Friday, July 02, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 21: Skagway
To Juneau by Sea

Wednesday, June 30

Skagway to Juneau

Long, long day today as we met in the parking lot on the docks to board the 65-foot catamaran ferry, the Fjordland, that would take us down the Lynn Canal (actually the longest and deepest fjord in American waters) to the capital of Alaska: Juneau.
The weather did not cooperate with us. It had started to rain and blow the previous evening and it continued throughout much of the day. Most of the glaciers and snow and ice fields high above us atop the steep walls of the fjord down which we traveled remained hidden in the clouds and rain and splash from the 3-6 foot swells as we sped along made viewing through the glass difficult.

View from the fantail of the Fjordland

Still, Captain Glen and his daughter/crew Anna provided plenty of opportunities to view harbor seals, Stellar’s sea lions and even whales on our way south. Hot coffee, tea and chocolate were a necessity for those of us who stepped out on the fan tail deck to snap photos and the continental breakfast helped to keep the hunger pangs at bay.

We were accompanied by several passengers who boarded either in Skagway or in Haines headed to Juneau. One was a young boy named Yasha. he was heading to Juneau to see his dad who is a salmon fisherman. Yasha was born in Russia but his family now lives in the USA. Perhaps you can see Russia from Alaska. Certainly you can see its influence.

Yasha goes to Juneau.

I was amazed at the Captain’s ability to spot a spouting whale at distances of a mile or even more considering 1) the windshield of the boat was constantly awash with either rain or spray, 2) the fog/mist/clouds seemed to reach down to the very water’s surface, 3) the blow from the whale was “only” 10-15 feet high at best and a perfect color match to the spray sent aloft from the whitecaps. Granted, there were some radio messages from boat to boat that gave some weak indication of the presence of whales in certain areas. (There was an open salmon fishing period declared for the day that ended at noon and the fishermen didn’t want to lose nets to the big boys and girls.) Whatever his magic ability was, we did see several humpbacked whales. One we got in a likely area everyone’s eyes (and there were 45 folks on board) searched the immediate waters and voices rang out with cries of “Off the right side at 10 o’clock!” or “There! On the port at 9 o’clock!” We even managed to spot one small humpback—Glen said it was probably a calf—breach just a short distance off our port bow. Ah, but getting a photograph of one…. Let’s just say, I shall have to return if I want to succeed in that.

Harbor seals and Stellar's sea lions were easier to spot and photograph--if you knew where to look.

A favorite snack of the Orca (Killer Whale),
harbor seals pretend to be rocks on the shoreline.

More Harbor Seals.

Stellar's sea lions were named for the naturalist who sailed with Captain Vitus Bering back in the 1770s. Bering was in a hurry, but Stellar wanted to explore. Bering won the argument (as a captain should) and got the sea and straights named after him. Stellar discovered how certain plants could be used to fight scurvy and managed to keep Bering alive when they got stuck in the ice one winter.

Stellar's Sea Lions: A Bull and his harem.

Another Bull and another harem.

And Bald Eagles? A dime a dozen. They were all along the shoreline as we moved south. If you missed seeing an eagle, you weren’t looking. Tide was out and a good expanse of the shoreline was exposed. The big birds were taking advantage of the smorgasbord laid out for them there and in the flats at the river mouths. They weren’t too difficult to photograph—except for the pitching of the ship. Very difficult to focus when the 6-12 foot sells keep altering your footing.

This bird and its mate were sitting on the jetty at Haines when we returned late in the day. They were watching the boats come in like so many sea gulls and probably would have appreciated a hand out, too.

Bald Eagle on the Haines jetty.

The heavy rain overnight and showers which continued throughout the morning fed the many, many streams that flowed from the ice fields and hanging glaciers atop the mountains. As a result, waterfalls of all shapes and sizes could be seen cascading into the waters of the fjord.

One of a trillion or so waterfalls making its way into the fjord.

We docked at Auke Bay a goodly distance from the town of Juneau and took a charter bus for nearly an hour’s drive into downtown. Due to road construction along the way, we were delayed in our arrival. Additional road construction prevented us from driving past the Governor’s Mansion and other sites in town—according to our driver who lost some credibility by driving a bus that had no defroster and insisting there was nothing to be done while the inside of the windows—including the front one—became opaque—a condition that worried those of us who have been hauling our hotel suites across country. We ended up at the same bus drop off in town that the cruise liners use which means most of the town was within a short walk. We only had a little over two hours to explore so Terry and I first stopped for a hearty lunch at The Hanger where we could enjoy a view of the harbor while we ate. The Hanger is named for the float planes that used to ply these skies/waters and from its windows you could still see many float planes landing on and taking off from the harbor. You also had a pretty good view of the cruise ships already present and coming in to dock. It took one ship—one of the Princess vessels—the entire time between when we were seated to when we paid the tab to get into position to dock. It had not yet attained its berth until we were ready to leave an hour and a half later.

A mural on the side of Juneau's City Hall building caught my eye. It may not have been the biblical version of creation, but it did show how man came to exist on Earth. Raven and his friends opened the magic clam that held mankind and released us onto the surface of the world.

Story of man's arrival depicted on the wall of Juneau City Hall.

After lunch, Terry and I eschewed the shops and crowds of boat people and walked to the state museum and took in the exhibits there.

When we left downtown the driver had managed to obtain a bus that had working defoggers and the windows were no longer opaque. We drove up to Mendenhall Glacier and the National Forest Service Visitors’ Center there. One hour was all we had but it was enough to take in the vista from the viewing areas, the displays, and the short video in the theater.

Mendenhall Glacier

This glacier has retreated considerably in recent years. The two dark rock formations on either side of the face were covered last year. Global warming gets the blame, of course, even though there are glaciers within a few hundred miles that are advancing rapidly.

After the glacier, it was back to the bus and a trip up to Auke Bay to board our vessel and head back home to Skagway.

On the way back, we took a closer look at this lighthouse in the Lynn Canal. The Coast Guard is looking to unload it.
Lighthouse for sale.

Looks like a great spot to blog.


JihadGene said...

Looks cold but awesome!!!

Teresa said...

Lovely pictures - so glad you're having a great trip!