Alaska, 2010

28 Orca whale, Prince William Sound, Alaska
Orca whale, Prince William Sound, Alaska
Two orca whale
Two orca whale

This is a trip that my mother and I took together. It began in Fairbanks where we boarded the Alaska Scenic Railroad, stopped overnight in Denali, continued onto Anchorage. In Anchorage, a shuttle took us to Whittier, where we boarded a Cruise West boat for a 5 day tour of Prince William Sound.

North to Alaska, Tuesday June 15

It’s just hit me what a long day we’ve had. Though it is about 8pm local time, it is midnight on my personal clock and I was up at 5am. Everything ran behind, the taxi, MARTA, and mostly my mother! She told me she was slowing down and I should have taken her at her word. Still, the 2 flights were uneventful, and though I don’t know why, we were in first class for some reason. I was afraid to question it–Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, you know. These trips were bought with frequent flyer miles, so I didn’t imagine they would upgrade me. But the better seats and better service means that I’m a less grumpy traveler, and I even got some sleep on the plane.

Mom at the Pump Room, Fairbanks, Alaska
Mom at the Pump Room, Fairbanks, Alaska

At the Fairbanks airport we found an independent taxi driver, Art, who took us to our hotel, then to dinner, and will take us to the railroad in the morning. Our hotel in Fairbanks is in the middle of a strip mall with a Lowe’s, McDonald’s, Barnes & Noble, Chuck E Cheese–basically it looks like we never left home. If this trend continues, there will be no reason to travel, no reason to ever leave your couch. But we had dinner at a local place on the river, The Pump Room, where we sat outside. Mom had salmon and I had an elk burger. The restaurant is the sight of a pump house that supplied water to the huge gold dredging operations at the turn of the 20ith century. Almost all the gold found in the US is found within 25 miles of Fairbanks. The walls of the dining room are “decorated” with animal heads and the world’s largest moose antlers. There is also a grizzly bear, standing twice my mother’s height, in a glass case.

Rain expected tonight and the clouds are heavy. So are my eyelids……

Alaska’s Scenic Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali, 6/16

This morning we check out of the Hampton Inn of Fairbanks and taxi two miles to the Scenic Railroad. While waiting, we see a large model train set, operated by a local club of mostly retired men, who are as excited about their hobby as school boys.

1 Denali Train Station 13We are in the first passenger car behind the 2 engines, in a glass topped car above the dining car. Visibility from the cars is wonderful, but we start with a grey, cloudy sky. This height should mean better wildlife visibility, but we probably won’t get a clear view of the big mountain, Denali, with all these clouds. Few visitors get to see it. We have a 4 hour trip to the park and we get some narration along the way that really adds. Though I didn’t know what I was buying, I got us “Gold Star” service, essentially first class. It means we have free beverages, a private observation deck and staff devoted just to us. Definitely worth the extra money.

We pass first through a 400+ acre rail dock as we pull away from the station. There are interesting small businesses, like a fur tannery, and a small farm that raises caribou (which they call reindeer since they are domesticated). You don’t see that in Georgia. Fairbanks is in the center of the state and I’m struck by how different the forest looks. The pine trees we pass are tallish (about 2 stories), but very thin and perfectly straight. They are not planted and grow this way naturally. They are straight enough for the mast of a ship. We also pass small tar paper shacks and ancient mobile homes (certainly no longer mobile). The roofs look like they barely keep out a light rain and I can’t imagine you could stay warm in any of them during the heavy snows. Some have a roof constructed over them.

2 Alaska Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali 18

Talking to the staff on the railroad is fascinating. Most are no older than mid-20’s and this is a seasonal job for them. The 8 employees in the dining car said the trip is 14 hours from Anchorage (where they are based) to Fairbanks, then they put up in a hotel for the night and make the reverse trip the next day. It is difficult to catch up on sleep if they do several runs in a row and there are no sleeping berths on the train. I asked how difficult their jobs were and they said it was intense activity followed by “complete boredom”. One girl, who didn’t enter into the conversation, kept her head down, writing. I asked if she was writing the great American novel. She looked up with a huge smile,”Yes I am!” Good for her! I hope the story is about trains.

7 Alaska Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali 38We have intermittent light rain all morning. Along one side of the tracks is the remains of the old telegraph system, tall poles with glass wire insulators, though the wires are long gone. In swampy areas the insulators are supported by a tripod. No wildlife yet, not even a bird. We see few homes and I’ve not had cell phone service since I left Fairbanks.

Every person we’ve talked to who is local has commented on the drastic changes in climate—mostly about the mild winters. The river that goes through Fairbanks, the Chena, has not frozen solid since the winter of 2000.

We go through the “town” of Nenana, at the confluence of 2 rivers. It is famous for the “Nenana Classic” an annual lottery to pick the time/date of the break up of the river. This past year’s pot was $290,000.

As we travel south, the Talkeetna Mountain Range is to the left, the Alaska Range, which includes Denali, on the right. Though the skies are clearing, we have not yet seen the big mountain. We managed to see a lone moose, running belly deep in the marsh.

5 Alaska Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali 26We continue and the sun shines as we parallel the Nenana River, swift and thick with grey-almost blue slit (I later find that all glacier run off streams are this color). I can’t imagine that fish can live in it since it doesn’t look like there can be much oxygen. The grounds are so clean, no trash at all. Most of the time we see little that has been touched by man, save the railroad tracks.

Shortly after noon we arrive at Denali and make contact with the McKinley Chalet crew. It seems this is very early in the season as none of the staff quite knows what to do or where to go, though it is clear they want to be helpful.

Travel is fraught with misunderstandings and poor communication. I was supposed to get a packet in the mail with all my railroad/hotel info. I didn’t. The staff seems very confused by this, though I have printed copies of all my confirmations. The computer seems to think we were arriving tomorrow, though all my reservation info says today (Note to travelers: Always print out your reservation info and bring it with you.)  Clearly there have been changes since I reserved in November. Our “Tundra Tour” starts at 2:20p rather than 1pm as advertised and is 7-8 hours long instead of 4-5 as my reservation says. I’m not sure about sitting on a school bus for that long and this is all sounding like a mistake. The woman at the desk indicates there will be an additional charge. I tell her that there will NOT be. She caves easily.

The staff is young, inexperienced and overwhelmed. The computer indicates we are reserved for the next day. My confirmation indicates that it is today. I am patient, but insistent and immovable. When the young woman tells me, “you can check in tomorrow anytime after noon.” I stubbornly say “no”. We need a room today, we will be on the tour today (regardless of length). I say this for 20 solid minutes while the line behind me grows. My mother goes to the gift shop. I get louder, on the theory that the woman just can’t hear me. The entire line behind me moves away. Finally an assistant manager hears me. This is clearly not his first day, though I’ll guess by his age that it’s only his second season. He realizes this transaction has taken far too long and he is about to have an irate client (about?). He looks over my paperwork and tell the young woman that the computer is clearly wrong. She has a befuddled look on her face, which I interpret as an inability to process  information this information. That a computer could be “wrong” is entirely outside of her world view. Mr. Assistant Manager asks, “what is it you want?”  “A room, preferably ground floor and within walking distance of the desk. And we need to be on the next tour possible today. He says simply, “no problem, I can give you exactly what you want.” And he does! Yay!

The room isn’t exactly what I would call a “chalet” as indicated, and it may be brand new. I doubt anyone has ever stayed in it before, which explains why it is not listed in the computer correctly (building K, not J). It is within walking distance to the main lobby and on the ground floor.

Mount McKinley
Mount McKinley

The Tundra Tour is a bus tour of the 6 million acre park. Initially this just didn’t sound good to me, but seemed to be the only option. The size of Denali is mind blowing. It is 9,000 sq miles, the size of Vermont. Even with this, it is only the 3rd largest National Park, the two larger are also in Alaska. Our guide is David, who is hilariously funny and has given this tour for 28 years. He is from Anchorage and gave a lot of facts, some of which I was able to capture. He talked about the wolf packs inside the park-62 packs that range in size of 2 to 14 members. This is the lowest number ever recorded. Reasons; lowest snow fall ever recorded and trapping. We can see Mt McKinley! There are archaeological sites of the Athabaskan (a group of roughly 13 native tribes of this area, linguistically associated with the Navaho). In 1907 there was a gold rush. The damage from this prompted the protection of the area into a national park, originally 2 million acres in 1917 and known as McKinley Park. Much of our tour is above the tree line.

14 Denali bus tour 24David also gives exact instructions of what to do if we encounter wildlife while off the bus. If it is a moose and it rushes toward you, it is likely a cow and she is trying to chase you from her calf. Run!  If it is a grizzly bear, you should not run as they cannot help but chase you. First, David asks us to stand our ground and try to look very large by raising your arms above your head. Next, yell to him very loudly that you see a bear, so that David has time to get on the bus and safely away from your bear. David has quite a sore throat from talking. When asked what he does in the off season, he says, “Not talk.”

9 Denali bus tour 17

Denali
Denali

We get to see several Dall sheep; 7 grizzly bear (most were surprisingly blonde, who knew?) There are 300-350 in the park and we got to see a sow nursing 2 cubs and on the way back a different sow nursing a single cub); 2 wolves; ground squirrel (which look like prairie dogs); golden eagle (largest bird of prey in park with 2 meter wing span, can carry off a newborn Dall sheep); caribou; two huge bull moose (one less than 10 yards from the road grazing placidly); snowshoe hare (eating salt from the side of the road); gry falcon (largest falcon) and a pair of willow ptarmigan (state bird of Alaska, brown this time of year, but white in the winter).

ptarmingen
ptarmigan

So many flowers too, including yellow arctic poppy, blue lupine, and a small blue bell (also called languid lady, a name I love).

An amazing tour, but we don’t get to our room until after 10am, though of course it will not get dark tonight–we are only days away from the summer solstice. We will fall into bed.

June 17th, Denali to Anchorage

Last night I took one of the fastest showers of my life. The last time I was that quick, there was a mountain stream involved. I suspect the cause is the same this day. We have no hot water. I stood in the shower with my dirty hair and waited until the water came to something a few degrees higher than ice before I plunged my head into the stream. I wet, soaped up and rinsed as quickly as possible because the water was cooling again. I prudently decided that an application of crème rinse (which would have to be rinsed from my hair) was unnecessary; after all it builds up, doesn’t it?

Still not quite on this time zone, I was up before 6a. Breakfast was at the Courtyard Cafe and we paid an unbelievable $17, plus tax and tip for the buffet breakfast. Each.

We had to have the bags out for pick up at 9am, and out of hotel room by 10a. So we grabbed a shuttle to some shops and spent too much money. Then another shuttle to the Visitors Center, then the Railroad station.

3 Alaska Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali 19We have now boarded the train and heading south to Anchorage. The river alongside the tracks runs in the opposite direction, North, which seems odd and the cabin steward, who is young enough to be fighting acne, keeps saying how unusual this is. It seems every time I travel I hear that “only the Nile and the river X” runs North. And the X is replaced by the name of some local river. But the more you travel the more exceptions you run across. Rivers that run north are not so unusual, it turns out.

If you ever travel the Alaska Railroad, pay the extra money for Gold Star service. This entitles you to a reserved seat in an elevated car and a private viewing platform that is also raised. Without the extra elevation, your visibility is quite limited, particularly in this section. You literally can’t see the forest (mountains, lakes, rivers) for the trees.

4 Alaska Railroad, Fairbanks to Denali 24On this trip we go to the highest point of the Alaskan Railroad (which is also the lowest point of the Continental Divide. We manage to see a few beaver, several swans and two cow moose running across the river, one with calf. Some passengers say they saw a bear. But the skies are cloudy, the tops of mountains clothed in fog. Mt McKinley not even a hint on the horizon as we pass. The vegetation has changed too. The evergreens are thicker and taller, but also there is also birch and cotton wood. The ground cover is less alpine shrubs and willow and more fern, wild geranium, horse tail rush (in the standing water) and the occasional wild hydrangea on a higher patch. In fact the ground in certain sections is covered in thousands of ferns too perfect to be real.

We make a stop in Talkeetna which our information says is a “base station for assaults on Mount McKinley.” This seems so unlikely since we’ve been moving away from it for hours. Talkeetna is certainly a spot for plane and helicopter tours of the mountain (they have a small runway), fishing, rafting and hunting excursions. We also go through Wasila, the hometown of Sarah Palin. In case you wondered, you cannot see Russia from there.

This second and final leg of our rail journey is too long and after all the lovely scenery and wildlife of the day before, we are easily bored. It was 8pm before we pull into Anchorage and we were ready to get off. Despite grave concerns, our luggage also made the trip and a short cab ride got us to the Captain Cook hotel. This is one of the nicest hotels in the city, far too .

6/18 Anchorage, boarding Cruise at Whittier, sailing Prince William Sound: Passage Channel, Blackstone Bay.

We breakfast at The Captain Cook hotel and by 10am make our way to the Sheridan where we are supposed to meet the cruise shuttle. Though they will take our luggage, they aren’t going to leave until 2pm. But we are resourceful women in a new town. We figure out how to take a shuttle to the log cabin visitor’s center, then board an information one hour trolley tour. I’m sorry that we won’t spend another night in Anchorage as they have a Midnight Sun festival this weekend which includes the Outhouse races.

Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska

Facts learned on the Anchorage trolley tour: baby whales can gain 8 pounds an hour! From an overlook, on a clear day, you can see Mount McKinley–but that only happens 30 days a year. Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state and the second highest SPAM consumption (Hawaii is first) in the US. We pass an interesting underground home, built in 1980s. The ground is such good insulation so they usually only turn on their heat in the winter once a week. Barrow is the northern most Alaska city. During winter and they have 85 days of darkness. We learn about the 1964 earthquake, where sections of the town simply dropped 10 feet and more.

In the forest surrounding Anchorage, the trees are quite skinny and close together with shallow roots that sit atop permafrost, called a talk. Because rainwater can’t soak into the permafrost, it becomes very marshy, a good area for moose and moose are constantly seen here. About 1800 actually live in greater Anchorage. The largest sea plane base in the world is here, with 1300 sea planes moored (at $150 per month) and 400 take offs and landings a day. 3/5 of Alaska is accessible only by plane, and 1 in 30 people have a pilot license (many more are unlicensed pilots). The male to female ratio here is now 2 men to 1, though it used to be much higher. Our female guide says that for women, the odds are good, but the goods are odd. The extra daylight in the summer is good for vegetables. Alaska holds the record for the largest cabbage at 254 pounds.

We can see the Chugatch Mountain range, dark rick with snow in the crevices. In winter they have the “snowshoe classic” a baseball game played on shoe shoes. You are required to drink one alcoholic beverage at first base. It’s a low scoring game, no doubt. The Iditerod starts here each year, going 1100 miles.

Finally at 2pm we leave the Sheridan. We are in a small bus, going from Anchorage to Whittier to meet our cruise ship. The drive is amazing–to our left are rugged mountains with occasional Dall sheep. We see the remains of last winter’s avalanches, still snow in these piles. To the right, tide mud flats and a salt water bay with tides that average 20 feet (between high and low tide). On the other side of the water is the Chugatch Mountain range, almost black with white snow caps, the very top in fog. Though I don’t know how tall they are, their feet are at sea level and halfway up tree line stops abruptly. You can see that they make their own weather. Later in the season, this inlet will have beluga whales hunting salmon.

We turn away from that inlet and follow a stream that is a blue/gray color–a sure sign that it is glacier fed. And we get to see the glacier, or what is left of it. The Portage Glacier only 35 years ago, covered 2/3 of the lake below. As of 2 years ago it has retreated up the side of the mountain enough that it does not even touch the water.

We go through a tunnel through Maynard Mountain that is 2.2 miles. It is timed because there is only room for one lane of traffic, driving directly over the railroad. Built during WWII to reach Whittier. It’s only been open for car traffic since 2000, before that only train.

In Whittier, we drop off luggage and supplies then take a short bus tour of the town while the ship employees secure these items and prepare for launch. Whittier is under cloud cover more than 80% of the time and is officially a rain forest–100 inches of rain (35 feet of snow). It was a military installation, and this cloud cover was good cover for it. We are told that this foggy, overcast and spitting rain is a *good* weather day in Whittier.

We see the Buckner Manner (now abandon and Whittier (10% of the residents) and the BTI (90% of the residents, which is designed to flex and move during the numerous earthquakes). There are few private, single family homes, we see only one. The school has about 23 students, kindergarten to Senior. Perry Solmonson lives here and he is often the red lantern Iditerod contestant–the last person to finish the race.

Over half the freight that comes to Alaska, comes through Whittier, and it loaded onto the Alaska Railroad, as the northern most ice free port.

16 On the Dock at Cordova 4

We are now on the boat and we have a room below deck. I have owned walk-in closets that are larger. The bathroom is claustrophobic. When you stand up after sitting on the toilet you are in the shower. In fact, as you stand up you must be careful not to lean too far forward or your nose will hit the soap dish. When using the toilet, I suggest you back in, since the tight space makes turning difficult. I can deal with the size, but I am concerned by the number of steep stairs my mother will have to climb. What also unnerves me is that this is a “key-less” ship, as in, you cannot lock your doors. At all. If you have something of value, you will carry it with you all the time. For me, that’s a camera and wallet. But they really should have mentioned this in the literature.

We are given much info on how the boat works, safety features and one unusual point: the water used to flush the toilets comes from the sea (its treated before being released). In the sea water are naturally occurring, bioluminescent diatoms. So if, in the middle of the night, you use the “head” do not be surprised if the water glows!

We get a lesson in How to don a PFD, personal floatation device. These are uncomfortable and not a fashion statement, but a necessity.

Nesting site for black legged kittie-wake, a type of gull, Prince William Sound, near Whittier, Alaska
Nesting site for black legged kittie-wake, a type of gull, Prince William Sound, near Whittier, Alaska

We get to see a huge nesting site for black legged kittie-wake, a type of gull. We also saw a nesting pair of bald eagle. It is difficult to judge size but the nest is clearly huge—at least 4 times as wide as one of the birds is tall. We have a naturalist on the boat who spends a lot of time explaining things and spotting wildlife.

This is usually all you see of the humpback wales
This is usually all you see of the humpback wales

Dinner is white tablecloths, silverware, wine with dinner. On the menu was mushroom soup with Tarragon (though we didn’t get any?); a choice of Caesar salad or house salad; several entrée choices, but we each got fresh Horseradish Encrusted Salmon, then Baked Alaska for dessert.

After dinner is a talk about what to expect this week, and the excursions available.

6/19 Prince William Sound: College Fiord, Barry Arm, Port Wells, Ester Passage

We were awakened at 7am by a gentle voice over the PA system. Our cabin has floor space of just 1 x 2.5 yards, so there is little room for two women to maneuver, dress and fix hair. It’s a good thing we are both low maintenance. We are directly below the kitchen. My dreams were colored with the smell of bacon.

Our little cabin is below water, the low rent district, on the same level with the crew. The stairway from our “hole” leads directly to the dining room. In fact, to get back we orient ourselves by going to the coffee pot, walk into the broom closet and turn left to go down the stairs.

Our first glacier, the Harvard
Our first glacier, the Harvard

Breakfast is another full affair with quite a varied menu to choose from. Mom has oatmeal with maple syrup and blue berries, then French toast with blueberry syrup. I had the omelet du jour–ham, Swiss cheese, spinach and possibly half a dozen eggs. Our waitress is nice enough but not thorough, and does not understand the need for coffee.

This morning after breakfast we saw the Harvard glacier–2 miles across, 30 stories from the water line and perhaps twice as deep. We saw some minor calving, but it is really the sound of thunder that is so impressive. We get no closer than a quarter mile from the face, though with the massive sizes I have extreme difficulty judging distances. The quarter mile is to protect us from falling (calving) ice and the wake from it, but more importantly from the blocks of ice that break off from underneath.

Black bear, Prince William Sound
Black bear, Prince William Sound

At 9am we motor away. There are “smaller” tidal glaciers on either side of College Fiord. We see a black bear, nesting bald eagles, a harbor seal. The one group of campers on the shore quite surprise me–I don’t think I have a sleeping bag “quite” rated for these temperatures. It was 40 degrees this morning at 7am (one cannot say dawn since there is hardly any darkness) but it is a wet cold that can chill to the bone. Rain and wind can come up at any moment.

We come to a raft of otters and most of the females have young clinging to them. Otters spend their lives almost entirely in the water–eating, breeding, giving birth. They hang out by lying on their back. They are about 100 pounds and the easiest way to tell the males from the females is by the nose. Females have pink noses and the males clamp down on them with their teeth during breeding (I assume this is why the noses are pink–wounds and scar tissue!). They eat fish, shellfish and their favorite is sea urchin.

We have not yet been brave enough to try the shower, a closet I am now referring to as a “stand up coffin with hot and cold running water.” One extra tall fellow says he singed his hair on the light fixture while bathing.

Lunch, Abandon ship Drill was interesting, though we didn’t have to get into any lifeboats.

29 Ice fields, Prince William Sound 10Next we enter Esther passage, quite narrow with salmon streams running into. We see the salmon jumping out of the water and look for orca whales, but see none. We see another bald eagle nesting pair. You pick them out by looking for two white dots near the tops of the dark green trees.

Our naturalist points out a grassy section as perfect for bear. Bears are omnivores, and before the berries are ripe, they eat mostly grass. Unfortunately we mostly see “rock” bear.

For a treat, we get a speaker, Oyster Dave, who lives in a float home and has had an oyster farm for almost 21 years in the Sound. He buys “seed” oysters, called spat, from Hawaii. These are a Japanese oyster that he grows in trays about 3 feet under the water in his Northern most oyster farm. The oysters feed on the plankton in the water and they usually take 5 years to grow large enough to sell. He sells them mostly for the State Fair, where he serves them himself, and individual customers. He sells to few restaurants, as the profit margin is too low. His big predator is starfish and he has to clean the trays of them constantly. He seems to have very little help and is alone a lot. It sounds like a lot of lonely work, particularly in the winter, where he can spend 4-6 hours just clearing the snow and ice from his house and lines.

Dinner is a chicken curry soup; fennel salad (the seed, not the bulb); and all the Dungeness crab you could eat. Chocolate Lava cake for dessert.

27 Seal Haul out, all males, Prince William Sound 18

For 20 minutes we sit near a bachelor seal haul out. There are several dozen males–either too old or too young to score a harem. Some of the males are huge, perhaps two thousand pounds. We also see jelly fish, lion’s mane, that have orange tentacles and yellow orange bodies.

After dinner we get a talk about the Exxon Valdez spill and get a close look at chunks of ice that have broken from glaciers. The deeper the color blue, the more compressed they are.

And I was successful at taking a shower and washing my hair in the tiny bath closet! Actually better than expected.

Cordova, Alaska
Cordova, Alaska

Cordova, rainforest hike

Up at 7am and another nice breakfast where the feature is banana stuffed french toast! The servers work at each meal so it is a long day, every day for them.

We sail to Cordova, population 2000 year round. This is historically a settlement of 4 tribes and still 50% native population. Copper mine near here, but the big industry is obviously fishing which you can smell. Plus the sea gulls swarm the docks. Most everyone works on fishing boats or the nearby fish processing plant.

We have a group from Harbor Arts, who have a presentation of dancing. It’s a working arts studio where they work all winter and sell local original art. The speaker mentioned that they have recently lost one native language. Raw materials include seal intestine that can be colored, oiled with seal oil to keep it from being brittle, then sewn into waterproof parkas. They use caribou hair that takes dye well. They do much bead work. Also blown baskets, raven’s tail weaving.

Cordova, and the Athabascan Dance troop
Cordova, and the Athabascan Dance troop
Ilanka Arts, Cordova
Ilanka Arts, Cordova

After some traditional dances from the children, we leave the boat for the first time in 2 days and head to the cultural center for gift shopping.

The weather is spectacular–sunny skies, temperatures in the 60-70’s. Eagles occasionally swoop down into the water of the harbor for fish, then fly off.

After a buffet lunch of grilled salmon and blueberry cobbler, we have the afternoon free.

Rainforest hike outside Cordova, Alaska
Rainforest hike outside Cordova, Alaska

I have a nature walk planned in the rainforest. Mom went on a dock walk & talk where they stopped at various boats and checked in with the fisherman as to what they were fishing for.

We sail when the final rafting group is back at the ship at 6:30. Dinner is served, choices are cod or a chicken ruled. Dessert is American cheesecake.

Orca, Prince William Sound
Orca, Prince William Sound
Doll's porpise
Doll’s porpoise

After dinner is a talk about whales and our Naturalist, Kate, says this should increase our whale karma. I listen for awhile but decide that while everyone is in the lounge would be a good time to take a shower, but I listen to the talk over the speakers. Just as I get the shampoo in my hair, I hear the captain interrupt the talk because orca have been spotted! I wonder if it will take too much time to rinse the soap out? I do rinse, dressing record time and my wet hair and it rush out with a camera into the 40 degree air. I do get a few lovely photos, but probably don’t get any of the fast moving Doll porpoise, which were once thought to be baby orca, they are so similar.

When I edit my photos later that night, I realize I have taken 1000+ so far on the trip, though I’ve deleted about half on the first pass.

Monday 6/21–longest day of the year

36 humpback whales, Prince William Sound 39

We have developed the “whale diet.” It consists of sitting for breakfast, then running down to the room for your camera and back up again  to see a humpback whale after only drinking a half cup of coffee. The last siting will always be on the opposite end of the boat from you, so you get lots of exercise. The run back to the dining room to order breakfast before there is another call of “whale.” So you run back down the stairs again to your room because you need another memory card for the camera and a hat. Then up two flights of stairs to find that the whales are gone. Then you sit to eat your omelet, get one bite and there is another whale sitting so you run up the stairs again. The whales are now on the opposite side of the boat from where you are so you run back and forth. Finally you return to the dining room, where the staff has thrown your cold omelet away. Exercise, low calorie consumption and excitement–the whale diet has it all!

34 humpback whales, Prince William Sound 6We do get to see several humpback whales and it is quite a site. The adult mother was as large as a school bus and tails can be 1-15 feet across. There were two babies with the mother-this year’s calf and last years. They were so playful. Whales nurse their young, but since they have no lips, nursing must be interesting. The milk is 50% fat and as thick as custard. We are deliriously happy with the amount of time that the humpbacks spend near the surface. For a full 10 minutes the mother “logs” with her blow holes (baleen whales have 2) above the surface to rest while the calf runs around her.

Later we pull into a bay where we see gill net and purse sein style salmon fishing which is fascinating. Then a tour of the ship’s bridge. It’s amazing how many instruments there are. Just before lunch we get a presentation of other Cruise West tours and info on how to disembark. Tomorrow is the last day and a short one. Can’t believe the tour will be over soon.

30 Fishing in Prince William Sound 11 31 Fishing in Prince William Sound 13

Lunch: blacken sea scallop salad or clam chowder, with apple brown Betty and ice cream.

Then lovely sailing to Tiger glacier, a half mile across at the shoreline and a 20 acre ice field. We also see a bear along the mountain side. Single glacier, huge ice field. We also hope for mountain goats. We won’t get as close to this glacier because the seals are actually giving birth on the floating blocks of ice! We don’t want to disturb them and have the newborns rolled off into the water.

21 sailing through glaciers, Prince William Sound 27

Captain’s dinner on last night.

And with all trips it’s over way too soon. On a sad note, Cruise West tours filed bankruptcy only a few months later and I never got to go on another tour with them.

Here are some final, assorted photos.

Prince William Sound, near Whittier, Alaska
Prince William Sound, near Whittier, Alaska
Sea otters, Prince William Sound, Alaska
Sea otters, Prince William Sound, Alaska
Captain at the bridge
Captain at the bridge
Denali bus tour
Denali bus tour
Denali bus tour
Denali bus tour
Alaska Railroad,  outside of Fairbanks
Alaska Railroad, outside of Fairbanks