capitol buildings we have visited, this one displayed artworks done by native Alaskan artists.  
They still have phone booths with real dial phones.  We did not see Clark Kent, but word is Super Sarah used them during her half term as governor.
The old St. Nicolas Russian Orthodox Church is undergoing a major rehabilitation.  
The land part of the tour also stopped at Mendenhall Glacier.  This is one of the easiest glaciers to get close to in the whole state.  We took the one mile trail to Nugget Falls and the bottom of the glacier.
We even had a close encounter with this black bear near the glacier.  Fortunately, we were on a raised walkway and the bear just casually walked right beneath us.  Some people on the tour got to see her catch a salmon, but we missed that. 
On the return trip we had the most spectacular whale watching experience ever.  There are only two pods of humpback whales that have ever been seen using a bubble net to capture food.
Thar she blows, at least seven whales are circling together as they prepare to dive. 
They are now diving.  When they are down they exhale and create a net of bubble to hold the food in place.
We have never seen this many whales together.
When their hump comes high out of the water you know you are going to see the fluke.
Three at one time.
Then they all pop out of the water together in a circle to eat the surrounded prey.  You can tell where they are going to come up by watching the gulls, but it still happens very quickly.
At this point they came up so close to the boat Captain George had to back up.  You can see the water being expelled through the baleen.
The closest one has its month wide open.
And then they do it all over again. Incredible!!!!
More whale's tails
Two diving and one getting ready.  This is without a doubt the most spectacular display of nature we have ever seen.  We got an unbelievably close up look at these magnificent animals doing something that few whales do and very few people ever see.  In a trip of so many highlights this has to be right at the top.
A perfect ending to a perfect day.  If you want a GREAT wildlife experience with a GREAT family run business, make sure you take the Fjord Express from Haines or Skagway to Juneau.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, July 28, 2014


We had a great stay in Haines with the usual mix of weather from rain, to clouds, to sun.  Typical Alaska. We hiked, did some exploring and made new friends.  One disappointment was the trip we wanted to take from here to Juneau was full every day.  The good news, we were able to book the same trip from Skagway, our next stop.  Haines is a small working village that is more about fishing than tourism.  Unlike some other popular tourist towns, the population is the same year round.  It sits right on the water and is surrounded by beautiful mountains, so we had great scenery and wildlife viewing..
You can see Opus at Oceanside, the small RV park with 23 sites right on the water where we stayed.  The owner, Joyce, was really friendly and very helpful about informing us what to do and see in town.
This is our front window view.  We did a hike to the distant point on the right.
Haines is know for its eagles with 300 to 400 year round birds and as many as 4000 in the fall when the fish are running.  Most of these were right in front of Opus.
What appears to be an ever growing collection of cairns. 
On two beautiful days we hiked.  What a change from the interior of Alaska.  The forest here was crowded with many tall trees.
The hike to the top of Mount Riley offered one of the most spectacular 360 degree views we have very experienced.  You can see the town on the left and Tayia Inlet that goes to Skagway on the right.
Loving the sunshine with Rainbow Glacier in the background.
This is looking south where the Chilkat River flows into Lynn Canal that goes all the way to Juneau.
At the RV park we had a dungeness crab potluck.  The locally caught crabs were cleaned and steamed and served by Buffalo, the camp host.  No butter or sauce required for these fresh tasty treats. 
Haines has three museums, the American Bald Eagle Foundation (top), the Sheldon Museum (left) and the Hammer Museum (right).  Each has its own unique display.
The Sheldon has a great selection of local history items and Tlingit native artifacts.  This is a great stop.
The Bald Eagle Foundation is dedicated to preserving eagle habitat and also work to rehabilitate injured raptors.  We got a close up look at these three, including the resident eagle, Bella, whose wings were damaged beyond repair when she hit power lines.  Don't miss being there for Bella's 2:30 feeding.  There is also a great collection with all the animals of Alaska in a huge diorama. 
What can be said about the Hammer Museum.  They really pound home the fact there are so many different kinds of hammers for so many different jobs.
We met Marcel and Sonya at a stop along the Glenn Highway and crossed paths with them a couple of times on our way to Haines.  We finally met up with them in Haines and had dinner together and hope to stop and see them in Winnipeg on the way back to WashPA.
Haines small boat harbor.  Later in the week it was full of gill netters who were waiting for the salmon season to open.  The season is only open for a few days and they fish regardless of the weather making it a deadliest catch kind of job.
More beautiful mountains and Fort William H. Seward.  The fort was built in 1902 to have a military presence after gold was discovered in the Klondike.  After WWII the army sold the fort to several former soldiers who were stationed here.
Top left is the old firehouse that has just been restored.  Top right, a couple old cars and the chief surgeon's house.  Bottom is the enlisted men's barracks and the big houses along officers row.  The fort is typical of many we have seen from the same period during our travels.
A center dealing with Tlingit culture and carving is located on the fort grounds.  We met a local carver who did fantastic work. 
At Oceanside we met Bjorn and Britta from Hamburg, Germany.  This is their fourth trip to Alaska and this one is four months long.  They are able to take extended leaves from their jobs every four or five years.  How great is that!!  We had a fun time swapping travel stories and now have a place to stay when we make it to Hamburg.
Every evening we saw three or four big cruise ships come by on their way from Skagway.  A couple of small ships, like the one on the left, stopped in Haines while we were there.  They only get one big ship a week.
Thursday was our seventh "roadaversary" of being on the road, so we celebrated with a one hour cruise on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Skagway.  To load, I had to drive onto the ship through the side, drive to the rear, do a 180 degree turn, and pull to the front near the door I entered.  Very interesting maneuvering and I'm glad I had seven years of experience under my belt before doing it!!!