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More 6/2: Just Another Un-Cruise Day…

June3-1

You might think this post is going to be about whales.  You might be right – but keep reading, because there will be lots more than whales happening this afternoon.

June2Part2-1We left Bartlett Cove and headed north to get deeper into Glacier Bay.  Our first destination was South Marble Island, where there is another large haul-out of Steller Sea Lions.  The scenery as we progressed became filled with snow covered mountains, and we could even see a glacier.

As we came upon Marble Island, it was easy to find the Steller Sea Lions.  This is also a refuge for Pigeon Guillemots – these are the small birds you can (barely) see in some of the photos that follow.  People are not allowed to land on South Marble Island, as it’s protected for both the birds and the seals.

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Those darn humpbacks kept distracting us as we were trying to find the Steller Sea Lions … check out the right hand corner of the photo:

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Here they are – this is what we are searching for; there are more Steller Sea Lions on the main island as well:

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There were quite a few frisky sea lions in the water:

 

There were a squillion gulls on the island, nesting and just taking life easy.  All of a sudden the air was filled with loud squawking and flapping wing noises.

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The guardian gulls went after a mischievous juvenile bald eagle, and chased him away, squawking all the time:

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We saw several bald eagles relaxing on the beach:

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Puffins, Puffins, Puffins – as we were watching the Steller Sea Lions, the gulls, and a few whales, we happened to notice the puffins swimming about 50 ft off the starboard side.  There weren’t a lot of them, but we saw maybe 5 or 6 swimming near the ship.  I planted myself on the bench by the railing, and watched their antics off and on for an hour, snapping lots of photos (people probably thought I was nuts).  I did get some photos of the Tufted Puffins to share – harder than it might sound, since they are only about 15 inches long. This was our first time seeing puffins and it was exciting!

Just swimmin’ along:

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Dunkin’ for dinner:

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Takin’ off for a short flight (puffins can fly up to 50 mph, but often fly just short distances not far off the water when looking for fish):

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Those pesky humpbacks just kept popping up everywhere.  Didn’t they know we had other things to look at? (Note – we never got complacent about seeing the whales.)

And, the Holland America Volendam was stalking us throughout the day. They didn’t linger in one place like we did, but their passengers could still enjoy the views and some of the wildlife sightings.

 

We circled around the island, and said goodbye to the Steller Sea Lions as we continued on:

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Whew – this is enough for now.  And to think, all of the activity shown above took place in 2 hours, starting at about 1:15pm. It’s possible we’ll have some more action this afternoon as we un-cruise to Margerie Glacier, but it’s hard to see how we can top the day we’ve had so far.

6/2: Bartlett Cove – Glacier Bay National Park Headquarters

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The itinerary for this week takes us to Glacier Bay National Park for three days, then to several overnight anchorages on our way to Sitka.  At 6am on Sunday, our first full cruising day, the scenery wasn’t too exciting:

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We did see humpbacks shortly after 6am:

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Coffee was ready in the lounge, and the windows in front made it a pleasant place to hang out:

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Photos from the morning:

Breakfast was served and we continued watching for whales and other wildlife.  The scenery kept getting better and better, as we neared Glacier Bay National Park Headquarters at Bartlett Cove:

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We reached Bartlett Cove before 9am.  Everyone got off the ship and had a chance to stretch their legs.  We chose the one mile forest walk and a short stop at the Glacier Bay National Park Lodge:

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One of the most interesting things we saw in the lush forest was a wide variety of fungi, most growing on trees:

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More fungi:

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We saw a moose at the tail end of our forest walk:

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We continued walking a short distance along the beach, past our ship and some kayaks, and wandered back to the Lodge:

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There was plenty of time to stop along the way and read some of the informational posters supplied by the Forest Service:

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We thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the forest, and the opportunity to visit another of our National Park Lodges.  We were back on the boat for lunch and were heading deeper into Glacier Bay.  It was quiet for an hour or so; we saw a few otters and whales in the distance but didn’t linger.  We  were headed toward the Marble Islands and Gloomy Knob:

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I wonder if that’s a baby otter the mother is holding in the photo below?  The otters were very far from the boat.

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The weather was perfect as we cruised away from Bartlett Cove.  Ranger Fay joined us, and would be with us for the next three days.  Would we see more wildlife, and how about a glacier or two?  Check out the next post to see how the rest of the day went.

More 6/1: Embarkation Week 3: Glacier Bay National Park & More

Jun1PM-41

We had nothing planned for our transfer day in Juneau.  We thought we would go up the Mt. Roberts Tram, or perhaps back out to Mendenhall Glacier, but the rainy weather put those options out of our minds.  We walked around town, did a little shopping, and had lunch.  Then we went back to the convention center where we used the internet and waited for the start of our next adventure.

A look at the more modern side of Juneau:

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And, the “frontier” section, where many of the shops are located:

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We saw this book in the window of a store, and it had more meaning than it might have had a week before:

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We picked up a couple of smaller souvenirs, checking to make sure these were “handmade in Alaska …”

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Walking back to the convention center, where our waiting room was, we passed several large murals (that’s the sidewalk on the bottom, to give some perspective to how large the murals are:

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Jun1PM-6By now, we were ready for lunch.  We had vouchers for the Hangar Pub, so that’s where we went.  As usual, I had halibut & fries, and Lou probably had a cheeseburger. The food was excellent.

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We tried to stretch lunchtime out, since we knew we’d have several hours before we would be boarding the Wilderness Explorer.  I entertained myself by taking photos of: my lunch, our drink, a neon sign, and the expensive souvenirs purchased earlier (not every moment is action-packed on this trip):

 

 

Jun1PM-42While waiting for boarding time, we visited with some folks we knew – there were over 20 passengers from Week 2 continuing on to Week 3 – and did the usual internet catching up.  One of us may have snagged a nap.

 

It really started to rain hard and was still raining at 5pm as we marched across the street to our new home for the coming week.

 

Fortunately, we were able to wait to board under a covered gangway (which could use some paint):

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While waiting, Captain Danny and some of the crew from the Wilderness Discoverer came by – they tried to entice us to switch back to their ship, since they were sure we’d have more fun.  There was obviously a fun rivalry between the crews of the two ships.

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Boarding was quick and easy, and we were soon checking out our cabin – No. 300 on the top deck, again just behind the bridge.  It is smaller than our previous cabin, but there is still lots of storage space.  Our freshly cleaned laundry was waiting, along with our luggage:

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We peeked into the dining area as we came onboard; the layout on this ship is different.  The dining area is one deck below the lounge.  This works fine for dining, but did make the lounge seem crowded at times:

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Shortly after boarding, we all mustered in the lounge for the first safety drill (the Wilderness Explorer was refurbished in 2012 and it was in very good condition, but I’m guessing the retro mirrored ceiling is left over from its previous glory days):

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There was time to check out a little bit of the ship after the Welcome Reception.  While the inside seemed less spacious than the Discoverer, I thought the outdoor space was much better for photography.  There was some comfortable seating in the bow of the boat, and we had good access off the stern.  The outside area on the top deck was smaller, but views weren’t blocked by the skiffs and kayaks, since they were on a lower deck:

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Saying goodbye to Juneau:

Jun1PM-43Dinner was a choice of Cod or Steak, with a delicious chocolate dessert.  As we were finishing dinner, there was an announcement – whales had been spotted.  Of course, one of us had to jump up to go check it out (hint: it wasn’t Lou).  I figured we’d been foiled by the Dall’s Porpoises again:

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But … wait … these don’t look like porpoises …

 

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What are they?  They’re not humpbacks.  It couldn’t be, could it?  Since the suspense is killing you, take a look at the next photo (you already looked, didn’t you?):

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Believe it!  We saw Orcas on our very first evening – a mother with her youngster.  This was amazing, and we watched them play until it got too dark.  We were admittedly a little cranky earlier in the day, having to wait around to board the ship, but that evaporated once the Orcas came out to play … what will tomorrow bring?

6/1: Back to Juneau – the end of Week 2

Jun1-1One last shot from the deck outside our cabin.  We’d been un-cruising most of the night as we made our way to Juneau, where we reached the dock at 7am or so. Time to put our bags out, have one last breakfast, and say farewell to new friends before disembarking at 8:30am.

Last week, we knew we’d be getting back on the Wilderness Discoverer, but we were sad this week. We’d had such a good time, and even though we had another week to go, we weren’t sure what to expect.

It’s funny how you can get so comfortable in just two short weeks.

 

Foggy and raining lightly as we get closer to Juneau

Foggy and raining lightly as we get closer to Juneau

 

They say it always rains in Ketchikan, but we had sunshine there; not so in Juneau.  It looks much the same arriving as it did when we were here two weeks prior:

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Since we will be changing to the Wilderness Explorer, we had to pack our bags and leave them for transfer.  We did leave our laundry behind, to be delivered to the Explorer.  Here’s Beth, one of the expedition guides, helping to collect all the luggage.

Turning the ship around on Saturday is hard work. Everyone pitches in to make it happen.

 

Goodbyes, hugs, and promises to come again were made as we left the ship

Goodbyes, hugs, and promises to come again were made as we left the ship

 

Goodbye, Wilderness Discoverer and your fantastic crew!

Goodbye, Wilderness Discoverer and your fantastic crew!

 

Thoughts on Week No. 2 – Cruising the Western Coves of the Inside Passage

26May-3Scenery – B+  It’s a bit unfair to give the Alaska Scenery less than an A grade, but this is only in comparison to the stunning views of Misty Fjords and Tracy Arm which we’d experienced the previous week. It was still beautiful, and we were again fortunate to have near perfect weather and several gorgeous sunsets. The predawn hours sometimes made it look like were were in another world.

 

May28-57Wildlife – A-  We saw much more wildlife during Week  No. 2, and the otters put this over to an A for me,  but we have to leave some wiggle room for the upcoming week. I even almost saw a breaching humpback.  The otters were a highlight, but the whales were also majestic. The intertidal creatures were, well, kinda creepy (but Lou was quite fascinated by them) –  I have watched too many Alien Movies to be comfortable around strange creatures of the deep.  We did learn a lot, and it was so surprising to see such colorful creatures along the Alaskan shoreline.

 

May29-35Life Onboard – A  Even better than the first week, as we knew the routine, the crew, and had made some new friends – we also met lots of nice people who had joined the boat for Week No. 2. Chef Jo and the kitchen crew once again provided excellent meals and special treats, even if they were sometimes interrupted by humpbacks and sea lions.  We do want to give a shout out to Chief Steward, Laurie.  She and her crew made our dining experience and cabin care a seamless operation. Chris, our bartender extraordinaire, went out of his way to take care of everyone.  And, of course, Captain Danny added to the experience by doing so much more than skippering the ship.

 

26May-31Off Boat Activities – A   The tour of Klawock was a highlight for Lou. I enjoyed doing more of the shore walks, and the skiff tours were super. We had a more balanced week because we pushed ourselves to get off the boat more.  The active hikers said their bushwhacks lived up to the name, and were on the wild side this past week.  A big thanks to all of the Expedition Guides and Skiff Skippers for making the most of every activity.

 
So, again, at the risk of repeating myself – the second week of Un-Cruising was just about perfect. We were so lucky to be able to do this. We could have left Alaska at this point and felt we’d had a great trip. And yes, there was a part of us that wouldn’t have minded getting back home. We missed the dogs, and we also wanted to get things sorted in the new house. That said, it was not a hardship to start Week No. 3 on the Wilderness Explorer.

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5/31: Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier

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Today we were going through Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier.  This is often the destination of “second choice” when it is not possible to get into Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glaciers.  Endicott Arm is wider than Tracy Arm and there is less chance of ice buildup in the passage.  It was different than the Sawyer Glaciers, but still very interesting.  We saw much more calving at Dawes, and were glad we got to see both Sawyer and Dawes Glaciers. Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier deserve more respect!

At 7:30am we were getting ready to approach Dawes Glacier

At 7:30am we were getting ready to approach Dawes Glacier

 

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The low fog hung over the mountains along the sides of Endicott Arm

 

It was overcast and raining off and on throughout the day - no sunshine today!

It was overcast and raining off and on throughout the day – no sunshine today!

 

The crew gets the skiffs ready for our adventure

The crew gets the skiffs ready for our adventure

 

Explorers ready to go on one of the early skiff tours

Happy explorers ready to go on one of the early skiff tours

 

We had the 9am tour with Bob driving and Alison guiding

We had the 9am tour with Bob driving and Alison guiding

 

It wasn't long before we started hearing the thunder of the glacier movement and were able to see lots of calving action

It wasn’t long before we started hearing the thunder of the glacier movement and were able to see lots of calving action

 

The waves from the ice falling into the water rocked the small skiff

The waves from the ice falling into the water rocked the small skiff

 

Alison snagged a piece of floating ice, and made us all take turns kissing it

Alison snagged a piece of floating ice, and made us all take turns kissing it

 

We scoped out the glacier face, then went along the sides of the cliffs, before circling back to the ship

We scoped out the glacier face, then went along the sides of the cliffs, before circling back to the ship.  We were anchored about half a mile from the glacier.

More photos from the morning:

One of the few ice bergs floating in the water - the people in the small boat are on a different tour - looks like they are too close!

One of the few ice bergs floating in the water – the people in the small boat are on a different tour – looks like they are too close!

 

One of our skiffs going out to the glacier

One of our skiffs going out to the glacier

 

Dawes Glacier

Dawes Glacier – a view of the whole face

 

Calving in action, observed once we were back onboard the Wilderness Discoverer

Calving in action, observed once we were back onboard the Wilderness Discoverer

 

It looks like steam

It looks like steam

 

A very short calving video:

 

Today was Polar Plunge Day - the water was 38 degrees F, and the plungers had to avoid the floating ice!

Today was Polar Plunge Day – the water was 38 degrees F, and the plungers had to avoid the floating ice!

 

 

And, even more photos from the day:

 

We enjoyed the Captain's Dinner with friends we made during the past two weeks - we hope to keep in touch!

We enjoyed the Captain’s Dinner with some of the friends we’d made during the past two weeks – we hope to keep in touch!

We finished the evening with a slideshow of photos taken by our guides during the week, and a few passengers shared some photos as well.  I was surprised when Lou shared a short presentation of our photos from the previous two weeks.  Folks settled up their bar tabs for the week, and we had a good time visiting before calling it a night.

Dall’s Porpoise in the Dark:

5/30: Port Houghton – What’s a Salt Chuck?

May30-19Yesterday marked the half way point in our Un-Cruise Ultra Adventure.  When I commented to Lou about all the wildlife we’d seen this week, he responded with “Aren’t you glad I booked all three weeks …”  I usually hate it when he’s right, but was happy to agree.  Today we were in a secluded anchorage in Port Houghton, and we had the opportunity to sign up for two outings.  Lou decided to take a rest day; not only is this allowed, it’s encouraged.  Too many people suffer from FOMO syndrome when on these trips, and the crew reminds us to take some relaxing time ( FOMO = Fear of Missing Out).  This wasn’t a problem for us.

 

I chose the morning Photo Walk on shore, and a late afternoon Skiff Tour.  But first, a few photos from our anchorage – these were taken just before breakfast at 7:30am:

One of the gals decided to try paddle boarding – it was a windy for a first timer, but she did well:

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My shore walk left at 9:30am, and this is where we were headed

 

Wave goodbye to the safety of the Wilderness Discoverer

Wave goodbye to the safety of the Wilderness Discoverer

 

Our landing was easy on the rocky beach, and we were able to step right out onto shore

Our landing was easy on the rocky beach, and we were able to step right out onto shore

 

Today's plan was to just take in the sights and get a little exercise.  Hannah was with us to tell us about creatures and plants

Today’s plan was to just take in the sights and get a little exercise. Hannah was with us to tell us about creatures and plants

 

One of the first thing we saw were lots of mussel shells, many covered with barnacles

One of the first thing we saw were lots of mussel shells, many covered with barnacles

 

We were next to where the Salt Chuck enters the river and we were at relatively low tide

We were next to where the Salt Chuck enters the river and we were at relatively low tide.

 

We saw a log which appeared to be a condo for some animals - it was filled with broken shells and scat

We saw a log which appeared to be a condo for some animals – it was filled with broken shells and scat

More photos from our walk:

We were out for more than an hour when it was time to go back to the Wilderness Discoverer.

We're not Under Siege, it's Tucker come to pick us up and return us to the ship

We’re not Under Siege, it’s Tucker come to pick us up and return us to the ship

 

Lunch hit the spot - tasty chicken club sandwiches and a peanut butter cookie

Lunch hit the spot – tasty chicken club sandwiches and a peanut butter cookie

 

Time for a nice rest after lunch, but at 4pm it was time to go explore the Salt Chuck.  What’s a Salt Chuck?  It’s where sea water runs into a river or a lake.  Here’s what I found in a forest service publication:

Port Houghton Salt Chuck Description: A large and complex salt chuck-estuary system with a lake-fed river and multiple streams, the Port Houghton salt chuck is one of only two salt chucks on the mainland in Southeast Alaska. The Rusty River is the backbone of fish production in this VCU, and is a substantial contributor to commercial fishing in the region. The Rusty is notable for producing all five varieties of pacific salmon and a substantial steelhead run. 

The salmon weren’t running this time of year, but we had bigger creatures in our sights – isn’t it time we saw a bear?

Oh Good, Bob's driving the skiff - he's always willing to look for bears

Oh Good, Bob’s driving the skiff – he’s always willing to look for bears

 

Oops, we aren't the only one looking for bears.  These hunting guides were not happy to see us in "their" territory on the last day of their hunting season.

Oops, we aren’t the only one looking for bears. These hunting guides were not happy to see us in “their” territory on the last day of their hunting season.

 

They took off in a bit of a huff, after letting us know they weren't happy.  Laurie answered them calmly and professionally, explaining we had permits and forest service permission to be here.  Who knows how much was posturing for the client, who may have paid up to $1,500 for his day?

They took off in a bit of a huff, after letting us know they weren’t happy. Laurie answered them calmly and professionally, explaining we had permits and forest service permission to be here. Who knows how much was posturing for the client, who may have paid up to $1,500 for his day?

 

We didn't see any bears, and apparently the hunters didn't either, as they came barreling by us later in the afternoon.  We saw this bald eagle, another nesting one.

We didn’t see any bears, and apparently the hunters didn’t either, as they came barreling by us later in the afternoon. We saw this bald eagle, another nesting one.

The Salt Chuck Skiff Tour didn’t lead to any big wildlife sightings, but I imagine it’s a great place to see both salmon and bears at the right time of year.

Next on the agenda was dinner.  This was a special one, as the crew recognized all those with celebrations on Thursday evenings.  Since they hadn’t done it the previous week, I was included in this one as well – and, we got ice cream as an extra treat with our German Chocolate Cake. Scampi and Cornish Game hen were the entree options.

A special treat - ice cream & cake, AND dinner with friends

A special treat – ice cream & cake, AND dinner with friends (and a photobombing Zak)

 
We did see a few more humpbacks that evening as we cruised back through Frederick Sound on our way to Endicott Arm.  It was 8:30pm, misty and starting to rain, so we didn’t  try for too many photos; we just enjoyed the show:

It had been another good day.  More of a relaxing pace for us, and that was needed.  Tomorrow will be our last full day of un-cruising on the Wilderness Discoverer, and there is a glacier waiting for us.