North to Alaska: Happy 5th Birthday Liam!

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July 2nd 2009
Published: July 3rd 2009
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"Look into my eyes.""Look into my eyes.""Look into my eyes."

This bald eagle was waiting for us in Haines.
Today was an absolutely amazing day, by far the best of our vacation thus far. I'm so glad it was on Liam's birthday. It was a cruise to Juneau and back with Alaska Fjordlines ( Honestly, I can’t even imagine how I’m going to express the day in words, but I’ll try. I’m racing through pictures trying to get this posted so we can go to bed, so I may miss some really cool shots. Bear with me (said with a smirk). We took 1,344 pictures today.

We started with a 3 hour cruise from Skagway to Juneau with a stop in Haines on the catamaran Fjordland. We had a little cloud cover, but not bad, so we were able to see the mountains. Some of them looked so close, but were actually 4 miles (!) away. We saw Long Falls, which were amazing, as well as some smaller falls. We saw an abandoned lighthouse. Shortly after that, we started seeing bald eagles. The first were a nesting pair, with dad (the captain thought) in the nest and mom watching from a nearby tree. On the day, we saw dozens of eagles, but the coolest one came later. Our next
Nesting bald eagleNesting bald eagleNesting bald eagle

These were the first bald eagles we saw. The captain noticed the other one first, flying in to a nearby tree.
animal sightings were Steller sea lions, hundreds of them. We actually stopped for 10 minutes or so just to watch and listen to them. Cole was very impressed by them talking, and especially by the “daddies”. We saw arctic loons, a variety of other birds, and Dall porpoises. We also saw whales (yeah!).

Okay, the coolest thing we saw all day was an eagle. Everyone knows that they dive down to the water to pick up fish with their talons, and can carry half their body weight. Everyone probably doesn’t know that if they underestimate the weight of their prey, they can still get it. They paralyze the fish by a talon to the spine and then swim in to shore. Sierra, the first mate, has worked for this company for four years, and has never seen it, but we saw it today. How cool is that?

We chatted with a couple who drove up from Virginia by way of South Dakota and Banff. She showed the boys photos of bears at Bear Country and chatted about a variety of the things they’ve seen. Liam named them Scrunchy and the Guy Person, because he noticed that she uses a scrunchy like me. There were also people from Iowa, Texas, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Minnesota.

After the cruise, we took a bus ride into Juneau and spent 3 hours on our own. We took a tram up to the top of Mt Roberts (5 minutes up, 5 minutes down) to have lunch at Timber Line Restaurant. Liam wanted cheesecake to celebrate his birthday, but they were out! We walked around just a little bit in the rain forest (the second largest on the planet after the Amazon) before heading back down again to take a walk through the city. We stopped at Alaska Fudge Company to have ice cream, which the boys sloppily ate on the way up to the State Capitol, voted ugliest state capitol in the country.

The next stop was Mendenhall Glacier, after a guided tour of downtown Juneau. Our tour guide Tyler was fabulous. Among other things, we learned that there are five kinds of salmon (chum, sockeye, king, silver, and pink). He was chatty, entertaining, but wrong about how many state capitols don’t have domes. It’s ten. But he was right, Alaska’s is the ugliest. The boys fell asleep on the way up

This eagle really did not move once he was spotted.
to the glacier, but Liam woke up as we got there, so he walked around with first me and then Jeff to see the glacier, the icebergs, the visitor center. Cole slept the entire time. This is the closest up we’ve ever gotten to a glacier, and it’s definitely blue. I’m glad we went, because on the return trip I could actually identify other glacial ice (as compared to, say, Glacier National Park where it all just looked like snow).
On our way back to the boat, Tyler had everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to Liam, which was pretty cool, and suggested, I think, by the Quebecois couple.

We then took the boat back to Skagway. I wasn’t aware until glancing through the photos, but Jeff saw a Crested Auklet, which he was told is incredibly rare. We saw a group of harbor seals, as well as a sea lion pretending to be a rock. Then we saw whales—lots and lots of whales. Many showed off their pectoral fins; two breached within sight of the boat, although we didn’t get great photos. It was just amazing. We also learned that Stellar sea lions are most closely related to brown bears
In flightIn flightIn flight

It's hard to see, but there really is a bald eagle there.
and that a nautical mile is 1 minute of arc of latitude. Jeff wonders if his dad, the retired sailor, know that. We’ll find out tomorrow.

When I asked Liam after the trip what his favorite part was, it was helping “the girl”—Sierra, the first mate. After breakfast and dinner, he helped collect trays and throw away trash. He was just so cute. She even tipped him. As we disembarked, he told me he needed to ask her one more thing, and then went up to her, hugged her, and thanked her for letting him help her. Honestly, he is so adorable sometimes.

I know driving to Alaska isn’t an option for everyone, but if you ever get here, you should really do this trip. It was absolutely stunning. Liam wants to go again tomorrow.

Conversation of the Day:

C: Are we going to Alaska?
M: We are in Alaska.
C: No we are in Canada.
M: No, we are in Alaska.
C: We’re not going to naughty Canada. We’re in Alaska.

License Plates Noticed: AK, NY, BC, OR, IA, UT, VA, the Netherlands (not the same as the other one)

Animals Noticed
Long FallsLong FallsLong Falls

This is just the lower half. The upper portions were harder to see.
(unique to the trip):
Bald eagle
Steller sea lion
Arctic loon
Dall porpoise
Humpback whale
Crested Auklet
Harbor seal

High Temperature: 70o (Juneau, AK)
Low Temperature: 52o (Skagway, AK)

Miles: 8.4

Total Time on the Road: 0:00

Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 26


Liam & DadLiam & Dad
Liam & Dad

Liam spent a lot of time out on the deck with Jeff.
Steller sea lionsSteller sea lions
Steller sea lions

These guys were loud and rambunctious.
Bringing home dinnerBringing home dinner
Bringing home dinner

This eagle was obviously pulling a big fish. He was doing an excellent butterfly stroke, though, and wasn't too far from shore.

4th July 2009

Happy Birthday Liam!
Wow, how could a little boy have a better birthday? I need to get back to Alaska with my wife and do exactly what you guys did here. Your wildlife picutres are spectacular. Some of the best I've ever seen.
4th July 2009

Awesome bald eagles and sea lions! The eagle enjoying his swim is too cute :) My dad sent me the link to your blog, after reading all his Alaska adventures and now yours, I'm hooked... I'm going to start planning my trip now :) Heather Kribs
5th July 2009

It's been amazing. We've had great weather; the boys are troopers. I would do the Fjordlines trip again in a heartbeat.
5th July 2009

Whale Photos
It is extremely hard to get a good picture of whale breaches, isn't it? I've been to Maui 3 times when the Humpbacks are down there and have only gotten 1 decent picture of a breach even though I've probably seen 15-20 breaches. You just never know when or where they will do it.
22nd July 2014
Black Oystercatcher

Crested Auklet? ... no
Not a Crested Auklet ... it is an American Black Oystercatcher
22nd July 2014
Black Oystercatcher


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