I've always wanted to see Alaska, and the best way to see it is by boat, or more specifically, the cruise ship. While a sailboat or dinghy would be a much more environmentally friendly and intimate way to see the 49th state, it would also take the better part of this decade to see all that we did on our week's cruise.
Alaska is the largest state in the US - twice the size of Texas, and the least densely populated. I was told that there's one person per square mile. Rhode Island could fit into Alaska 425 times. Russia is just 55 miles to the east, and of course Sarah Palin spent a lot of time familiarizing herself with that view. Alaska has 33,000 miles of coastline, and that's what I got to look at every day for a week. Living in city dense LA, it was so nice to see some open land, and it was fascinating to learn about the stories of the people who chose to live in these beautiful, but remote areas.
We sailed out of Vancouver and a day and a half, and 6 buffets later, we arrived in Ketchikan. Ketchikan was Alaska's first city, and it's the salmon capital of the world.
We took to the kayaks to tour the little town by water and look at our enormous cruise ship, and the others that had also followed us in.
Our kayak guide was a young kid finishing college who had traveled a bit around CA and WA with his debate team. I asked him what his plans were after graduating, and he thought he'd stick around town. He said when you grow up here, all you want to do is leave, but when you leave, all you want to do is come back.
The small center of town literally closes its doors, restaurants and shops, after the cruise ships leave. The ships are only there about 4 months, May - September, and when I asked what he does for the other months, he replied, it's pretty quiet, but I have a lot of game nights at my house. That's a whole lot of Monopoly going down.
Then there's the weather. Last year, they had 17 days of sunshine. SEVENTEEN! That's only about 1.5 days per month when it's not raining. They get a little snow, but it's mostly rain. They can't put grass in their ball fields because they'll flood, so they're lined with shells and dirt. We were very lucky with our weather all week as it was supposed to be cool and rainy like the 348 days the previous year, but the sun shined and the temps were around 70. Beautiful.
We got our first bald eagle sighting here and everyone was snapping away. Little did we know we'd be seeing them all week like pigeons on a park bench.
Icy Straight Point, Hoonah
Our next stop was even smaller, in Icy Point Straight, population 900.
They didn't even have a dock for us, so we had to drop small boats from our big boat to get to shore. Then we boarded a fishing boat so we could get into smaller passages to do some fishing, and see some animals.
First, let me give you a better idea of the vibe in Hoonah. We were told that someone from our fishing boat would meet us at a specific place at a specific time. When no one showed at the prescribed hour, we called, and a guy said, yeah, ok, we're coming. Up drives a small two door Honda with a cracked windshield. It wasn't large enough to fit all of us, so two trips were made, and eventually we found a boat and hit the water. Things move at a different pace, in a different way, in Hoonah.
Our non-married, young, single captain had arrived in Icy Straight Point a few months prior from another spot within Alaska. I asked why he chose such a small town, he said, it's supposed to have the best fishing, and if that's what you're about, this is where you need to be. I guessed that there weren't a lot of women in town, and he nodded and confirmed that it was mostly crusty fisherman. When I lifted my eyebrow on the potential prospects for ladies, he clarified that for women, "the odds are good, but the goods are odd."
We had spectacular views all day of blue water, blue skies, snow capped mountains, and what put us over the edge were the breaching whales - everywhere. We were out there alone with whales, fins, porpoises, and even sea otters having a mid-afternoon float.
There was some fishing going on too, and even some catches, but we threw it all back to keep the waters stocked and our suitcases stinkless.
I can see how you'd want to be out on the water all day as it was truly beautiful.
The next day, we rolled into Alaska's state capital of Juneau. We were in the big city now with population near 33,000, but it swells by several thousand in tourist season and also when the state legislature is in session.
It's in a rainforest so yes, there's rain, but not much snow. While you may be thinking like me, ah, this is where I can go and get away from it all, but still be at least a little connected, let me tell you that Juneau is land locked. It's not an island, but does not have roads through the large mountains surrounding them. There's more miles of trails than roads here. So if you're wanting to just get in the car and go, you won't be going very far.
Being landlocked does help with crime. There's next to no crime in Juneau, because where you going to go if you steal something? The last bank robbery was 6 years ago, but the guy was quickly caught after. People don't lock their doors and they leave their keys in the car. There's safety in captivity.
Just outside Juneau is the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is 12 miles long and is currently retreating, and used to be over 2 miles further down than it is today. It's not in danger of disappearing anytime soon, but in order for it to grow and advance, more snow fall would be needed. The glacier is a misty blue since it absorbs all of the visible light color except blue, which it emits.
As if the glacier alone wasn't a vision unto itself, there was a nearby waterfall to give a true nature lovers' dream picture.
We had to tour the Alaskan Brewing Company, and by tour, I mean sample their huge collection of beers on tap that they allow each guest to taste for free.
Their selection is much larger than what we see in CA, but I guess they're the one's who have to endure the weather and 8 months of down time each year.
I learned of a shack that serves crab caught on the Deadliest Catch boats, so we had to pay them a visit.
It was jammed with people and large crab legs. We dined on crispy fried crab cakes, succulently steamed crag legs and a rich, creamy crab bisque. Delish.
You won't hear me talking much about food on this trip since cruise cuisine focuses more on quantity than quality, and as far as the small towns go, the best Mexican restaurant we were directed to in Ketchikan had guacamole that looked like this.
One thing was good - there were no avocados injured in the making of this mayonnaise based concoction.
But that's not why I came to Alaska. I came for the sights, people and stories of The Last Frontier. Next up, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier and Steward.