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IMGP1788.JPG (279458 bytes)In the late afternoon of August 31, I arrive in Juneau, Alaska.  Carol, who arrived a day earlier, meets me.  Juneau is a lively, comfortable city along the Gastineau Channel which caters to hundreds of tour boats and thousands of tourists annually.  It is nestled between Mount Roberts and the peak on Douglas Island.  The Cozy Log Bed & Breakfast is a lovely log cabin on a quiet street not far from the base of the mountain in the Mendenhall section.  We are treated as family and enjoy wonderful breakfasts.

 

IMGP1805.JPG (115321 bytes)Susan on Mt. RobertsOne of the highlights of our stay in Juneau is a trip up the Mount Roberts Tramway.  From the top of the tramway, we hike further up the mountain to alpine meadows and we catch sight of a marmot and two black bears.  Carol declines to hike any further up the mountain after seeing the bears.

 

 

Upside down treeWe visit Glacier Gardens, which is built on an old avalanche site.  Its main attraction is huge uprooted trees, turned upside down and planted with their roots in the air like giant hanging baskets.  Bob is going to love having one of these in our front yard!  I am astonished to find rhododendrons and Japanese maples thriving in Alaska and learn that the climate is very moderate due to the warming effects of the Japanese Current.

 

 

Red Dog Inn in Juneau, AKWe enjoy cold beer and chat with some locals at the Red Dog Saloon.  Dave “Roadkill” Johnson advises us to purchase a good map of the Pacific Northwest’s “Inside Passage” and to track our progress during the trip.  It turns out to be excellent advice.

 

We enjoy a visit to the State museum which has an excellent display of Tlingit artifacts and history.   There are other displays and information on the rainforest and the Eskimos or Yupik people of the region.  It is interesting to note that the use of the word Eskimo (raw meat eater) is still very common in the United States.  We also learn about the Russian influence on the development of the region.

                                                                                     

September 2

In the afternoon, we gather at the Goldbelt Hotel and then board the MV Spirit of Endeavour.  We settle in and meet our third roommate, Barb Cunningham from Windsor, and then head to the forward lounge for our first briefing.  Chris Zimmer of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, describes the efforts of an international coalition of groups and organizations working to prevent the reopening of an old mine on the Taku River.  Some discussion on the negative impacts and hazards of salmon farming follows.  Our entire crew of resource people is introduced to us and the session ends with a moving speech from Chief Cecil Paul who will be with us for the entire voyage. 

                                         M/V Spirit of Adventure          The BridgeOur triple berth cabin

September 3

Glacier Bay at dawnAt 6:00 am, we dock in Bartlett Cove to pick up Park Ranger, Melanie Heacox, and her husband Kim, for our visit to Glacier Bay.  From the third deck, I sight my first humpbacked whale and see my first Stellar’s sea lion in the gray light of dawn.  Breakfast is followed by fascinating talks by Melanie and stories by Kim.   Melanie speaks at length about Glacier Bay National Park and shares her love and passion for it.  Kim speaks of the challenges and joys of living in this big place:  the peace of mind and security that comes from not having to lock your doors; the comfort of knowing that if you return to the community to find someone has taken your car, it is perfectly acceptable, even expected, that you will commandeer someone else’s.

 

John Hopkins GlacerWe arrive at the John Hopkins Glacier where we watch thousands of seals going about their business on the ice, safe from the killer whales (Orcas) and other predators.  We watch and listen to calving ice:  deep, booming sounds like thunder as huge chunks break away from the 300-foot-high face of the glacier and crash into the sea.  We quickly learn to watch the swooping and soaring gulls and terns for clues to impending glacier activity.  The birds will suddenly vacate an area where they have been feeding and shortly we hear the sound and see the ice calve.  Glacier ice is an intense blue and often laced with layers of dirt.  The John Hopkins glacier is very active, advancing and rebuilding annually.  We also see a grounded (inactive) glacier with a melt water stream flowing from its heart into the channel.  We cruise slowly past the Russell glacier alluvial fan trying to sight grizzly bears.   We chuckle at hundreds of naked waterfowl in mid-molt with so few feathers they are unable to get off the water. 

 

We learn that Glacier Bay is a very dynamic eco-environment where wildlife is still slowly moving in.  Initially, as the glaciers recede, there is no life but slowly the “food chain” develops and expands to support more and more species.  The Heacox’s are very excited about being in the park as it burgeons with life.  Their passion and enthusiasm for this place is very infectious.

 

Stellar Sea LionsAfter lunch, we are entertained with music and funny stories from previous expeditions by singer/songwriter Ian Tamblyn until we reach South Marble Islet.  Here we see cormorants, a variety of seagulls, comical puffins and hundreds of sea lions.  Further south, we happen upon a pod of feeding sea otters.  The sea otter dives to the bottom and surfaces with a shellfish treat and a rock.  He floats on his back in the kelp bed, places the rock on his chest and cracks the shell against it to get the oyster or clam inside.  Talk about “sit back, relax and enjoy the meal!”  

 

In the evening, we meet our tall, skinny and very amusing chef, Irv  “feel the looove Richardson from N’Awrlens.  Irv joins us in the Explorer lounge each evening and invites us to dinner by describing the menu in detail and assuring us that the food is “prepared with looove!”  Dinner is followed by a session of tips and tricks of wildlife and scenery photography by Danny Catt.  I learn some useful things.

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