Friday, October 30, 2015

You Otter Like this Excursion - Sitka, AK

After the Westerdam anchored in the bay near Sitka, we were picked up right at the ship for an Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest by a boat from Allen Marine Tours.  Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of us boarding because I needed to watch my step with the boat bobbing up and down on the waves.  It didn't help that wind was blowing the rain sideways.  Not an auspicious beginning for our adventure. We boarded, found a seat and soon we were underway.  I took this photo of the view out of the window.

On a Quest for Sea Otters and Other Wildlife - Sitka, AK
I'd never been seasick although I had many previous boating adventures. Nevertheless, as a precaution, I brought along some Dramamine, primarily for our granddaughter.  I was concerned because I remembered from previous experience that her mother was very susceptible to motion sickness and worried that she may have passed the trait down to her daughter.

A Naturalist on an Allen Marine Tour
My attention was soon turned back inside the boat as a naturalist began to give a presentation about the wildlife of the area.  The list of wildlife species we might see included sea otters, dolphins, porpoises, several species of whales, bears, deer and numerous birds.  Binoculars were provided for our use.  I brought my own, but it was very helpful for those who didn't.  There were also hand-outs on the seats with information about the wildlife that is native to the area.

Sea Otter Fur
She began her talk with information about sea otters since they were the main object of our wildlife quest.  Sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction in these waters because of their valuable soft warm fur.  A piece of  sea otter fur was passed around for us all to feel.  It certainly is soft and luxurious with a thick undercoat that keeps the otters warm in the cold water.

Snack Bar Inside the Allen Marine Tours Boat
The tour included free coffee, tea, cocoa and muffins at a snack bar.  There were additional snacks, books and gifts available for sale.

Pilot House of a Sitka Tour Boat
The boat had an upper level with an open air deck and an enclosed pilot house where the captain had some elaborate electronics to help him guide the boat through the narrow rocky channels.  Not long after I took this photo we headed into some very rough water.  For our own safety all passengers were directed to come back down the stairs to the enclosed lower deck.  I returned to my seat and as the boat continued to roll, I asked my granddaughter if she was feeling ok.  She said she was fine.   Then I asked myself if I should have eaten that second helping of eggs benedict for breakfast.  I gulped down a couple of Dramamine.  A little while later we entered an area with calmer water.  Whether it was because the rolling of the boat subsided or the Dramamine kicking in I'll never know, but I was thankful that my queasiness ended.

Soon after we entered the calmer water we sighted our first raft of sea otters in a kelp bed.  The naturalist told us that the otters tether themselves to the kelp to prevent themselves from drifting while they sleep.  She also made the observation that since this group was so large, it was probably a group of males. (This photo doesn't show the entire group)  Apparently male and female sea otters live separate lives except during the breeding season.

Sea Otter near Sitka, AK
The boat kept a respectful distance from the groups of otters to avoid causing them stress, but occasionally we got to view a single otter like this one that would float past us at close range.

Sea Otters - Sitka, AK
In another kelp bed in a different channel was another group of  sea otters. The naturalist identified this group as females.  We were quite a distance away, so my photo isn't very clear, but through the binoculars we could see that some of the otters had a little pup resting on their chests.   One of the reasons I wanted to go on this shore excursion is because I fell in love with sea otters after seeing them at the Seattle Aquarium.

The matriarch of the Seattle Aquarium sea otters is Lootas, a sea otter from Alaska who was orphaned and nursed back to health, but lacked the skills needed to be released back into the wild. She became part of a captive breeding program and has contributed to the knowledge about sea otters through observation studies at the aquarium.  She lives there with her daughter, Aniak and granddaughter, Sekiu.  Lootas story is told in one of my favorite children's books, Lootas Little Wave Eater: An Orphaned Sea Otter's Story written by Clare Hodgson Meeker .  Ohhh, that face!

Immature Bald Eagle - Sitka Alaska
Some other highlights of our wildlife quest trip included cruising past an eagle nest - sorry no photo of that - but I did snap a picture of this bald eagle perched in a nearby tree.

Whale in the water near Sitka Alaska
We also saw several whales spouting and a few glimpses of their bodies and tails.

At the end of our 2.5 hour tour the boat brought us to a dock in the Sitka harbor and we were directed to our bus driver who was waiting to transport us to our next stop, The Alaska Raptor Center.

We are linked up with the following travel blogs.  Please visit for more great travel adventures!

Weekend Travel Inspiration 
Weekend Wanderlust
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Friday, October 23, 2015

Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska

On the fourth day of our cruise to Alaska we reached the ultimate destination of our journey, Glacier Bay.

A Cruise Ship in Glacier Bay Alaska

The weather continued to be pretty gloomy, but the mists and clouds in some ways enhanced the magical feel of the place.  The conditions we experienced are a more typical representation of what to expect when cruising Glacier Bay than the gorgeous photos of sunshine and blue skies.

Glacier Bay was not exactly what I had envisioned.  The word "bay" to me suggested a round-shaped body of water sort of like a cul-de-sac.  As the map below illustrates, it is actually a 65 mile long fjord with numerous narrow inlets and several glaciers of varying sizes visible along its length. Glacier Bay National Park encompasses more than just Glacier Bay.  The park is 5,130 square miles and includes more than 1,000 glaciers.

Glacier Bay National Park Glaciers - Photo Credit: US National Park Service - Public Domain

Since Glacier Bay is inside the national park, cruise ships are required to have a permit to enter.  To protect the pristine beauty of the area, the number of permits issued for each day is limited.  This is one of the reasons that cruises that include Glacier Bay in their itinerary may sell out several months before the departure date and may also demand a higher price than some other Alaska cruises.
Aqua Blue Water of Glacier Bay

As we enter Glacier Bay, a National Park Service Naturalist boards the ship to broadcast information over the ship's PA system during our time in the park.  One of the things we learned is that the beautiful milky aqua colored water of the bay is due to the fine particles of minerals and rock created by the grinding action of the glaciers.

Waterfall in Glacier Bay Alaska
We passed numerous waterfalls similar to this one with trickles of water cascading over the rocky walls of the bay.

Holland America Split Pea Soup
One of the traditions on Holland America is the bowls of hot Dutch split pea soup served on the deck while cruising Glacier Bay.

Holland America Split Pea Soup
Ok, my bowl of soup wasn't picture perfect - a few drops were slopped on the side, but it was thick and hot and delicious!  The hot soup was welcome because even though we were dressed warmly, it is very chilly when out on the deck of a ship that is surrounded by ice cold water.

This is a photo of me and my husband to illustrate how we were dressed in layers topped off by winter jackets. We both brought along binoculars and cameras which I also definitely recommend. On any given day passengers on a cruise ship in Glacier Bay may see whales, otters, seals, bears, mountain goats and other wildlife including numerous bird species.
Alaska State Ferry on Glacier Bay 
We passed by an Alaska State Ferry on its run from Juneau to Gustavus.  There are also tour boats that depart each day during the summer season from the Glacier Bay Lodge.

Margerie Glacier - Glacier Bay Alaska
The Margerie Glacier is the glacier most often seen in photos of of Glacier Bay with calving chunks of ice falling into the water.   It towered above the cruise ship and the rugged ice shapes are a gorgeous blue color.  To me, it was the most beautiful and impressive glacier in the bay. As recently as 250 years ago all of the glaciers in the bay were one giant glacier that extended to the mouth of Glacier Bay.  It has now receded over 60 miles and divided into numerous smaller glaciers, 7 of which currently calve glaciers into the sea.

Margerie Glacier and Icebergs, Glacier Bay National Park
At the head of Glacier Bay we were surrounded by small icebergs that had calved from the glacier.  With our binoculars we took a closer look at the dark shapes that could be seen on some of the ice chunks.

Harbor Seal on an Iceberg, Glacier Bay NP
We were able to zoom in and identify the dark shapes as dozens of harbor seals.

Glacier Calving at Glacier Bay
As the ship slowly circled around the glacier, we could hear the ice creaking and groaning and an occasional sharp snap before a piece fell into the sea. It was a challenge to try to capture the glacier calving in a photo because the glacier is very large and it was impossible to predict from where the next chunk would fall.  I was lucky to have my camera pointed in the right direction when this one fell and then only caught mostly the splash when it hit the water.  Another bit of information that was amazing to me is that the ice at the front of the glaciers is between 75 and 200 years old.

Johns Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay
Another of the largest, most impressive glaciers we saw was the Johns Hopkins Glacier.  Clouds on the day or our visit prevented us from seeing the mountain peaks behind.
By Alan Wu [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The photo above is of the Johns Hopkins Glacier taken by someone who was fortunate enough to visit on a sunny, clear day.   Whether under sunny skies or clouds, it is a magnificent experience!

We are linked up with the following travel blogs.  Please visit for more great travel adventures!

Weekend Travel Inspiration with Albom Adventures
Weekend Wanderlust with Justin Plus Lauren

The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Mount Roberts Tram and Juneau Alaska

Another of the most popular things to do in Juneau, is to take the tram to the top of Mount Roberts.  On a sunny day the view must be incredible because even on a misty rainy day it was pretty impressive.
Mount Roberts Tram - Juneau, AK
The tram is located right next to the main cruise terminal which makes it very convenient for cruise ship passengers to take the trip up the mountain.

The Mount Roberts Tramway was opened in 1996 and is owned and operated by Goldbeldt, LLC which is an Alaskan native corporation.  The tram takes over 200,000 passengers per year up the mountain and only operates during the cruise ship season from May through September.

Huge Gears of the Mount Roberts Tramway - Juneau, AK
While we waited for our turn to board one of the tram cars, it was fascinating to watch the huge pulley that winds the cable that moves the tram cars.
Mount Roberts Tramway car "Eagle" - Juneau, AK
The Mount Roberts Tramway has two cars - Eagle and Raven.  We happened to take the ride up the mountain on "Eagle".
Ascending the Mount Roberts Tramway - Juneau, AK

As the tram took off and we started quickly gaining altitude, it occurred to me as I looked down at the city of Juneau below, that those who suffer from either acrophobia or claustrophobia may want to think twice before signing up for this activity.  Of concern to the claustrophobic is that each tram car holds up to 60 people and the operators count to try to make sure each car is packed.  For the acrophobics, the car has glass windows on all sides and rises over 1800 feet in about six minutes. It is reported to be one of the steepest tramways in the world.  

At the Top of the Mount Roberts Tramway
At end of the ride to the top of the mountain passengers exit the tram car on a platform perched on a tower.  The platform is attached to the "The Mountain House" by a sky bridge.  The Mountain House contains displays of Native Alaskan arts and crafts, the Raven Eagle Gift shop, the Chilkat theater with a film about Tlingit culture and a restaurant, the Timberline Bar and Grill.

View from the top of Mount Roberts - Juneau, AK
After spending some time looking around in the Mountain House, we headed up a trail leading to the interpretive nature. On our way I glanced down to the cruise ship terminal below.

View of a Cruise Ship from the top of Mount Roberts - Juneau, AK

Using the zoom on my camera, I got a little better photo of one of the cruise ships tied up at the dock.
We continued on the trail toward the nature center hoping to see and learn more about Lady Baltimore, a bald eagle who was found injured from a gunshot on Douglas Island in 2006.  Unfortunately she was not receiving visitors at the time we were at Mount Roberts.

"Lady Baltimore, an injured bald eagle, in her habitat" by Michaelh2001 - I took this photo today, 15 August 2015, using my Canon PowerShot camera. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia
Within a week after our visit, Michaelh2001 took this photo of Lady Baltimore (below) and her habitat (above) on a beautiful sunny day.  I wish we had been as lucky with the weather.

"Lady Baltimore, in her habitat" by Michaelh2001 - I created this file today, using my Canon PowerShot camera. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia
Lady Baltimore is part of the Juneau Raptor Center educational program located at Mount Roberts. The Juneau Raptor Center provides medical treatment and rehabilitation for all types of wild birds, not just raptors, and when possible, releases them back to the wild.  Those that have injuries that are too severe to survive in the wild, like Lady Baltimore, are either humanely euthanized or kept for educational purposes.

We continued on to the nature center which features interpretive exhibits, including several created by the Juneau Raptor Center.

Eagle Nest Interpretive Display - Mount Roberts Tramway
One of the exhibits is a life-size display showing the size of a bald eagle nest.

Eagle Wingspan Interpretive Display - Mount Roberts Tramway
Another encourages visitors to compare their outstretched arms to the wingspan of a bald eagle and several other bird species.  My husband with an arm span of about 6 feet kindly obliged as my model to give some idea of scale to the photo.

Tramway Platform at the top of Mount Roberts
There are several miles hiking trails on Mount Roberts, but since the visibility was so poor due to the weather and also because we had already done a hike at the Mendenhall Glacier earlier in the day, we decided to return back down the mountain to do a little walking around in Juneau.  A tram car departs from the platform every 10 minutes so we didn't have long to wait.
Descending from the top of Mount Roberts
Soon we were zooming back down the mountain.

Bald Eagle - Mount Roberts - Juneau, AK
Ok, this is a horrible photo that I took on the tram while riding down from Mount Roberts.  We saw numerous bald eagles from Mount Roberts and also in Juneau, so I wanted to post at least one.  It is the best one I have because it was such a dark rainy day.  At least you can see the white head of the bird sitting in a tree. Probably doesn't help that I'm not the world's best photographer either.

Shoppers on Franklin Avenue - Juneau, AK
I saw at least four cruise ships in port, so Franklin Avenue was filled with sightseers and shoppers.

A Rainy Day in Juneau Alaska
We walked down Franklin Avenue a few blocks and checked out some of the shops.

Shops in Juneau near the cruise ship terminal
The businesses on Franklin Avenue cater to the cruise ship crowds and there is a wide variety of products available but jewelry, furs and souvenirs were represented in abundance.

Tracy's King Crab Shack
Of course there were also restaurants and bars. Tracy's King Crab Shack has a large retail shop full of any crab related souvenir you can imagine as well as the restaurant in the back.  When researching our ports of call in preparation for our cruise we'd read some great reviews for Tracy's King Crab Shack and had planned to stop and get a bite to eat.  Although the food looked good, we took a poll and we all voted to go back to the ship to take hot showers and get into some dry clothes.

The Holland America Westerdam at the dock in Juneau, AK

So it was back to the ship and the end of our damp day in Juneau.
Tomorrow's destination:  Glacier Bay

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