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Vacations : South-East Alaska

Last Updated: Monday, 06-May-2013 11:10:19 MDT

September, 1997

Alaska was the trip of a life time! I was completely overwhelmed with the incredible beauty of God's creation! Many endless thanks to my college friends (Heather, Jennifer, and Steve) for inviting me.

At first, I was very disappointed with my pictures. They do not even come close to the real thing. Months later, however, I am glad I have them.

Before we begin, some interesting notes about Alaska: Alaska is 1/3 the size of the continental United States. If placed on the continental U.S., Alaska would stretch from the East Coast to the West Coast, and from the Canadian boarder to the Gulf of Mexico. The city of Chicago has more miles of roads than the state of Alaska.

I started my vacation by flying to the small town of Sitka located in southeast Alaska. Sitka, founded by Russian explorers, is a temperate rain forest with mild winters. It is the largest city in the world (acreage wise) with 8,000 inhabitants and 12 miles of roads. It is accessible only by air or sea.

When I arrived in Sitka, my friend Heather was not expecting me. She didn't read her e-mails, and I didn't bother to use the latest in modern technology, the telephone. None the less, everything worked out.

Heather works as the administrative director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival, which runs classical music concerts in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka, Nome and other Alaska communities. Her husband, Rob, runs the family business Allen Marine. Allen Marine specializes in sightseeing tours in Sitka, Juneau, and a few other towns, plus they build their own ships during the off season.

While in Sitka, Rob put me on one of Allen Marine's tours. During the tour, we saw three whales. This was pretty incredible. When a whale puts its tail in the air, it usually means the whale is diving. The guide said that when a whale dives, it usually stays underwater for about five minutes. So, monitoring my watch, I was preparing myself for an awesome picture. Then, just about on cue, the whales resurfaced about ten feet from the boat and blew the water out of their blow hole at about three hundred miles per hour (according to the guide). I jumped at least three feet and just about dropped my camera into the water. During this tour, we also saw sea otters, sea lions, an eagle's nest, plus much more Alaskan wild life.

I also went hiking in the mountains surrounding Sitka. I actually hiked pretty high, way above the tree line. The view was pretty incredible. There is no way to take a picture to capture the diverse scenery, from the gray mountain tops, to the lush green forest, small clouds running up the mountain, an open field, the sea below spotted with small islands and fishing boats earning their living, the small town of Sitka, the dormant volcano Mount Edgecumbe, and finally, glaciers way off in the distance.

Next, I flew to the Alaska capital of Juneau with Rob. Rob was on business, and I went on another Allen Marine tour to the Tracy Arm Glacier. This was an unbelievable and spiritual experience. I will never get over the color of the water. The water is an incredible turquoise blue due to the rich minerals of the melting glaciers. The water was also complemented by the deep green of the forest and gray mountainsides. The boat also pulled up close to "The Wall" which is a mountainside rising 1500 feet straight above the water and 1000 feet deep below the water. Once we arrived at the glacier, the incredible experience was elevated to the next level. The glacier was so huge, however, even in person it's difficult to establish some type of reference point to comprehend the size. Press here to see how "big" is "big".

You can hear the glacier cracking which makes a sound like a cannon. When a piece of the glacier breaks off and falls into the water, it makes an incredible, monstrous sound! "Ooh"s and "Aah"s are plentiful on the boat. Once, a relatively small piece of the glacier fell into the water making an incredible sound. The lady next to me said exactly what I was thinking, "Why did such a small piece make such a tremendous sound?" The guide basically said the piece we just saw, was about the size of a house falling from the top of a 25-story building.

Back in Juneau I met Rob and Heather's good friend Bob. Bob is a pretty good guy with a great sense of humor. We went on a floatplane tour and flew above the glaciers. I believe the plane was a 1950's model and I was the co-pilot with one very important job: DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. It was an interesting perspective flying above the glaciers. It gave you an idea of how many miles these glaciers travel. Multiple glaciers also run into each other and form one glacier. The energy the glaciers produce has got to be incredible.

We flew back to Sitka where I enjoyed meeting Rob's family and Heather's friends. For being a small, secluded town, Sitka has a very diverse set of personalities and culture. There was even the "Running of the Boots" were people dress up in elaborate costumes and run through town wearing big, rubber fishing boots.

I also visited to several historic sites such as Saint Michael's Cathedral, the Russian Bishop's House constructed in 1842, and Totem Pole Park. I also went to a museum of Tlingit artifacts. I was very impressed with the intelligence, skill, and ingenuity of the Tlingit Native Americans.

During my visit, the salmon were making their spawning runs up through the rivers. I have never seen so many fish in my life. I could swear that every river and stream had more fish than water. The swimming fish were kinda like ripples of water. When a bird or something would spook the fish into frantic swimming, the "wave" of frantic swimming, like a chain reaction, would move up the river and around the bend.

Towards the end of the week, we went on a hovercraft trip to one of the secluded islands near Sitka. I actually got to drive the hovercraft including the execution of a 180-degree turn. The hovercraft was a pretty impressive machine. We beached the hovercraft, explored the island a bit, then built a small fire, had a cookout, and watched the sun set. What was amazing about this sun set, was that all week I had experienced verbose, larger than life colors and scenery, but this sunset was gentle and subtle. An interesting contrast to the week's events.

One curious side effect to the trip is I seemed always tired. I don't know if it was the climate, the time change, or maybe I was a little sick, or it could have been medication I was taking for allergies. Of course, being a bit tired reduced my chances of doing something stupid, so that was a plus.

Even though I have become allergic to pets, I also enjoyed meeting Heather's pets including Emma, a spastic nut kitten. But of course the best part of the trip was meeting my good friend Heather whom I hadn't seen in six years and meeting her husband Rob.

Once again, a special thanks to Heather and Rob for such a wonder time in southeast Alaska. Next, it's off to Anchorage Alaska to visit the mainland!

An interesting tree high in the mountains
An interesting tree high in the mountains

Two of five whales seen on the trip
Two of five whales seen on the trip

Incredible blue glacier water
Incredible blue glacier water

More incredible blue glacier water
More incredible blue glacier water

A blue iceberg the size of a school bus
A blue iceberg the size of a school bus

A piece of the glacier starts its journey towards the sea
A piece of the glacier starts its journey towards the sea

More majestic glacier performances
More majestic glacier performances

Operation, hovercraft
Operation, hovercraft

A subtle sunset on a remote Alaskan island
A subtle sunset on a remote Alaskan island

Mainland Alaska