Alaska - Part 3 of 3 - Juneau & Ketchikan


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June 1st 2012
Published: October 30th 2012
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Trip to Alaska Part Three – June 2012 - Juneau & Ketchikan



Intro

This is the third of a three part series. This part focuses on our “bookend” stays in Juneau, with a little bit about our partial day layover in Ketchikan. Part One focused on our trip from Juneau to Ketchikan through the eastern passage and Part Two focused our trip through the western passage from Ketchikan to Juneau.

31 May 2012 – Thursday – Arrival

After three different flights, and a long day of travelling, we had a beautiful arrival in Juneau . Even though it was almost ten o’clock in the evening, there was still light and we could see the mountains with the snow on them as we approached the airport.

We were pleasantly surprised at baggage claim. My wife’s bag was one of the first ones to come out with mine closely following. Despite three flights, a tight connection at Seattle/Tacoma, American Airlines/American Eagle’s reputation for lost luggage and my wife’s history with lost luggage, we did not expect to see the bags!

Outside the terminal it was chilly and wet and there were not many cabs. I called for a cab, but, when another one came we grabbed it. When we arrived at Alaska’s Capital Inn B&B , we were met by the owner, Linda, and her Scotty Duffy. Linda showed us around and gave us a glass of wine. After some minor unpacking and charging of electronic devices, we headed to bed.

1 June 2012 – Friday – Juneau

Not surprisingly, with the time change and all, and even though we went to sleep at about 11:30, we were up by 4:00 am. We dozed in and out for a few hours, and then woke up to a gradually bluing sky! In Juneau?

The View

Well, today started off really well and then moved on to become a real bummer. After a very nice breakfast we walked through Juneau to the Mount Roberts Tramway and rode up to Mount Roberts . Because of the exceptionally fine weather, and the blue skies, the views were quite lovely. We spent an hour or so tramping around up there, taking pictures and doing minor exploring (unfortunately, all the trails were closed as the snow has not yet melted).

Walking back to the B&B, we enjoyed some wonderful crab chowder and Alaskan Ambers at Tracy’s King Crab Shack ; after which I kept trying to get a decent photo of a float-plane taking off.

Air Mendenhall

Before we headed to Mount Roberts this morning my wife asked, “How would you like to see the glacier from a helicopter?” This led to our second excursion of the day, a helicopter ride up to the Mendenhall Glacier . By the time we boarded the helicopter it had started to cloud up, but flying up there was such a neat experience that we hardly noticed the weather. They let me sit up front with the pilot, which was ideal for taking pictures. This is the first time I have been in a helicopter since the late seventies and it was as much fun as I had remembered. So we flew amongst the mountains to the beginning of the glacier, swooping in and out to see various details.

We landed on the glacier and got a “walking tour” from a “Glacier Guide” who explained the various aspects of the glacier and glacial flow, pointing out various details as we went. It was a really cool experience, so to speak. Too soon we were back in the helicopter and returning to the airport.

After we returned to the Inn we relaxed for a few minutes, had some tea, and met some new guests who are also leaving on the Wilderness Discoverer tomorrow.

Down, but not out

So, after our tea we headed out for a bit of an afternoon walk. The funny thing is that my wife said, “Well, if we are going to go walking, we should go now before the rain gets much worse.” That was fine, but we had never discussed going out for a walk this afternoon; regardless, off we went. We were headed for the Gold River and the Last Chance Mining Museum . As we walked it started to rain.

This is an interesting walk as the most difficult part is walking up Gold Street in town. The street is so steep that at places they have handrails along the sidewalk, probably for winter. Then the “trail” levels off and you walk along a paved, then a dirt road that runs along the Gold River. One section of the road is a funky narrow plank bridge. As we walked, a couple of signs caught our attention. There was the “No Shooting” sign, filled with bullet holes and dented by buckshot. Then there was the sign asking that people not walk their dogs or otherwise soil the water as this was the drinking water source for Juneau. I just have to wonder how many teen-aged boys read that sign and then proceeded to pee in the stream…

En route we passed the Wickersham House . James Wickersham was a federal circuit court judge assigned to Alaska. He later became a non-voting representative to the House of Representatives and was a driving force in the Alaska statehood movement. While in the house, we had hoped that the rain might stop, but it just continued; so we put on our hoods and carried on.

The original plan was to walk to the end of the dirt road to where the hiking trail began, and then turn around. When we got there, my wife wanted to go down the path to the mining museum. I stopped on a wooden bridge to photograph a kid panning for gold…then disaster struck! I dropped my lens cap and went bounding after it so that it wouldn’t end up in the water below. Well, the bridge was slick; I slipped and ended up on my butt. The good news is that I recovered my lens cap and did not hurt my camera when I fell. The bad news is that I didn’t get any decent pictures of the kid panning, my pants were wet and dirty, and my leg hurt like hell. Needless to say, we didn't make it to the museum. So, my wife walked, and I hobbled, back to the B&B. Fortunately mega doses of ibuprofen, a warm shower and clean clothes made me feel a lot better. By Saturday, most of the pain was gone…and Linda at the B&B washed my clothes for me.

That night we went with the other couple to the Thane Ore House Salmon Bake restaurant outside of town. Linda from the B&B drove us out and told us to ask at the restaurant if someone could give us a ride back; not quite the same way you arrange transportation in the Washington, DC area.

The Thane Ore House Salmon Bake restaurant was really good! It was a very basic place with a roaring fire that was most welcoming on a cold, rainy evening. Their system was very simple. First we went to the salad bar, then, we walked along the cook line for grilled salmon, fried halibut, corn bread and baked beans. Alaskan Amber on tap. It was all quite good, and you could go back for seconds. When it was time to leave, we asked about a ride and they very nicely drove us back to the B&B. “Toto, I don’t think we are in Washington, DC anymore.”

2 June 2012 – Juneau – Embark Wilderness Discoverer

Juneau

We didn’t embark on the Wilderness Discoverer until late afternoon, so we had most of another day to tour Juneau. The day started off cloudy, but towards afternoon became yet another sunny Juneau day.

After dropping off our bags at the InnerSeas Discoveries’ staging area in the Goldbelt Hotel we walked to the dock across the street to check out the Wilderness Discoverer, our home for the next two weeks. She is small and a little old-fashioned looking. Just right. As we were admiring the ship and taking pictures, we met another couple who will also be embarking this afternoon; we used their camera to take photographs of them in front of the ship, and they returned the favor.

Not far from the dock is the Alaska State Museum ; visit it if you can. We caught the end of a docent-led talk on “Russian America,” then the docent graciously offered to add on another tour, going over the history of the various native peoples of Alaska. First though, we walked through an exhibit you should not miss if it is still on display. The exhibit is a series of whimsical paintings and other art objects by Dan DeRoux titled "History of Alaska," where he copied, or perhaps I should say “adapted,” various famous paintings by transposing them to Alaska. He also created artwork that were visible puns, and others that just bent reality a bit, but were presented in a way to seem plausible. Overall, this is an excellent museum, it is a very approachable size and worth a visit. On a practical note, they have lockers available so we were able to stow our daypacks and jackets. Photography is permitted in the museum.

After a hardy Alaskan lunch at the Sandpiper Cafe , we meandered through town, yet again trying to take a decent photo of a float plane taking off, and checking out some of the tacky tourist shops near the docks. We then headed back to the Goldbelt for one last check of email, then to a Tlingit cultural presentation sponsored by InnerSea Discoveries, followed by embarkation.

As we boarded the ship they took photos of us so that the crew could associate our names with our faces, and Captain Dano greeted us all as we boarded. Within a couple of days, most of the crew knew most of the passengers by name, very impressive.

The first day on a ship always has some common elements; you embark, settle in a bit, have a safety drill, have a drink, meet some people, have dinner and just get a feel for the ship.

9 June 2012 – Ketchikan

At the completion of our first week on the Wilderness Discoverer, we arrived in Ketchikan on a beautiful sunny day! That is not something you will hear very often for the city that averages 13 feet of rain a year.

We said our farewells to the people who had become good friends over the course of the week, and then headed off to explore a bit of Ketchikan.

We wandered around town and checked out the historic Creek Street district of town. We followed this with a trip out to Totem Bight State Park , a few miles outside of Ketchikan proper. This is a spot you should not miss if you visit Ketchikan. The park is on a quiet spot overlooking the water and contains fourteen totem poles, a lodge house and a shed for building or refurbishing totem poles. You walk through a bit of temperate rainforest as you approach the park from the parking lot. We had a very pleasant and relaxing time walking through the park, enjoying the totem poles and the views.

Too soon, it was time to head back to Ketchikan and lunch at the Cape Fox Lodge , compliments of InnerSeas Discoveries. To reach the Cape Fox Lodge by foot you can take a funicular from Creek Street up to the lobby of the lodge. I have stayed at the Cape Fox Lodge previously on business trips. It is a pleasant place with a nice restaurant and good views down into Ketchikan and across to Gravina Island.

After lunch, we did a bit of shopping and then attended another presentation on Tlingit Culture. The gentleman making the presentation was quite good.

Then it was back to ship. As “Ultimate Adventurers” (there were six of us) the crew greeted us with applause and high-fives as we boarded. It was a nice touch.

For this leg of the cruise we moved to a new cabin, exterior cabin. Immediately, we were not too sure about the change, and, in the end decided that we had enjoyed our interior cabin far more (see the notes at the end of Parts One and Two).

When we headed down to the lounge for orientation and the drill we realized that we were surrounded by all these new people! It seemed a bit strange, so we gravitated a bit to another couple we knew from the first leg of the trip.

The lighting from the setting sun was absolutely beautiful as we transited out and began the second half of our adventure.

16 June 2012 – Back to Juneau

This morning we disembarked from the Wilderness Discoverer for the last time. We got up, had breakfast, and all too soon were walking down the brow to the dock. After two weeks on board, it was sad to say goodbye to the crew, who we had gotten to know so well…fortunately, we did bump into a few of them during the day in Juneau.

We now had another whole day in Juneau as we disembarked from the ship in the morning, and our flight home did not leave until early the next day. We first stopped at the Goldbelt hotel to insure that our bags were there and to check our email. Then we began another wander around Juneau; sometimes popping into shops hoping to find some gifts for our granddaughter. Once again, we had a nice lunch at the Sandpiper Café, and then headed to the “Alaskan Brewing Depot” where we were picked up by Liquid Alaska Tours for the ride out to the Alaskan Brewing Company . En route, our guide gave a very informal, informative, light-hearted and personal tour of Juneau. At the Brewery we were able to enjoy tastings of all the Alaskan beers that were available, and were given a short presentation on the history of the brewery, and on the brewing process. The beer was good, the presentation was interesting and the people were very pleasant.

On the way back to Juneau, we had to stop and take pictures at Reliable Sheet Metal. This is not to be missed. Really. The owner has built scenes and characters from the Wizard of Oz, all of which are on display on the roof of his sheet metal shop.

Back in Juneau, we met some of our fellow Wilderness Dicoverers for dinner at The Hangar on The Wharf . At the restaurant, we ran into Captain Dano, Second Mate Michael, and Guide Alison, who were all on shore leave. As we were eating dinner (delicious Halibut Burgers), the Wilderness Discoverer was pulling out, so they all ran out to the deck to radio their farewells and good wishes to the ship. After dinner, we said our final farewells.

We spent our last night in Alaska at The Best Western Country Lane Inn , which is located close to the airport. The Inn runs a shuttle into town, so after we picked up our bags at the Goldbelt, we met the shuttle and they drove us to the Inn. This is a nice, if not somewhat motelish Best Western. The staff is friendly, there is free WiFi, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and our room felt enormous after two weeks on the Wilderness Discoverer.
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Wizard of Oz figures on the roof of Reliable Sheet Metal.


17 January 2012 – Heading Home

It was a very short trip to airport in the morning, and, being a small airport, it was easy to get through security and onto the airplane. The trip home was uneventful even if it did, once again, require three flights and two transfers.

So ended our two-plus week trip to Alaska; for me, all aspects of it were enjoyable, exciting and relaxing. If I had it to do over, I probably would have changed some things, but, because we didn’t, I now have reasons to return to Alaska and see some of the things we missed this trip.


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