Thursday, July 30, 2009

30-2009 Ferry Ride to Sitka and Ketchikan Alaska

Ferry to Ketchikan Alaska.
Tour of Sitka Alaska

I packed up and pulled out of my campsite in Skagway, kind of sad leaving. It’s another one of those places that I could stay for a much longer period of time, but I have my reservations and I need to head on down through the Inner passage. For that I was so excited, I got to the loading dock a couple of hours early, had time to wonder the streets of Skagway one more time.

The last time I went to Starbucks for coffee, it’s not part of the chain and is locally owned, I was talking to the cashier and a lady (as one might say a stout woman possibly of German heritage). Her eyes got as large as saucers as she was captivated by my description of the full timers lifestyle. She was one of the many passengers on the cruise ship and would spend one day in Skagway. I think she was a bit in awe of we campers who can wonder into an area like this and actually stay a week or more if we so desire. Not that she didn’t have a pretty great way to travel as well. I think the concept of the free lifestyle does capture many who first come in contact with our mode of living. Perhaps one that never occurred to them before.

Before driving the truck and camper onto the ferry, I met a group of bikers. One had almost a case of wine and other booze in a box he’d just gotten at the duty free station. Offered a couple of us a glass of wine and there we were, watching the ferry dock, waiting to go on board, toasting to a lifestyle that celebrates those who follow their dreams and go to the edge sometimes.

As I drove the camper and truck onboard, I was directed to swing around and then back up the entire length of the ship for parking. Did pretty well too. Even had a guy complement me on my ability to back up the length of a footwall field, staying pretty much in the lane I was supposed to.

I’ve got a cabin on the 5th deck, there are 8 decks to the ship. Two twin beds a sink and separate shower and Lou. I’ll be on the ship for 3 days before exiting to Ketchikan.

Got a picture of a short stout waterfall that was one of the most powerful ones I’ve ever seen. One of the workers onboard told me that a lumberjack once owned it. At the top of the falls was a large pot shaped lake. He would dam it up and cut lumber and logs to folks specs marking each with the owners name. When the lake was pretty full with the orders, he would break the dam and let all the lumber fall over the waterfalls and the customers would pick up their lumber in the fjord below.

I’ve been onboard now for the evening and into the following morning listening to the constant low hum of the engines. The ride is smooth as we travel along Tayia Inlet, watching the scenery slowly go by. Fog envelopes the early morning scenes but breaks up by mid morning. I talk to a Coast Guard Capt. Who tells me about maintaining the buoys throughout the channels. He once saw four whales breach the surface at the same time near where his boat was pulling out a buoy for maintenance , quite a scene to behold. We’re traveling between many of the outer islands between some fairly narrow channels on our way to Sitka, it faces the Pacific ocean. We had docked in Juneau around three in the morning. I had awakened when we docked and looked out on a night scene, lights along the dock, a strange orange glow coming from each light pole in the misty night air.

The ferry I’m on is called the Columbia and is only about a year old. By 8:30 we had arrived in Sitka, which was once the capital of the eastern Russian Empire that stretch from Alaska though what is now Washington, Oregon and part of California. I joined a three hour tour of the town, it was only $12 and included the 7 mile drive from the ferry terminal to the center of town.

We received a ton of history regarding the Russian occupation as well as information on the Inuit tribe and others. The tour included the Russian Orthodox Church and if I remember some of the tour information correctly has two artifacts that are considered miracles. One being a Painting of A saint, sorry I can’t right of the top of my head remember which one. The painting on a wood panel had along with the ship it was on, sunk in a terrible storm. The ship was broken apart and was a mess on the bottom of the sea. Many days later, the painting had worked its way through the wreckage, around an island and floated ashore, in front of the Greek Orthodox Church completely intact and unharmed. I saw the painting up close and can say it looks in perfect condition. The other miracle involves a fire the church went through, where the towns folk were able to get all the religious relics, painting and a 250 pound brass chandelier. The chandelier being the miracle. It was the last item to get out of the burning building. One man got up on a stand and was able to unhook the chandelier by himself and lower it to two waiting men. They then carried it outside, not realizing the weight of the thing.

I then went over to the only Finish Lutheran church across the street. A plain building, it had burned down before the Greek Orthodox Church did. In the Lutheran Church a single religious painting was pulled out before burning… the wooden cross was badly scorched and burned and now hangs in the entrance to the new modern simple church. The Orthodox Church had stored the painting for the Lutherans and then had to save it from their own fire. Over 150 years later, it was returned to the Lutheran Church. I’m very proud of my Finish and Swedish heritage and found much of this history fascinating.

How the Lutherans got to Sitka is quite a story (which I don't have time to tell here) as well as their leaving with the Russians on the day the Russians signed over Alaska to the U.S. Seward’s folly eventually became the wealthy State of Alaska, the Russians not realizing that the land contained not only gold, but oil. The Russians had raped the land, killed most of the seals and marine life and figured it was no longer worth anything to them. Because they hated the English, not to say much about the French and Spanish who were also moving into the area, the Russians had decided to try to sell the land to the young U.S. country. They had to wait with their proposal until after we were done with our civil war, but here we are, with the 49th state of the union and here I am exploring it’s exciting and daring history.

Besides the history, we also visited the only temperate rain forest in North America. The Tsongas forest covers a large area of south eastern Alaska. I believe it's 16 million acres. We walked through just a tiny portion of the forest on the edge of town, with it’s huge hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, wild vegetation, ferns, orchids and berries that we were able to eat right from off of the bushes in the park. Surrounding the Centennial park were original and recreations of many Totem poles that all tell a story of family, history or even possibly the wrong doings of a particular scoundrel in the Tlingit tribe.

What a whirl wind tour. I now know how the folks on a cruise might feel, trying to pack it all in in one day. Of course the cruises quite often stay for the full day and sometimes evening, where as we were on the ferry schedule and had to get back on board for the next leg of the journey sometimes giving us as little as 2 to 3 hours.

I’ve been on the ferry now for three days. With each day the weather has continued to not only improve, but one would have to say it’s superb. Even the staff on board the ferry are commenting that it’s the best weather they’ve had in a long time. Crystal clear blue skies. To the point the last two days, everyone has been migrating to the outside decks, sitting, laying, lounging on all the rectangular orange boxes containing the life preservers. They don’t have lounge chairs like a cruise ship, but we passengers are completely happy. Everyone has smiles on their faces knowing that somehow the gods have granted us a couple of days of perfect weather. I think that even though we don’t live up here, we too recognize the joy of a sunny warm day and we celebrate it as much as the locals do.

I'll have much more on my final destination in Alaska, Ketchikan in the next report.

Lots of photos on my picasa site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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