August 30, 2009

Denali, Means “Shy Mountain”

I’m convinced that “Denali” means “Shy Mountain!”  As is evidently very common, we never saw the entire mountain.  Clouds hovered around her like bees to the hive.

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Our next stop on our Alaskan Voyage was the McKinley Princess Lodge.  A few dozen miles from the town of Takeetna, the lodge is completely independent (even through winter) making its own electricity, water and sewage disposal.  It is well places on a hill that provides stellar vistas of the Alaskan range and more specifically the 20,320 foot Mount McKinley or Denali (you pick).

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However in our less than 24 hour stay at the McKinley Princess we were not to be so lucky.  The great mountain was continually shrouded in clouds.  Actually our weather was beginning to change from the usual partly cloudy we had been experiencing to a more steady overcast, with an occasional drizzle.  But, it did make for some interesting sunset images.

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As well, the next morning we arose to find that Denali was still buried in clouds but low down we were able to see a few highlighted peaks of the Alaskan Range. image

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At the lodge we took the inclement weather in stride and used this time to relax near the lodge’s large fireplace, reading and playing bridge as a family.  And taking the opportunity to take some impromptu family shots. It was quite nice actually.

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However… these family shots weren’t the only ones we took this cloudy afternoon.  Kelly had run into a familiar face as she was getting a snack, so she came back, retrieved dad, knowing he would want to meet this person.

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Heheh…  alright… That’s it for the destination posts… I’ll be assembling one more that is more on the topic of “Onboard Ship” as I really didn’t cover that too much in these posts, and it is definitely worth dedicating an entire post.

As always… more and greater detailed images can be found here [link].

August 30, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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August 29, 2009

Denali part II… or… How to Eat Moose Poop!

At 1:30 on our day in Denali, we boarded a converted school bus, converted in that is was a off shade of gray instead of bilious yellow.  Other than that… all the creature comforts of a school bus.  Our tour of Denali was about the most basic tour one could take, more of a education walk than a full blown tour, a simple jaunt about 3 miles into the park then a 1 mile stroll, just to get a flavor. 

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The good part of this mini tour is that it does expose us to the 3 areas of the park in pretty short order, the Taiga, the Tundra and the Alpine.  Onboard, we had a couple of Park Instructors from the Murie Science and Learning Center providing background and commentary on what we were seeing as we drove deeper into the park.  Both were extremely knowledgeable and much to my relief, not political.

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We took the bus a few miles up the Denali Highway (McKinley Park Rd.) seeing mostly Taiga and Tundra on the way finally stopping at a campsite near the Savage River, this is where we got off to take a bit of a walking classroom tour.  Our instructor was lady named NJ Gates (That’s NJ above with my brother-in-law Peter).  And let me tell you, she knew her stuff, and provided not only an informative tour but a fun one. 

image We began by walking down a gravel path through the camping area on our way to the Savage River.  Our first stop was at a Fir tree that had one of the largest burls on it I had ever seen.  I did notice while in Denali that Burl woodworking is a pretty common trade/craft.

At one point down the path NJ stopped us and pointed through a clearing at a cloud shrouded massif over a rise in the distance, “There is Denali, or Mt. McKinley whichever name you wish to use.”  We could only really make out the base of the mountain as, per the majority of the time, much of the peak is indeed hidden by its own weather, like a bride breathing her own veil.

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After a few quick photo attempts at the mountain, we continued down the trail, toward an area where we we could sit a moment to learn more about the Flora and Fauna of the area.  But as we strolled, I looked down to my left and noticed a small pile of brown fibrous droppings, like a box of 5x Milk Duds had been spilled.  NJ walked over and identified this pile as Moose droppings.  She took this opportunity to educate our gathering about the Alaskan Moose, explaining how this was indeed their habitat and that Alaskan Moose tend to be the largest moose in North America reaching some 7 feet at the shoulder and weighing over 2,000 pounds.

She then proceeded to educate us on what a trained biologist can learn from animal’s scat.  She extracted her pocket knife, opened the blade and then promptly skewered one of the Moose Duds.  Picking it off the end of her knife she explained that this particular sampling was a few months old, yet cutting it in half she was able to see that due to the compaction the moose had been feeding on young willow and other moist plants at the time.  Tossing that piece aside, she bent back down to the pile and selected another, she stood and promptly informed us that one “can also tell a lot from the taste.”

THE WHAT?!!!!

That’s right… TASTE!  To wit she proceeded to bite her selected dud in half and chomp on the moose morsel!  Gunaaaguhhh!  Was the common utterance head from her students as we stared in disbelief as she, with mouth half full, began expressing what she could glean from the flavor and… ehem… texture of the turd.

imageAppears that “This particular moose was approximately 3 years old, female, and hmm… yep… not pregnant!” … “Anyone have some floss?”

Wait… What?  … Wait a minute… I think we’ve been had.  And indeed we had been had.  In a brilliant slight of hand, when NJ stabbed her first dropping with her knife she dropped another “Moose Turd look-alike confection” on the turf.  She returned to pick that imposter up from the area and sucker us all in!  Once it dawned on us, we all had a great, much to our relief, laugh!  She laughing the most!

So after this High School Talent show flash back, we walked over to an open air make shift classroom, where the park had a bin loaded with animal pelts,  caribou antlers, and ram’s horns.  She laid these on the ground image before us and began to educate us on the various animals that populate the park and their behavioral tendencies.  How I wish all of my college professors where like this one.  We all sat attentively listening to NJ explain about the wildlife and learned quite a bit in our short visit.  We even had opportunity to learn about tracking collars used on the local Wolf Packs, using an actual collar that a former wearer had gnawed off, a tracking antenna, and a receiver broadcasting a telltale chirp, varying in tone and strength depending on the angle of the antenna and distance to the collar.  We even dialed in a frequency of a known female wolf and were able to ascertain that she was within 3 miles of us in a southeasterly direction from our current location, all without having to taste one of her droppings!  Ain’t modern technology awesome?  Very cool, in a Marlin Perkins-esque kind of way.

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Before we knew it, our nature hike was over and we headed back to the bus, along the way spotting a Snowshoe Hare, not yet turned winter white, and a small covey of Ptarmigans (prn: Tar-meh-gan).  Let me tell you, we were only a few feet (5 or 6) from those birds and still had trouble spotting them in the vegetation thanks to their impeccable camouflage. There are 3 in the image immediately below…

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Back aboard our bus, we headed back toward the visitors center, but all of the sudden a voice shouted “Stop! Moose! Three O’Clock!”  Our bus driver deftly pulled over to the side of the road, and we all plastered ourselves to the starboard side of the bus looking for the declared moose.

“Where???”  “How far?”… “Gimme a landmark!”  and after a few useful clues, sure enough, there was an Alaskan Denali Moose!  Grazing about 2,000 meters away!  (That’s right, someone in our moving bus, spotted a moose in the brush at over a MILE!!!)  I had my big lens on the camera (70-300mm DX) and pointed it at my target, insured that my vibration reduction was on and I had the fastest possible shutter speed I could afford on this gray cloudy day.  And still I could only manage semi blurry shots.  That’s a long throw!  Even with that big lens here is the best I could shoot off-hand at over a mile on a jiggling bus as people fought for a vantage.  Turns out there were two of them, both huge!

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Digitally (not optically) zoomed below, thus the degradation of the image… but you get the idea.

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After about 5 minutes of moose watching, it was time we moved on, we had to get back to the visitors center to catch a coach to our next destination for the evening, The Princess Mount McKinley Lodge.

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Upon our arrival at the center we bid farewell to NJ, thanking her for her levity and her obvious knowledge she was most generous in sharing with us.  Then we all proceeded to the gift shop and snack bar, not so much because we had to have the latest paperweight trinket, but just to get out of the continuing cold breeze, while we waited for our coach to McKinley.

I’ll leave it here for now… as always more and greater detailed images can be found here [Link]

Next post… McKinley, AKA ‘Denali’ the Shy Mountain!

August 29, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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August 27, 2009

Denali National Park… Part 1

After the train ride through the interior of Alaska, we arrived at the Denali Visitors Center, where our coach awaited to take us to the Princess Denali Lodge for the evening.

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We received our room keys earlier on the train so we were able to head directly to our rooms to unload.  After which, we were seeking dinner.  But my and Ginger’s first order of business was to locate the laundry… remember my coffee spill?  Well an interesting thing about how Princess Cruises does things, upon leaving the ship, Princess actually sends the majority of your 2 weeks worth of luggage on to your FINAL destination (in our case that was to be in Anchorage at the Captain Cook Hotel three days hence) you simply take a small bag with a couple of changes of clothes and whatever else you need for the trip inland.  Actually very helpful, unless the only pair of jeans you have are now an oddly mottled coffee color.  “But Honey, it could be a new fashion style here in Alaska… ‘Coffeeflage!’   Nope, John was finding the laundry! 

As I sought the laundry facilities the rest of the tribe reconnoitered, rumor has it some pretty good pizza is served here… and Beer.  I found the facilities and image the family did indeed locate the Pizza Joint, that part was easy for them… getting a table?  Different story.  It turns out that Denali was the coldest of our destinations, current temp with wind chill was somewhere in the mid-forties, not too intolerable for me (a Coloradan) or my Sister and Brother-in-Law (Minnesotans… recently transplanted to NYC) but for my Floridian Parents and my 102lb uninsulated wife… well… let’s just say that the outdoor seating was not a viable option.  We weren’t alone in this decision.  Thus a very crowded pizza shop.

I took the waiting time as an opportunity to run back across the compound to go switch my laundry over to the dryer.  (Side rant here…) Don’t you hate those inconsiderate boobs who in a small Laundromat (3 machines each) do not set a timer to know when their dryer is expected to be finished.  I am really not a fan of removing someone else’s fruit of the looms from the dryer and laying them on a questionably clean? table.  So I’m a dumbass and wait… and wait… and wait… Finally someone comes in, turns out it is because he has watched the time and his washer is finished too.  10 more minutes pass before someone opens up one of the dryers.  I had dibbs, so I switched the load and headed back across the compound before my family ate all the pizza!!!

When I returned to Lynx Creek Pizza I was glad to see my family seated at a table for 6, but surprised to see no pizza, or pizza crumbs on the table!  It’s been 45 minutes!  Oh but thank God… there is a beer waiting for me!  Mother’s Milk!  Bless my brother-in law for looking out for me! 

Turns out that of the 3 pizza ovens the restaurant is equipped with, only one was operational this busy evening.  One hour pizzas were the norm.  We waited, building our appetites and chatting about how we were all feeling a bit ‘Sea-Leggy’ or was it ‘Train-Leggy’ either way the restaurant was still swaying for all of us… except Hoagy, he’s used to being in constant motion!  Pizza finally arrived and I think it tasted good, went down pretty fast… pretty sure I chewed, but for those of you who have seen me eat, that can be a relative term.

After our long waited for dinner it was 8:00pm, we still had a good 3 hours of daylight left in our day!  Sunset was about 10:30pm this far north, and unfortunately the gift and trinket shops don’t close here until dark… guess I’m going shopping.  That is, after I retrieve my laundry from the dryer.

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We all meandered, moseyed, and swayed around the various shops scattered around the complex, willfully entering each if for no other reason than to step in from the cold breeze.

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The next day was ours to spend how we wanted, at least until 1:30 when we were to all meet-up for a 3 hour quick tour of an area in the National Park.  Mom, Dad, Ginger and I voted to take it easy that morning.  Drinking coffee (trying not to spill it on my wife) and really just seeing some of the sights around the lodge.  That means mostly more Gift Shops!  But I did get a great shot of Dad and Ginger out in front of one of the stores!

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Meanwhile, my sister and her husband, Peter, decided to go climb a nearby mountain.  Those intrepid souls!  (Me? I was fine with my coffee… I’ve got Mountains I can climb back home.)  But they don’t in Brooklyn, so off they went to go conquer the Mt. Healy Trail.  The next clump of images are of their climb taken with their camera, shared here.  She may have to leave a comment describing some of these:

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It is here, that I’ll close part one.  Tomorrow, “The Fine Art of Moose Poop Eating!” And as always… more and larger images here [Link].

August 27, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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August 25, 2009

The Train to Denali

Once we were to begin the land portion of our journey, Princess Cruises continued with providing first class service.  We all stayed aboard the ship overnight in Whittier, only to rise… foggy and early to assemble in one of the dining rooms prior to our disembarkation from the Island Princess and embarkation aboard the “Princess Express”, our first class all dome car train (a different train is pictured below) to Denali National Park, Alaska.  This ride was to take us past the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet, through Anchorage, through Wasilla (to wave at Sarah), then up through the inland wilderness of Alaska.

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We assembled on time, and in a bittersweet moment, were promptly called to leave the ship for our final time, begining our next fantastic experience.

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We walked across the dock to our waiting train where we were assigned a car and a table to sit.  The great part of this was that all passengers were seated upstairs under the tinted Plexiglas dome.  Every 4 people sat around a table.  which was great, except for me spilling my freshly filled coffee all over the table, eventually cascading onto my wife’s jeans!  Oh yeah, she was happy with me…

But we pressed on, now was not the time to be distracted by trivial, albeit staining matters, there was  imageAlaska to see… and see it we did. The train pulled out of Whittier on time.  It had to, because it has a specific time it must transit the Whittier Tunnel, a 2+ mile long shared tunnel between cars and trains.  And by shared, I mean that either cars… or… trains… can pass through at a given time, not both.  We eased away from the Princess Pier leaving the Island Princess dockside in the rising sun, she, expected to set sail southbound by nightfall.

We cleared through the tunnel to be almost immediately greeted by sunshine and the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  Beautiful. 

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As we trundled along the seaside tracks we had the fortune to witness the famous “Bore Tide” of the Turnagain Arm.  imageBecause of the unique geography of this narrow, long inlet, the tide races in and out in such a fashion as to create a Bore Tide, or a unified wave all the way across the arm.  This wave can be more than 10 feet high in some circumstances, and travels as fast as 15 miles per hour!  This tide has been known to trap and ultimately drown people who have had the misfortune to get stuck in the low tide mudflats of the inlet, only to be submerged rapidly as this impressive tide rolled in.

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We proceeded through Anchorage, and up past Elmendorf AFB, home of F-15s and F-22s.  Then traveled northeast around the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet, to wind our way back to the north through Wasilla and on to the Alaskan wilderness.

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The 9 hours spent on the train were great.  We enjoyed the company of many of the other passengers we met, and the stories they had to share, and I never seemed to run out of reasons to go down to the open patio (of sorts) to fill my digital storage card to the brim.  On to the obligatory images… As always, click the image to see the larger size (then your ‘back button’ to return here).

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We eventually approached Hurricane, AK.  A small town of 4 or so people during peak season… I’m pretty sure during the winter months the population rotates as to who exactly the population of “One” will be.  But it was here that our train moves over to a siding allowing the southbound train to pass.  Everyone do your Moose Wave!

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It passes a little close when you’re out on the patio hanging your head out like a dumb Labrador Retriever.  But it makes for a cool photo!

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Once this behemoth passed we were once again blessed with a tremendous panoramic view of the Alaskan countryside.  (The image below is worth the click.)

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I especially liked the montage of colors Alaska presented.  Even though it was a bit cloudy as we progressed further inland, the richness of the brilliant fuchsia colored Alaskan Fireweed and purple Alpine Lupine trackside really filled the visual senses.

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Our train began to move again and we crossed the Hurricane Gulch Trestle continuing our trek to the Princess Denali Lodge, our home for the evening.  As we crossed Broad Pass, a large treeless plateau that is the lowest pass in the entire Rocky Mountain chain (Alaska to Mexico), the champagne and cookies were brought out for a toast by the train’s very knowledgeable and friendly crew.  We all toasted a job well done!  Dad on the other hand couldn’t resist an opportunity… ;-)

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We asked one of the train staff to help us capture the whole family for posterity, he was glad to oblige.

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It was shortly after, that we made our last turn headed for our evening stay in Denali.

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As always, more of these images can be found here… [Link]

August 25, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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August 24, 2009

Then They Sent Us Off to College…

College Fjord that is…

We left Glacier Bay and proceeded through the narrow passages and a deepening fog, leading to more open seas to eventually enter Prince William Sound and to our next scenic opportunity, College Fjord. 

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Along the way we continued to see various whales, porpoise, seals, sea lions, otters and finally one of the animals I was hoping to see, an Orca (killer whale)!

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And as I mentioned a few otters… A group of which is referred to as “a raft.”

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As for the mom and her pup, that is just referred to as “Cute!”

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My appologies for some of the slightly blurry images, but these were some very long shots (at max zoom on my 70-300mm lens in very low light.)  So with a moving ship you can see my issues.)

We continued up the Alaska coast constantly amazed by the next piece of scenery to cross our wake.  From small rock islands to impressive mountain glaciers, you never knew what lay ahead.  It was like Christmas morning every 14 minutes!

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Alas… around 5:30pm we enter College Fjord to view its many glaciers and plentiful wildlife. 

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Our Captain promised that College Fjord was actually his favorite scenic stop on the cruise due in part that the College Glaciers are usually much more active than those in Glacier Bay, and that we stand a good chance to witness and hear! one actually calve!  And, that on the plethora of icebergs that litter the lagoon we will definitely see more seals… that is… as he put it… “Unless the Orcas have been visiting the grocery store again…”

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First the seals, as the Captain once again maneuvered the ship right up to the face of the Harvard Glacier the first thing we noticed were the dark large sausage shaped seals basking in the evening sun.

There were literally hundreds of seals all kicking back on blocks of newly calved ice chunks.

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Well, after a few minutes of watching the seals do… uh… well… nothing, we turned our attention to the star of the show, the Harvard Glacier.  It was massive, and full of rich aqua blue cuts in its frozen face.  But more than providing a visual spectacle, this glacier was alive with sound!  Popping, groaning and yes the distinct sounds of large pieces if calving ice could be heard as they cascaded down the front wall to the calm waters below.  It was a banquet for the senses.

We had just begun to swing the ship to where we on the starboard side would have 20 minutes of viewing from a stationary position broadside to the glacier when I spotted the fist actual calve.  It wasn’t a huge chuck falling off, more of a small avalanche rushing down an angular trough, but fascinating none the less.

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Once the ship turned full broadside to the glacier is when I had the opportunity of a lifetime.  Ginger and I were standing on our stateroom balcony shooting picture after picture of this frozen monolith when a particularly loud and deep “CRACK”  was heard over and above the Rice Crispies-like popping we had been hearing.  We turned, and I pointed my Nikon at the sound, squeezing the shutter as fast as I could, firing nine shots in a couple of seconds to capture this…  About 70 vertical feet of face letting go!  If you look closely you can see the wave caused by this immersion.  Many of the sausages were disturbed from their slumber on this one.

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If you are unable to see the animated GIF image above, or would like to see a bit larger image, click this link to see if you can see it on my smugmug page.

After about 2 hours in the fjord, it was time for us to head for our last port, and the end of the sea-bound portion of our journey, Whittier, where we would make the pier around 11:30pm. 

As we set sail our final time through Prince William Sound, we were blessed with an amazing 10:30pm sunset!  And later a spectacular moon rise…

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As the ship made its final port of our journey in Whittier, my sister and I stayed up late in dark morning hours, arms leaning on the ship’s rail watching as we sent lines over for our last time on our cruise, saddened that tomorrow morning we would be leaving the Island Princess and her outstanding crew, but yet also excited about our coming adventures in Denali and Mt. McKinley, and our train ride through the interior of Alaska!

For more photos of College Fjord, please visit my gallery pages here [Link]

August 24, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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August 19, 2009

Glacier Bay… It’s All About the Ice!

From Skagway, we set sail for one of the prime attractions in the Alaska Cruise, Glacier Bay.

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We entered the bay on a cloudy mid-morning, thousands of us lining the rails of the ship watching for anticipated sea life known to be plentiful in these waters.  On the way into to Tarr Inlet, we really did not see too much sea life, but the vista’s were breath taking!  (simply click the images to open a larger view from my smug mug gallery)…

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We headed up the inlet past Russell Island to see the two most famous glaciers of the bay, Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier. (That’s Margerie in the image immediately below…)  Click the image for larger and take note of the relative size of the glacier when you compare it to the 5 story Tour Boat at it’s base.

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Here’s a slightly better view…

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All through our journey we had small icebergs keeping us company, and as we approached the face of the glaciers the density and size continued to increase.

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We then proceeded up the inlet to the Grand Pacific Glacier, that lies in the ‘endzone’ of the bay.

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These massive rivers of ice were not all we had opportunity to see as we made our transit.  On either side of us were spectacular mountains steeply rising from the 1,000 foot deep fjord!  Each sharing a unique beauty all their own, from gouges carved by earlier now receded glaciers to long ribbons of thousand foot water falls cascading down the face.

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Even a couple of intrepid kayakers enjoyed the view.

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We then pressed in super close to Margerie…

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And there in the middle of the face of this glacier was a water tube, the envy of all water park aficionados!

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This thing was huge!  The top opening of that tunnel is about 70 feet up the side of the glacier!

What continued to amaze me, and most of the other passengers, was the deep blue color stripes in the ice, reportedly this is caused by the severe pressure the water molecules are under for so many thousands of years.  Just beautiful!

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And finally it was on our way out of Glacier Bay, en route to Prince William Sound and College Fjord that we began to see some of the pinnipeds and cetacea so common in these parts.

But first… the Puffin!

This was as close as we got to one of these cute little fish mongers…

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The we began to see the mammals, first a few whales…

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Then a pair of Humpbacks showed up…

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Followed by the fun loving, and in this case HUGE! Sea Lion.  I’ve been around Sea Lions a lot while living in Southern California, and this guy was the Warren Sapp of Sea Lions!  He had to be 10 feet and over 1,000 pounds easy.

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We all kept watching on the rail for wildlife until we headed into the fog and darkening sky, on our way to College Fjord.

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More… to come… In the meantime if you would like to see more of the images from Glacier Bay, click this link “Glacier Bay Gallery

I’ll have more galleries up shortly, but I wanted to get this one completed first for the Panorama links.

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August 17, 2009

Skagway, Gateway to the Yukon

Back in 1898, Skagway Alaska was the ‘Getting off point’ to the Yukon Territory for gold miners.  They would arrive via ship/boat at Skagway harbor then trek over the White Pass toward their lusted treasures.  From Sea Level to 2,885 in about 20 miles.White pass RR 1

Today, a scenic railroad, using classic engines (both steam and diesel electric) will take tourists up and over the White Pass all the while enjoying awe inspiring panoramic views of Alaskan and British Columbian mountain ranges.

We arrived in Skagway, once again, early in the morning allowing for a full day of sightseeing and mini Island Princess in Skagwayadventures.  Skagway proper is an extremely small town, boasting a regular population of some 884 peoples!   Which is amazing when you realize that this small burg experiences over 900,000 tourists every summer!  The town itself is probably a square mile at most, so most people will take an excursion into the mountains by train, or grab a seaplane and head to one of the nearby glaciers or hot fishing spots.

Kelly, Peter, Mom and Dad decided they wanted to take it easy this day and chose to stay in town, exploring the various small museums, trinket shops, and even a Quilting store that held mom and Kelly’s attention for a few hours!

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Ginger and I headed into the back country via train to the White Pass border between Alaska and Canada.  We were inundated with spectacular mountain scenery as the train wound its way from sea level to the pass.

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We even got a great view of Bridal Veil Falls, Alaska style…

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And just before reentering the town of Skagway, I spied this old timer, hiding quietly in the forest.

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Not much wildlife spotted on this day, although… I did spot a Dall Sheep on a not too nearby mountain.  Here’s the close up! From 3,000 meters away!  She’s the white spot just to the left of center…

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Ok… Next stop… Glacier Bay!

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August 16, 2009

Hey! Juneau where we’re going?

That’s right the next port of call in our Alaska adventure was Juneau.

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Again we made pier-side early, sometime around 06:30, but this time we had ample time to explore the 49th state’s Capitol City.  Just because Juneau is the Capitol doesn’t mean it’s big.  Nope still a small town, with a regular population around 30,000.

This town had many similar sites to share as did Ketchikan, lush forested mountains rising steeply from the strait and of course the ubiquitous jewelry stores.  One cool attraction was the Mt. Roberts Tramway.   This tram climbs quickly some 1,800 feet through dense rainforest to the top of Mt. Roberts providing a breath taking vista of Juneau and the nearby mountains and seaways.  (The panoramic from the top is the first image of this post.)

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Mom and my sister Kelly took a pass on this excursion, neither of who are big fans of heights or baskets of humans dangling from spindly wires traversing the wilderness at 15 miles per hour.  But for me, my wife Ginger, my Dad, and my brother-in-law, Peter, it was a treat not to be missed.  A tremendous view awaited us despite the flat sunless overcast.

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For starters it afforded us a fantastic view of our trusted ship for this voyage, the Island Princess!  And additionally, once at the precipice we could see what was on the other side of the ridge… and wouldn’t you know it… it was more mountains!  And a great selection of flora, many of which looked like a bad idea to mess with!  These things had enough thorns on them to make a conversation with Hillary Clinton look inviting!

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But then there were the friendlier plants like these… including actual blueberry bushes!  Very cool… and here I thought these grew in supermarket produce baskets!

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All the while, mom and Kelly are exploring the sights of Juneau… like the most boring looking state capitol building… which I'll spare you the image of… so boring my camera wouldn’t take a picture of it.  But that is not to say that Juneau is boring… it probably is… but I didn’t say that!  There were some nice touches in Juneau.  I was constantly amazed at the amount of flowers on display in all of these towns, I guess flowers thrive in 18 hours of sunlight in the summer.

juneau flowers 2 

We ate lunch, in a nice Alaskan Italian restaurant run by a nice Korean family, and then some of us went back to the ship to listen to a lecture by a lady who recently won the Iditarod Dog Sled Race across Alaska, while others of us, Peter… went on a museum hunt, and others of us… Ginger, dragging me, went to look at what is obviously Juneau’s #1 export… Jewelry! I still found some interesting sights to photograph along the way… this one caught my eye feeling for the poor person who had to lug his groceries up to the front door!

stairs to the top

All was not lost, Peter, Ginger and I did later meet up at the famous Red Dog Saloon to knock back a fine Red Dog Ale!  Afterward, I headed to take some pictures of some of my favorite things… Airplanes!  and other winged creatures, like an actual, in the true wild, Bald Eagle!

seaplanes juneau

eagle in Juneau 

eagle in Juneau 2

There you have it… now Juneau where I’ve been.

August 16, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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August 15, 2009

First Stop, Ketchikan!

Zero Five Thirty! Is the time we tie up to the pier in Ketchikan, the first of our Alaskan ports of call.  And we had to put to sea at 1:30pm so we all rose early to be sure we saw the sights.

Dawn Port Side…

Ketch harbor pano

Dawn Starboard Side…

Ketchikan Town pano

Ketchikan is a small town, with a great ambiance.  It has a population of around 7,200 folks, I’m sure 1/2 of which work in one of the 963 jewelry stores along the wharf!

This is a town that pretty much appeals to tourism and fishing as far as I can tell.  The tourism part they’ve got covered, with literally hundreds of gift shops, the majority of which… seriously… are Jewelry Stores!!! By the hundreds!  But along the Ketchikan Creek there are a series of quaint picturesque gift stores, tee-shirt shops and restaurants for the disgorged cruise passengers to spend their time and money. 

ketchikan creek web

But, Ketchikan is not just about selling trinkets and shirts… nope, this is Salmon country!  Want proof? Look closely in the water in the picture above (lower portion of the photo) see the Salmon?  Here let me give you a slightly better look…

salmon country

There were 100's of thousands of salmon in this creek!  All headed upstream to their reproductive demise.  Our first notice of these teeming waters came earlier in the morning as we toured the Totem Museum and the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center.  In the same creek that runs just outside these facilities, we looked closer in the flow to see salmon everywhere!  And me without my fly rod!

ketchikan creek (2) salmon creek

Salmon were not the only wildlife we had the opportunity to see this day, we also met two American Bald Eagles who were in the care of the Eagle Center.

Eagle Ketchikan eagles ketchikan

We continued to tour the town until our time to board the ship approached.

ketchikan totem ketchikan sign

In one of the shops Dad even found a doll of himself!  Who Knew?

Dad look alike

Ketchikan Main drag2

Finally back to the ship…

to the shipOnce back on board, we all headed up to deck 14 (the lido deck) to watch as our ship got underway headed for our next stop, Juneau.  From our perch we had a great vista of Ketchikan and the busy port.  The air was alive with the sounds of seaplanes taking off and other cruise ships blasting their whistles as they too got underway for their next port of call.  Dad and I were in heaven having the front row seat to the show.

As our Captain maneuvered the 980 foot “Island Princess” away from our berth, we all stood once again amazed at the precision and speed our ship’s crew could undertake such an evolution. IMPRESSIVE!

seaplane seaplane 2

Farewell Ketchikan…

departure ketchikan pano

On the way to Juneau…

marker

August 15, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Vacation Day 3… Setting Sail

Finally the beginning of the cruise… well… after a 4 1/2 hour bus ride in an un-air conditioned, might have been heated even, rubber band powered motor coach.  Seriously, we actually topped 14 miles per hour on a few hills.

We were delivered to the Princess Cruise Terminal around 3:30 for a 4:00pm sail from Vancouver BC.  Always good to wind up a bit before the serious decompressing is to begin!  There we embarked on the Island Princess, a noble alabaster ship.  We were quite efficiently escorted to our staterooms where we were greeted by our steward, Rudy, and given a quick briefing on the safety procedures we had missed hearing about earlier due to our timely arrival in the Grey Line Sauna Bus!

Our stateroom was fantastic.  8th deck, starboard side aft.  Complete with our own balcony 4 decks above the waterline.

In very short order, the whistle sounded and we, as deft as a ski boat… albeit a smidge slower, eased away from the pier.  Not a tug in sight!  Entering the shipping channel we began to feel we had begun our vacation at last.

Remembering all the time that we are here to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Cheers!

Ahhhhh…

mom and dad cheers  Lions Gate Bridge

IMG_0134_6270  

And as we pass under Lions Gate Bridge into the Burrard Inlet, we bid farewell to Vancouver BC…

passing lions gate

 passing lions gate 2

vancouver pano2

And after Vancouver disappeared in the distance, we began 2 days of transit along the coast of Canada, through the Straight of Georgia toward our first port of call, Ketchikan.

georgia straight pano 

The next few hours of transit looked a lot like the above image.  But you didn’t want to pry yourself from the rail for you always feel you might miss something around the next bend.  And believe me, there was ALWAYS something to see around the next bend…

August 15, 2009 in Alaska 2009, Photo, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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