Alaska, Part Four (or, Why I Really Like Ice Water)

Where does a 90,000 pound ship go?  Anywhere it wants to, or at least anywhere it can.  At a length of 962 feet, and a width (or beam if you prefer the nautical term) of  105.6 feet, you need a pretty confident and skilled captain to take this enormous ship down Tracy Arm Fjord.  Good thing we had one, because even more important, it was El Capitan’s job to make sure we could get back out.  With 2,500 people aboard, and only a week’s worth of groceries and booze, it would have been a bitch to run out.  … and if you think El Capitan just throws the gears in reverse and backs out, nope, that’s not how it works.  In fact, El Capitan just turned us around as if on an axis and took us out bow first.  Aren’t you impressed?  Not with El Capitan, but with me and my fluent use of nautical terms?

I don’t know how wide Tracy Arm Fjord is, but let’s just say that Tony Romo could throw a football from either side of the ship and maybe hit land.  Oh, all right.  Probably not, but shore was closer than you would think safe.

Here’s where we were headed:

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A close up of some ice water:

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This was a fairly large chunk of ice.  These “floaters,” as I shall refer to them (no, not the floaters in your eyes, and not the other ones either) were everywhere.   So what happens if the ship hits these floaters?  Well, nothing if the ship is going slow enough, and nothing if the ice is not so large that it’s still attached to the bottom of the ocean.  If that’s the case, then by definition it wouldn’t really be a floater, would it?  Glad I’m not El Capitan!

Here’s a great shot:

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Waterfalls were everywhere.  It made me think about global warming, and the melting glaciers, and how our great, great, grandchildren may not get to see this stuff.

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Speaking of glaciers, in this case the business end of the fjord, here we are at Sawyer Glacier.  I’m not sure if this is the North or South Sawyer glacier – such adorable twins, but they’re huge!

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The decks were crammed with people and cameras, including us … and when we managed to get a great vantage point, we were reluctant to move.  Then El Capitan turned the ship around and suddenly we had the crappy seats.  Well, not so crappy, as this was truly one occasion when the crappy seats were actually pretty good … but there were better ones.  So, off we went again in search of the very best spot.  You have to admit, this is a great spot for a picture.  The three of us managed to find each other, and we swapped picture-taking favors with another shipmate.   

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Check out the cute pink jacket.  Yep, got it on the ship.  It’s a bona fide Royal Carribean windbreaker.  Not so warm, but it is pink and it is cute, so that makes up for most anything … 

The weather was unbelievably warm during most of the cruise, considering we were sailing in Alaskan waters and ice was all around.  The only cold days were the days we just sailed and had no stops.  On those days, it was misty, windy and foggy (foghorns even blew all night one night).  …and speaking of nights, well, not too much night to speak of.  About four hours tops, I’d say. 

One of the nights, we went dancing at the Vortex club with Sara and with Chuck and Kelly (family members you will see more of in Juneau).  We were looking out of the windows at 1:00 a.m., and still it wasn’t dark.  It’s hard to believe Johnny and I were up at that hour, and not only up, but up dancing.  Not so hard to believe that Sara was up.  Parties don’t start in college until 1:00 a.m., so she was just getting warmed up.  We had a great time, but I paid for it the next day.  My hips paid throughout the next week.

Back to the fjord … while we were down at the business end, our cruise director, Mike, and a few of his mates took one of the rescue boats as close to the Sawyer twin (I just can’t tell them apart!) as they dared.  I never knew this before, but it is dangerous to get too close to a glacier in a boat because of calving, or ice falling from the glacier (and here I thought calving meant the birthing of cute little baby cows), and also because sometimes glacier ice shoots up from the ocean floor to become, you guessed it, a floater.  While awesome to witness, it’s best to view this action from afar. 

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Their goal was to find a piece of ice (yes, I said ice …) and bring it back to the ship for an ice carving.  An ambitious endeavor, and it took a while to find just the right piece. 

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Aha, got one!

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Daniel and I raced inside to watch them bring it aboard.

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Bigger than you thought it was!

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Now, here’s the stoopid part.  We never went back to see what they carved it into.  What a great way to pull this all together, a picture of the finished carving, and I missed it.  What a dork I am. 

20090707_106 (Small)We ran into Johnny’s parents enjoying the view, and a little snack.  What a view!  I think they had the best seats, and they weren’t doing all that running around!

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We saw quite a few seals sunning themselves on the floaters. 

… and déjà vu, back out the way we came. 

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More to come, so I’ll be back in a few days with the final Alaska post!

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Alaska, Part Three (Skagway, or How We Survived the Crazy Train)

All Aboard … ahahahahahahahaha …

I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.  Who knew this would be about Ozzy Osbourne???  Not me!  It’s really about Skagway, and the White Pass train ride.  Ok, maybe not so crazy, but I did feel a little crazy when I looked down.   For the record, Ozzy is still on the crazy train …

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Here’s what we saw when we stepped off the ship in Skagway.  Graffiti!   Hard to tell from the picture, but all over the face of the mountain, up and down the dock, are hand-painted pictures, each with the name of a ship, a symbol, usually a year dating back decades in some cases, and the name of the ship’s captain.  Dozens of paintings, perhaps even hundreds.

Here’s a close-up of the side of our ship, and another ship in front of it.  Did you know they can parallel park these things?  Hmmph.  Doesn’t say too much for my driving skills. 20090708_006 (Small)

A picture of my tiny husband next to our super-sized mother ship …

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We chose a different excursion than the rest of the crew in Skagway.  Crew, get it?  a little sailing lingo???  The rest of the family wanted to get up close and personal with some Alaskan sled dogs.  Even though it’s not winter, you can see how the dogs are raised, hold the puppies and, in theory, ride on a dog-pulled sled on wheels.  It was too warm for the dogs to pull the sleds, or something like that, but they did get to hold puppies, I think.  So, while I’m sorry I didn’t get to hold puppies, I’m glad I rode the crazy train!

The crowd was unbelievable in Skagway.  Four cruise ships were in port and it’s just an itty bitty little town!  That’s about 8,000 extra people in a little town all beating a path to the little stores to pick out little souveniers.  We went in this store, along with a few thousand of our closest shipmates …20090708_011 (Small)

 

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Ok, so where are all the people in this picture?  I told you, they’re all in the Alaskan Shirt Co. store!

… and here’s a cool car. 

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 That’s about all the pictures I have of the town, but here is our crazy train.

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… and here are a few of the  lunatics inside:

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 Skagway was sort of the “jumping off” point of the gold rush in the late 1890’s.  It was the port where hundreds of gold seekers arrived before braving the brutal conditions into the Yukon through White Pass on horses.  Before the railroad was built over White Pass, hundreds of horses, overburdened with gear, died on this trail when their riders drove them in horrible conditions until they died, and then left them to rot and continued on their way.  The area where this tragedy occurred is known as Dead Horse Gulch.  Yessirree, gold just brings out the very best in people …

We had alternately foggy and clear skies, but we heard that a wildfire was burning somewhere (60 miles or so away) which accounted for the fog.  Looking back at the cruise ships – I only see three here, but the missing fourth ship is hiding behind the mountain to the left.  It was the one parallel parked in front of our ship.

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 Apparently, some pretty “sick” rapids through this area (as the kids like to say).  That phrase has taken me by surprise, but I finally get it.  Anyway, I don’t think these are Level 6 rapids, but I remember hearing something about Level 6 rapids somewhere along the Yukon river.  To be honest, I’m not even sure this is the Yukon river, but seems reasonable to me.  Geography people out there, please feel free to tell me what river this is …  

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  A couple of family pics:

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More beautiful scenery …

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…and the camera flash on the rock as we’re going through this tunnel.

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20090708_094 (Small)I don’t know if that’s an eagle on top of the rock, but let’s just say that it is.

 We actually crossed the border into Canada, but because we never stopped, we didn’t have to go through customs.  Then the train turned around and returned to Skagway.

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Not so noticeable in the pictures, but the landscape changed as we crossed into Canada.  The land was flatter, plants were much smaller, a little more snow in the crevices.  Tundra, they called it, although I always pictured tundra as a giant expanse of flat solid ice.  Guess I slept through the lecture in 5th grade on seasons in the tundra.  Anyway, the trees were tiny, but some were hundreds of years old.  Not much survives through the winter here, but whatever does survive is severely stunted. 

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Here are a few pictures from the return trip to Skagway.  When we weren’t worried about the crazy train running off the rails (heh heh), we were seriously worried about our lungs.  The wind was, shall I say, not in our favor on the return trip.  We were in the first car behind the engine, and I learned not to ever, ever, ever ride in the first car behind the engine ever, ever, ever again.  The wind was blowing the exhaust from the engine straight into the car we were in.  So we had the choice of staying in the sweltering car with the doors shut and no air flow, opening the door in the hopes a little fresh air might come in with the carbon monoxide, or going out on the landing for the full assault of exhaust mixed with fresh air.  Not such a great choice!  We did it all, and none of it worked!

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Some of us did get sleepy on the ride back.  Or it could have been the carbon monoxide …

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If you look real close, you might see the grave of the most notorious scoundrel in Skagway’s history, Soapy Smith, who got his name selling soap (yep, the fearsome and dangerous soap salesman) … ah, it’s complicated.  I’ll let you look it up.  Anyway he and another fellow shot each other and both of them died.  Soapy was buried outside of the city limits far away from respectable folks, including the respectable fellow he shot.  Nah, you can’t really see it …

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The crazy train didn’t go off the rails and we finally made it back to solid ground.20090708_172 (Small)

Poor kid, Daniel didn’t get the memo …

Stay tuned, Tracy Arm Fjord is next!

Alaska, Part Two (for real this time)

Here’s where all our luggage went, aboard the Serenade of the Seas.  It’s a miracle this beauty can float. 20090706_012 (Small)

It’s also a miracle that our luggage found its way to our cabins.  It’s a miracle WE found our cabins.

The pictures below were taken after we had been sailing for a couple of days, our first stop … Icy Strait Point.20090706_014 (Small)

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… and now you’ve seen Icy Strait Point!  Beauty lurks behind these buildings, and apparently, a mile or so down the road (road, really?  I didn’t see a road?) is Hoonah, a Tlingit native village of about 900 people.  Today, Icy Strait Point is mostly a tourist spot, with the main attractions being the longest zip line in the world (so they say), a salmon cannery museum, shops, and a couple of restaurants.  You see, I know considerably more about Icy Strait than I did about Vancouver.  That’s because I brought home a cheat sheet!

Excursions were planned before the trip, and nope, no one in our crew did the zip line.  We almost felt guilty we didn’t let the kids do the zip line, almost.

We hiked a trail behind the mini-town of Icy Strait.  Below are my nephew Jake (on the left), and my kids, Sara, Daniel & Alex.20090706_050 (Small)

 20090706_051 (Small)… about face, forward march …

 

Unfortunately this next picture doesn’t tell the story I intended.  I’m including this shot because I wanted to show that just one of these leaves was as big as my head.  It would have been more dramatic to place someone’s head next to a leaf.   Especially severed … now that would have been dramatic!  Just joshing, of course!20090706_029 (Small)

 Here are a few family shots from the trail:20090706_033 (Small)

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While hoofing it down the trail,  we ran into this sign:20090706_043 (Small)

Squinting to see who were the goofs for whom rules don’t apply, I said to Sara, I wonder who those two goobers are?  She said, why that’s Alex & Jake!  Naturally …

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Busted!

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While hiking back, Johnny snapped these candid pictures through the trees of his parents, Jack and Nancy, as they were enjoying themselves on the trail:

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Our excursion at Icy Strait Point was a whale and mammal cruise, which was fabulous-o!  We wicked parents redeemed ourselves with this choice!  Lips zipped and no zip lines further quipped.  Yeah …

Silly girl … see Daniel pointing?  The whales are outside of the boat …

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We stood on the deck of the boat and waited for Humpback whales to surface.  They’d surface on one side of the boat, and we’d run to that side and ooh and aah and take pictures, then they’d surface on the other side of the boat, and we’d run over to that side and ooh and aah and take pictures, then they’d surface back on the opposite side … well, you get the picture.  Luckily, the boat was a weeble.  Weebles wobble, but they don’t tip over!

It’s hard to get whales to cooperate, but here are a few that did:20090706_077 (Small)

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and eagles, too.   Beautiful, but equally uncooperative! 20090706_086 (Small)

Time to get back on the big boat, our home away from home.20090706_165 (Small)

Stay tuned … Skagway is next!