Saturday, December 2, 2017

Alaska: Juneau Whales, Ice, and Legs

Alaska Post Link

We arrived in Juneau very early in the morning after a short trip from Skagway. Early enough that Dave was only on his second cup of coffee and had a meltdown when security would not let him leave the ship with his just-poured cup. The rationale was coffee may have dairy (he didn’t) and since the ship itself originated in Canada before our sailing agricultural products could not leave the boat. UGH!

It’s very strange that Alaska’s capital of Juneau can only be accessed by plane or boat. Over 30% of the city’s population works for the government in some capacity. The ship docks are conveniently located in the heart of downtown making touring very easy.

All six of us signed up for the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari through the cruise line. Our tour was operated by Gastineau Guiding and they did a terrific job educating us the entire trip. One of the first things we noticed while taking our bus over to the boat docks was that bald eagles here are crows or pigeons back home. They seemed to be ever-present and very helpful for taking pictures. At the dock our group of 12 was led to a big boat with a comfortable enclosed cabin. The windows opened easily to allow for shooting. On our way into the bay we learned about the area in-general and certain cues to look for when watching the whales surface. Along the way we saw a few more eagles, seals, and a few ferries (a main source of transportation up here) along the way.

It didn't take too long to find our first whale. The typical pattern we looked for was 1) signs of an exhale spout 2) a few displays of dorsal fin while swimming 3) a larger display of the back followed by 4) display of the tail (fluke). Once we saw the tail we knew that whale would be out of sight for several minutes. Our small boat tour was great because we could maneuver around easily without dealing with a bunch of people. Our guide was an expert photographer/videographer and helped guests with varying equipment.

We had an overcast day so our photos weren't full of much contrast. The guide and captain did a nice job helping us get some great shots, including the fluke raise with a glacier in the background.

When we left the boat we took a short drive over to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, part of the Tongass National Forest. Our guide took us on a nice walk along the forest path giving us a lesson in forest development from moss, to alder, to sitka.... and told us about how the salmon spawning process. As we walked toward the glacier we passed markers indicating where the edge was over the last 100 years. We also spent some time working on photography techniques to capture soft waterfalls and water droplets that looked like diamonds.

Our tour didn't bring us too close to the glacier nor the waterfall, but we did have a pretty nice view of the entire area.

On the way back to the bus we lucked into seeing a porcupine up-close climbing a tree. Boy was it ugly.

We split up when we arrived back in town so we could go to Tracy's King Crab Shack for lunch. Order at the counter, find a seat, and wait for the food to be brought to you. The crab legs were humongous and delicious.

We did not have too much time in town given our early cast-off time. We spent our remaining hours visiting the Alaskan Brewing Co. store, picking up glacier soap, and deciding that we didn't have enough time to walk to the distillery. We did have a beer in the Red Dog Saloon while listening to the dirty old man piano entertainer.

Before we waited on the long line to board the ship we saw the crowd-pleasing memorial to Patsy Ann, a dog that used to welcome incoming ships. Every native we talked to told us it was a must-see.

Once we weighed anchor we were on our way to Ketchikan. We were treated to some great views and a humpback whale giving us a goodbye wave.

We have a short video from our whale watching trip:


Alaska Post Link


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