Monthly Archives: November 2015

Alaskan Cruise: Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska, population 32,660, is reachable only by air or sea. While that limits a road trip to visit Alaska’s capital city to a ferry crossing, cruise passengers visit by the boatload. Thank goodness we chose a cruise because it would be a shame to miss this city.

Juneau was founded as the result of gold strikes by Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau in 1880. The town was first named Harrisburg but later changed to Rockwell and finally to Juneau when Joe garnered enough support. It has been the capital since 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood but controversy continues as to whether the capital should be moved to a more populated and accessible location.

Welcome to Juneau, Alaska

Welcome to Juneau, Alaska

We planned to take the tram up 3819 foot Mt. Roberts to enjoy the view but  the weather changed our plans. Overcast skies and impending rain weren’t very conducive to viewing Juneau from the mountain top.

Approaching Juneau, Alaska

Approaching Juneau, Alaska

We rethought our plan and decided instead to take a glacier shuttle out to Mendenhall Glacier. Bus tickets were conveniently available from Juneau Tours directly adjacent to the cruise port for just $20 roundtrip with buses leaving every 30 minutes. City buses go that direction, too, but you have to walk a mile and a half at the terminus. The glacier shuttle, on the other hand, dropped us right at the entrance.

Bus to Mendenhall Glacier on Juneau Tours

Bus to Mendenhall Glacier on Juneau Tours

The bus ride was fairly short since the glacier is just 12 miles away and the bus driver provided a lively commentary throughout the drive.

Our first view of the glacier and Mendenhall Lake was, in a word, breathtaking. The ice appears blue because it transmits the blue color in the  light spectrum while it absorbs all the other colors.

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Our first view of Mendenhall Glacier behind Mendenhall Lake

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Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

We opted to hike the trails first while it wasn’t raining and save the visitor’s center for later. It turned out to be a good plan and the rain held off for virtually all of our hike. After seeing the sign below, I talked or hummed most of the time to prevent an up close personal encounter with a black bear. I have no idea whether it was due to my strategy (or my humming), but bear encounters were zero.

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The trails were well marked with lots of scenic beauty along the way. The trail out to Nugget Falls and back was just 2 miles and an additional photo loop added another half mile.

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Nugget Falls Trail

Nugget Falls Trail

Nugget Falls Trail

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Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

To see the falls on video, click below.

 

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Mendenhall Glacier behind Mendenhall Lake

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Mendenhall Glacier

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Icebergs on Mendenhall Lake that have calved from the glacier

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Panorama of Mendenhall Lake with the glacier and falls

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Sheryl, Jim, and I at Mendenhall Glacier

Following our trip to Mendenhall Glacier, we explored downtown Juneau a bit. Frankly, the rain limited our explorations somewhat but we definitely wanted to see the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, St. Nicholas,  built in 1894.

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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

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Interior of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

We also stopped by Starbucks to warm up with a coffee and “get connected” for awhile. Travel tip: Starbucks is the one place in any country where I have always found the Wifi adequate for my needs. Then it was back to the ship in plenty of time for our departure.

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Street view of downtown Juneau, Alaska

 

Based on events of June 2015.

 

Categories: cruise, inside passage, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Fishing for the Halibut in Ketchikan

Jim Lalor, wrote today’s guest blog post.

When planning our Alaskan cruise, Laura noted a salmon fishing tournament at Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage while we’d be there. She thought I should catch a salmon to be smoked and sent home. I thought a fishing trip would be a great way to spend a day but she wasn’t keen on the idea of bobbing in a small boat on the ocean hoping a fish would take the bait. Thus, I began to look for a charter with space for one.

Ketchikan calls itself the salmon fishing capital of the world and we’d be in port from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm. Internet inquiries showed many small charter boats for day excursions but several emails and phone calls revealed they were already full on our day in port and no one was aware of a boat having space for a single. Then I talked to Capt. Mike on The Alaska Catch.  He had 4 people booked on his 5 fisherman boat. He told me that the salmon fishing would be just starting then and unreliable. He said he had good luck at that time of June with halibut fishing and he preferred eating halibut. The cost would be $220 plus tax and a $20 license fee for a 6 hour trip. There was a fish processor that would clean, freeze, and ship the fish overnight once I was home. I told him to reserve my spot and we made arrangements to meet on the dock at the Oosterdam at 7:00 am.

That morning, I put on warm clothes knowing that it feels about 10 degrees colder on the water. I grabbed my lunch and was one of the first passengers off the ship. After a short wait, I saw Capt. Mike with his sign and a father and son from another  cruise ship. A couple from the Oosterdam soon joined us for the short walk to the dock to board The Alaska Catch. It was a clean, shiny new boat that was well equipped. The enclosed cabin had 2 chairs and 2 double benches.

The Alaska Catch

The Alaska Catch

The Alaska Catch

The Alaska Catch

After more than an hour of cruising down the channel from Ketchikan between islands, we got to the edge of the drop off into deep water of the Gulf of Alaska. We anchored in 350 feet of water and prepared to drop lines. The 22 pound anchor was enough to hold the 24 foot The Alaska Catch in the breeze.

Halibut are the largest flatfish in the Pacific and evolved to have both eyes on their brown topside with a white underside. Maximum keeper-size for halibut on a guided trip is 42 inches so the photos you see of the giant halibut catches are from unguided fishing trips. Capt. Mike told us about catching a 220 pounder in the spring when he and another guy from The Alaska Catch stopped to fish for supper after a day of working at a cabin they have for fishing groups.

Capt. Mike said the tidal changes in the area are about 17 feet so lots of water moves into and out of the coastal areas carrying food to the halibut. The halibut lie on the bottom waiting for the food to come to them so that’s where our bait would be. We used large hooks with big chunks of fish and a one pound round weight that looked like a small cannonball. Capt. Mike counted down and we all dropped our lines simultaneously so they wouldn’t tangle on the way down. When they hit bottom, we cranked up a little and waited for a bite.

When the fish hit the baits, it was a major struggle cranking up that much weight from 350 feet. It was soon evident that putting the rod in the rod holder and holding down the reel with one hand while reeling in with the other was the only realistic option. We all caught halibut and quill-backed rock fish. Capt. Mike said the rock fish have a low survival rate when brought up and are good eating so we kept all the rock fish we caught and our limit of one halibut each. The five of us had a marvelous time fishing with Capt. Mike and listening to his Alaska and fish stories. Our group had a 40 inch halibut and several in the 30-36 inch range and 5 rock fish. An altogether successful and awesome morning of fishing, Capt. Mike made this a memorable outing for all of us.

Halibut

Halibut

Quill-back Rock Fish

Quill-back Rock Fish

Our Catch

Our Catch

Halibut

Halibut

During the hour trip back to the dock, we filled out the fish processing forms for The Cedars Lodge but they actually use Gateway Seafood and Smokehouse for processing. In the section to order retail salmon, halibut, prawns, or crab. I saw smoked salmon was an option and called Laura to ask if she wanted some shipped with the day’s catch. She was excited about smoked salmon and had me order 10 pounds at about $10/lb. Capt. Mike called the processor and they did have smoked silver salmon. Great! It would arrive at our home 2 days after we returned from the trip.

The shipment arrived the second morning we were home still nicely frozen in a styrofoam box. It had many 1 lb. packages of halibut and a package of rock fish filets plus many packages of salmon. We cooked a package of the halibut first and it was delicious. The first package of salmon we thawed was a surprise as it was fresh frozen and not smoked. It was very tasty but not what I’d ordered. I called The Cedars Lodge, spoke to one of the owners, and explained the problem. She checked her copy of the order and said they’d sent the wrong salmon. She asked what day I wanted the smoked salmon delivered at no charge since it was their error. True to her word, the smoked salmon arrived on the designated morning frozen like the first box of fish. We’ve enjoyed the smoked salmon as much as the other fish. It is so flavorful. If you’d like Alaskan fish delivered to your door, this is one option we are very happy to endorse.

My Alaskan Catch

My Alaskan Catch

Based on events of June 2015.

Categories: cruise, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Alaska

On the second day of our Alaskan cruise, we enjoyed a full day “at sea” sailing up the inside passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Ketchikan, Alaska. We were hoping to see wildlife along the way but with such dense woods, that was probably an unrealistic expectation. There were wildlife sightings in the water such as humpback whales and the captain would announce sightings from the bridge but it always seemed we were in the wrong place at the time. So we focused instead on the breathtaking scenery all around us that we would later learn was nothing compared to what was ahead.

Cruising the Inside Passage

Cruising the Inside Passage

View from our ship along the inside passage

View from our ship along the inside passage

Inside Passage View

Inside Passage View

Sunset along the Inside Passage

Sunset along the Inside Passage

Cruise Day 2 ends beautifully

Cruise Day 2 ended beautifully

The next morning (day 3) we arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska. Jim had arranged a private fishing charter with The Alaska Catch, so he was up and off the ship early to meet Captain Mike. Be sure to read Fishing for the Halibut in Ketchikan next Tuesday featuring Jim’s guest blog post about his experience.

Meanwhile, Sheryl and I explored Ketchikan. Imagine our delight to see blue skies and sunshine when we’d heard it always rains in Ketchikan. After noting that Ketchikan was Alaska’s first city and the salmon capital of the world, according to the welcome sign, we headed to historic Creek Street.

Welcome to Ketchikan, Alaska

Welcome to Ketchikan, Alaska

Creek Street was built literally on Ketchikan Creek.  The wooden boardwalk built on pilings driven into the banks of the creek was home to Ketchikan’s red light district from 1902 until prostitution was outlawed in 1953, and the scene of bootleg liquor sold in speakeasies during Prohibition. Today, there are shops and restaurants lining the boardwalk and Dolly’s House, where the famous madam had her lucrative business, is open for tours.  The tour guide at Dolly’s offered us a rock bottom price of $5 so Sheryl and I did a walk through.

Creek Street

Creek Street

Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek

Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek

Dolly's House on Creek Street

Dolly’s House on Creek Street

After checking out a couple of shops, we headed to the Totem Heritage Center. This museum is the repository of a priceless collection of Tlingit and Haida totem poles. The red cedar poles, carved by local artists in the 19th century, were rescued and salvaged from Tongass Island, Village Island, and Prince of Wales Island with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Forest Service.

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

The $5 admission price was well worth it to see these original totems that are so culturally significant to the Northwest Coast Native peoples.

The Totem Heritage Center, located along the Ketchikan Creek, was the starting point for a lovely walk along the creek to Salmon Row where the hatchery is located, and ending at the Salmon Ladder.

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Pacific salmon are anadromous, that is they hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean to spend most of their life, then return to the area where they hatched to reproduce and die. When they leave the ocean, they stop feeding and their stomachs disintegrate to provide more room for the developing eggs and sperm. The appearance, flavor, and texture of the flesh isn’t very good for eating at this time so if you want salmon to eat, you fish in the ocean. The rapids in the Ketchikan Creek is an extreme challenge for the salmon to surmount to reach the spawning area upstream. The Salmon Ladder on the creek assists thousands of salmon to reach their spawning area by allowing them to use the ladder which is essentially like stairs in the water rather than face the rapids. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it in action because although we were in Alaska at the beginning of the spawning season, we were a little too early to see any fish in the creek. Read more about the life cycle of Pacific salmon here. 

Ketchikan Creek

Rapids on Ketchikan Creek

Salmon Ladder, Ketchikan

Salmon Ladder next to the rapids on Ketchikan Creek

After a little more shopping and halibut fish tacos at Annabelle’s, it was back to the Oosterdam in plenty of time to set sail. I would call Ketchikan a good cruise port with plenty to keep a cruise ship tourist interested and engaged.

Based on events of June 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, inside passage, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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