Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Juneau, Alaska, Whale-Watching, and Mendenhall Glacier

As a child growing up in the Midwest, I never gave much thought to glaciers nor whales, much less trying to connect the two. Being able to travel to different places, see the people, and see different parts of the country can open one's eyes. There is so much to see and even more to be learned!

Connecting a Whale to a Glacier 

The glaciers in Southeast Alaska alone discharge enough water to fill 40 million olympic-sized swimming pools. Glaciers grind mountains into fine particles, providing oceans with nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorous and unique organic carbon. These all contribute to the marine food webs. Whales at Auke Bay and the Juneau area swim at the top of this food web. Excursions to see whales were available at other ports as well, but the tour on Juneau worked best for us.

Whale Watching 

Fast forward to Auke Bay. Our excitement heightened as we neared the place where we saw whales swimming in the water. When whales were spotted in the water, boats slowed up, sometimes stopping, to allow passengers to watch the whales. The longer we sat watching, as the boat captain maneuvered the craft ever so slight, we noticed they swam closer to us.

Watching the whales - how incredible! They were beautiful. Even more beautiful was seeing them do a type of dive where they went under water, head first, and while still under water, their beautiful tail rose above the water. One whale did just that to the left of our boat; he was huge, sleek, and his tail was a sight to see! I was hoping for a photo opportunity, but even though I saw the whale as I turned, my camera was not in the right position to get the picture.

The Photo

Then I saw it! It was a little distance from us. A whale dived! Breaching, I think, is the name given to this action. I pushed the shutter button.  Success! We had come to see the whales, the whale's tail, and to my delight, I caught it on camera when he raised his tail! Wow! What a thankful, fantastic feeling to photograph this incredible sight!

Whale's Tail
Day 5 - Friday, June 10 

What a day to remember!  The Norwegian Sun arrived via the Gastineau Channel. We had a lot of sightseeing to do in Juneau, but our time would go fast. We docked at 7 a.m. and had to be back on board by 12:45 p.m. Upon arrival, we got off the ship, walked a short distance, passing this resting bear.

Resting bear
When we docked in Juneau, one of the first things that caught my eye was a red tram car from Mt. Roberts Tramway.  This beautiful flowering bush was left of the opening for the Tram car, across from the central parking area where we boarded the bus for our tour on Juneau.

Flowering bush with red tram car at back right
We boarded the boat to watch the whales at Auke Bay. On our way, this lighthouse appeared to our left.


Whale watching
After viewing the whales, we also saw glaciers...

Herbert Glacier was one of several glaciers we passed.
...as we continued back to Auke Bay where we exited this boat.When we were stopped for viewing whales, we were allowed to step on to the front deck as well as the back deck for better views.  Our bus was waiting to take us to Mendenhall Glacier.

This is the boat from Auke Bay that took us whale watching.
Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier
It is one of 38 large glaciers that flow from the 1500 square miles of snow and ice known as the Juneau Ice Field.

The first Forest Service Visitor Center in the Nation was dedicated here in 1962. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is in the Tongass National Forest.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Sign
From the visitor center at Mendenhall Glacier there are five trails from a 1/4 mile loop to a 3.5 mile loop ranging from easy, paved to challenging, gravel, rock and stairs.

An elevator takes visitors from sidewalk level up to the visitor center, where they can view a 15-minute movie, visit an Alaska Geographic bookstore and take photos from the glacier observation area.

View from Observation Area reached by the elevator.
Nugget Falls is to the right of the glacier.

Nugget Falls is to the right of Mendenhall Glacier.

No roads connect it to the rest of Alaska or North America because of the rugged terrain surrounding it, but it is on the Alaska mainland. It has a population of about 30,000 with an area of 3,255 square miles. By area, it is the second largest city in the United States. In 1906 it became the capital of Alaska when the U.S Congress dictated in 1900 that the government of the District of Alaska be moved there from Sitka.

Goods arrive and depart by plane or boat. Cars arriving in Juneau come via the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, the floating roadway for Southeast Alaska.

Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier

When we leave Juneau, we cruise the Tracy Arm Fjord from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Tracy Arm is the heart of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, designated by the U.S. Congress in 1980. We saw even more beautiful scenery as we cruised toward Sawyer Glacier.

While cruising to Sawyer Glacier, we encountered many scenic turns. It was hard to tell which direction the ship would turn as we wove through the scenic passageways to reach the glacier.

Walls of rock with vegetation growing on it

Ahead of us, we could have turned left or right.

Ahead we first go right,then left...

Still more turns ahead

A peek at the glacier...

Rocks of many colors...

Sawyer Glacier
The ship turned around at the glacier, after which we retraced our steps along the Wilderness area on our way to Ketchikan. There is still more beautiful scenery to come in the next post and more fun things onboard to share, so stay tuned.

Thank you everyone for visiting and following this adventure with my sister and me. Feel free to make comments. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog. Be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Skagway, Alaska Gold Rush, Railroad, and Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

There is something about Skagway that stands out from other places I have visited. It is hard to identify one individual thing that makes it unique, but rather a stunning combination of not only its landscape and beauty, but also its colorful history, legendary tales, and location.

It (and the nearby ghost town of Dyea) was the starting place beginning in 1897 for more than 40,000 goldrush stampeders who headed for the Yukon via the Chilkoot Trail. The White Pass & Yukon Railroad was constructed in 1898, and Skagway boomed to a population of 8,000 to 10,000, according to a year-by-year account in the newspaper “Skaguay Alaskan”. Skagway, the northernmost city on Alaska’s Inside Passage, was the first incorporated city in Alaska in 1900. At that time, the population was 3,117.

White Pass Railroad Depot -- Note the year 1900 centered below Railroad Building
The Anvil Gold Mines in the Yukon were served by the railroad, which also provided freight, fuel and transportation to Whitehorse. Many locals were employed until 1982, when the Mine closed. In 1979, the construction of the Klondike Highway gave Skagway a link to the Alaska Highway.

A lot of history unfolded in the year-by-year newspaper account mentioned above. For the years 2013-2016, it was interesting to note that visitor numbers rebounded with the advent of huge 3,000-passenger ships, and a floating dock was added at the railroad dock. Also, most of the people from Skagway called themselves Skagwegians as the population nearly tripled in summer to deal with more than a million visitors.

Thursday, June 9, 2016…

The Norwegian Sun docked in Skagway at 5:30 a.m. We enjoyed a full day of exploring until our boarding time at 7:45 p.m.

Norwegian Sun at the dock in Skagway
Skagway’s Original Street Car…

Sabrina was waiting at the end of the pier ashore with one of Skagway’s Original Street Cars. This car she was driving is a 1927 Mack Model AB restored April 2001 by Boyd Coddington.

One of Skagway's Original Street Cars

1927 Mack Model AB restored April 2001 by Boyd Coddington
As Sabrina toured us around Skagway, she shared legendary tales about Skagway that included fortune seekers, lawlessness, and Soapy Smith. This is a place where the romance and excitement of yesteryear still linger. Had we not known better, we might have thought we were in the middle of a Hollywood movie set.


Broadway is part of a seven-block corridor that runs in a northerly direction from the docks. It is one of the main streets in the downtown area, and is lined with interesting shops. Features include historic-fronted shops, restaurants, wooden buckboard sidewalks, locals in period costumes, restored buildings, and a backdrop of spectacular scenery. Many are part of the National Park Service-managed Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Shops have been woven tastefully into the historical fabric of Skagway so our shopping experience included standing on floors that contained history, and sitting on benches where residents like illustrious Soapy Smith would have sat. To illustrate this historical weaving, the following photo has, on the left side of the street, the Loom, the Red Onion Saloon, Milano Diamond Gallery, AB Hall with the date of 1899 over its entryway, and much more. On the right side, diagonally across from the Red Onion, we visited the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Visitor Center on the corner with two entrances, one from Second Avenue and one from Broadway. The Visitor Center is better viewed in a later photo looking south on Broadway when we head back to the ship. On the left, just beyond the first (bright yellow) building at Third Avenue is the Sweet Tooth CafĂ©. At the far end of that block at Fourth Avenue is the brown with yellow letters “Pantheon” sign (look under the bottom of the speed limit sign). The Pantheon is the Jr. Ranger Activity Center (National Park Service). Continuing on the same side, just across Fourth Avenue on the corner is Del Sol, which features clothing, accessories that change color in the sun and more. Next to Del Sol is the Alaska Christmas Store. Skagway has a mixture of old and new, including an Ace Hardware and a Radio Shack.

You can click on any photo to enlarge it.

The renovated turn-of-the-century buildings bring the Gold Rush Era back to life.
Use your imagination and you might still hear the echoing cries from the steep canyon walls of “gold in the Yukon”! The current population is estimated between 800 and 1,000, but given a day when three ships dock on the same day, you may feel like you have stepped into a modern-day version of the Gold Rush.

Our tour guide shared with us that it is during the modern-day version of the Gold Rush when Skagway welcomes many people, like herself. She is an experienced employee who returns to Skagway year after year to work a seasonal job created due to the masses of tourists welcomed to her dock on cruise ships.

The Skagway Centennial Statue is the centerpiece  of Centennial Park.  It depicts the scene of a gold rush trail with a Tlingit packer leading an eager prospector.

Skagway Centennial Statue was completed in 1997 during the Centennial Celebrations. 
Sabrina showed us many sites and shared many things about Skagway, including pointing out the “oldest” house in Skagway as we passed by the side street. It has the white picket fence around it.

Oldest House in Skagway
Other interesting facts included the price of a gallon of milk being seven dollars a gallon. The attendance of the entire high school is approximately one hundred students. We passed by an RV park in Skagway. The monthly cost for a site was $1600 if you wanted full hookups. Only a few full-hookup sites were available.

Sabrina dressed in authentic costume, shared legendary tales about Skagway including Soapy Smith...

Sign left of center says "Klondike Gold Fields".

To all Points of Interest -- Nothing like it in the World 
Here we were only a half mile from Yukon Territory; had we traveled up this road, we would have had to have our passports to return to Skagway.

Instead we made a 90-degree turn left and traveled to a turnaround where we could get another view of Skagway and an overview of the dock and our ship.
The Norwegian Sun docked in Skagway.

View overlooking the seven block corridor below with the steep, spectacular wall of scenery beyond, from a park-like setting high above the town...
Skagway has a lot of history with much to see and is a fun place to shop. At the end of our tour, we were free to do more sightseeing in Skagway and enjoy more shops.

Red Onion Saloon

Between 1908 and 1910, a number of buildings were relocated to Broadway from other parts of the city to develop a business district concentrated around the rail line. The Red Onion Saloon was one of the buildings relocated to its present location.

Red Onion Saloon

Arctic Brotherhood

The fraternal order emerged from the Klondike Gold Rush. It established itself in 1899 in the boomtowns of Skagway, Bennett, Atlin, and Dawson City. Then it spread into Interior Alaska all the way to Nome before it faded away in the 1920s. Only a few Arctic Brotherhood halls still stand in the North, including this ornate structure in Skagway (and also one in Dawson). It’s motto was “No Boundary Line Here”.

Arctic Brotherhood Hall

Closeup of Entrance to AB Building with date of 1899 over the entrance

Shops on Second Avenue across from the Railroad Building where the shuttle picked us up to return us to the ship:

Skagway Mining Company Building

Skagway Mining Co. building

Diamonds International
Broadway Looking South

The National Park Service Visitor Center is on the left. To our right is The Loom, and the Alaska Shirt Company. The railroad track that we cross is a side track that comes from the railroad dock main track at our far left. The side track has sidings for the Broadway Dock and the Ore Terminal/Dock at our far right.

Looking south on Broadway as we return to the ship.

View from dining room window of the channel we travel through when we leave Skagway.
Tonight we enjoyed more music as we headed back to our room for the night. 

Thank you everyone for visiting and following this adventure with my sister and me. Feel free to make comments. Next we will dock in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, where more excitement is in store as we photograph the whales.

If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.