12 September 2007

Alaska: days 1 and 2

Transcribed from my travel journal, written aboard the Tanaina, largely on Resurrection Bay, Alaska.

9.5.07
Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. Young girl in front of me on the airplane (8-10 years old): “Wait! Is there electricity in Anchorage?”

Before I left Seattle yesterday, I vowed to eat salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so as soon as I arrived in downtown Anchorage, I set out to find some salmon for lunch. Settled on a little lunch spot (I don’t remember the name, but that’s no matter, since I don’t care to return), where I ordered a salmon salad sammie, and a cup of halibut chowder. The chowder was pretty good, but I’m increasingly sure that the salmon salad was actually white bread creamed with mayo and pink fish flakes, smeared between two more pieces of white bread. I am trying not to hold that sammich against the City of Anchorage.

Rented a bike, rode around the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Looked all around for moose, but saw none. I wonder if they saw me? Dear Friend arrived in Anchorage earlier than I expected, so she collected me along my bike route. We dropped the bike off—much to the alarm of BikeRentalGuy—we had tied it to the top of her truck. I helped Dear Friend with some errands, namely the installation of a bale of straw in the bed of her truck for her (very big) dog. We met up with a friend of hers for dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse, had a tasty amber ale there and half a pound of king crab legs. It was better than those silly blue crabs, but still not as good as Dungeness! So much for not eating anything but salmon on this trip!


nope, no moose here...


After perfect weather all day (clear and not-too-warm), it started to rain just as we left Anchorage. The rain didn’t last long, and soon it seemed to be just us, driving the highway along Turnagain Arm. The light had faded completely (as had the clouds) by the time we reached Seward and I was treated to a sky full of stars—the likes of which I haven’t seen for many years.
Once at Dear Friend’s house, I nested down on her air mattress with many warm layers (and my feet were still a bit chilly—socks on tonight!), and I awoke at about 4:00am to a perfect crescent moon shining in on me. Framed perfectly off-center in the window, it was so bright, it was squinting to look at it. Alarm woke me at 6:30ADT, but Dear Friend graciously hit the snooze button. Breakfast and walk with the dog.


Dear Friend suggested that I try one of Seward’s fjord/glacier/wildlife boat tours, since I’d have a chance of spotting some whales, and so I have.

Later, in Seward
And she was right! I boarded the Tanaina around 11:00 under clear skies and a comfortable cool. The tour took us south out of Resurrection Bay towards Fox Island, where we saw a pod of orcas (my untrained eye would say 12 to 15 individuals). We watched them (from a legal distance of about 120 yards) for a bit—they were surfacing and traveling. A large male was even spyhopping (a behavior more commonly associated with Gray whales) and floating his eyes above the surface, watching our boat carefully. As the boat returned to it’s regular route, I saw two young orcas (or the individual, twice) breaching (coming nearly entirely out of the water). I got all choked up—their white patches were not quite white, still a light grey. It was wonderful.
Shortly after that, the captain directed our attention to a patch of boiling water and rapid spouting, about 150 yards away. It was a group of Dall’s porpoises, who seem to enjoy swimming directly in front of these tour boats, as they will approach the cruising boats themselves. The captain passed by them, and when they didn’t join us, he circled the boat again to see if we could get the porpoises to “play”. They didn’t, so we moved on.

We passed Bear Glacier and Three Hole Point on our way to Aialik (eye-AL-ick) Glacier. At the glacier—a show unto itself, with creaking and calving sounds so familiar and so otherworldly at once—we saw a black bear roaming the beach and harbor seals floating on the ice. A sea otter served as the greeting and farewell committee as we traveled into and out of Aialik Bay.

The captain headed the boat over towards Harbor, Natoa, and Matushka Islands for some bird watching, but we got sidetracked by the tail slapping of a juvenile humpback whale. We observed him for a bit as he made a wide semi-circle around our boat, then headed out to the open ocean. We returned to our birding.

Bear Glacier...


I especially loved Three Hole Point.... Since they didn't already have one, I just submitted this photo to Google Earth to be included in their next update! I'll let you know if it gets selected!


Aialik Glacier...

a sea bird rookery, where we saw puffins, gulls and murres in the vicinity of Harbor/Matushka Islands


Once there, we saw both horned and tufted puffins, common murres (both of which are flighted relatives of the penguin), and a variety of gulls. In this area, we also saw Steller sea lions (different from California sea lions). The Stellers are expected to become extinct in the very near future, for reasons unknown to scientists. That fact alone made it sad to watch them, basking in the sun and barking occasionally, oblivious to the condition of their species.

Steller sea lions...

Horned puffins...

As we headed back to Seward, it had gotten warm outside (so long as you were wearing your hat and coat) and I was sitting out on the bow with two other gentlemen who chose to embrace the wind, rather than sit inside the cabin. To the starboard side, I spotted more of the rapid spouting that we had seen earlier, with the Dall’s porpoises. I pointed this out to the two men nearby, one of whom immediately jumped up and signaled to the captain, who turned the boat just slightly towards the creatures. In an instant, the porpoises were “charging” the boat! I was already planted on the bow of the boat, and before I knew it, sure enough, there they were, swimming directly under us, darting back and forth, staying just ahead of the boat. The captain told us that they are the fastest marine mammals ever recorded, being regularly clocked at 40 knots (that’s over 46 mph). It was so special, I got all choked up again. Finally, the porpoises headed off to do their own thing, and we sailed back to shore, where the captain assured us that this day of wildlife sighting and “total cloud failure” was atypical of this time of year.



Dall's porpoises swimming right off the bow of our boat! look closely, there's two in this photo...


Thoroughly pleased with my contribution to the Alaska tourism machine, I arrived home, took the dog for a walk, returned home again to Dear Friend (who had to work), and who then cooked us the very best salmon I have ever had. I had heard about how fresh Alaskan salmon is in a class of it’s own, and based on this dinner, I would have to agree.

11 comments:

Justin said...

Hi Andi!
This is Justin, your old friend from Humboldt. Miranda recently sent me the URL to your blog.

What great photos of Alaska! I want to go so bad.

I don't use a Blogger account except to sign in, but I have a blog on Livejournal -
http://jboyn.livejournal.com/

KnitMoka said...

Andi! Those pictures are gorgeous! Looks like you had a great time. Can't wait to hear about it.

goddess in the groove said...

Greetings!
I found you through my friend DJ Kirby's blog. "FrogHair" just called me :). What fabulous pictures. Alaska is a place I want to see before I am 80...

froghair said...

Hey Justin! I have actually lurked at your blog before (through Liz) -- I hope you and your best beloved are well.... And yes, get yer arse to AK -- it's breathtaking.

Knitmoka -- thanks! I did have a fabulous time, and I did some journalling that I will transcribe to the blog soon, I promise.

Goddess -- Nice to meet you! I hope you get to see AK too -- even if it's after you're 80. This was my second trip there, and I don't even remotely expect it to be my last. Husband hasn't ever been, and it is sooo close to Seattle...

DJ Kirkby said...

Hi. I loved your pics, stunning, just so beautiful! I could'nt see the bear though I looked real hard.

froghair said...

DJ -- nice to meet you! the bear (an adult black bear) is a distinct black dot on the righthand side of the picture, about halfway down from the top. I could bearly (ha!) tell it was a bear in person, except that it kept moving across the mountainside. I'll have more about the bear(s) when I write more this weekend.

Orangeblossoms said...

Wow. The porpoises are fantastic. But, I can't find the bear. I feel a little silly but I looked really, really hard. Maybe too hard-- like those fractile pictures? Remember them. Anyway, I met you over at Wayfarer's blog and love your photography and your craftiness....

Best, Orange

froghair said...

hi there Orangeblossom -- thanks for the kind words!

matte said...

SILLY blue crabs?!?! SILLY?

heehee. andi, the photos are wonderful, i can't wait to compare notes on amazing adventures! thanks for a nice writeup.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

I'm still bummed that your feet were still cold! Man, that floor could really use some insulation!!

froghair said...

Oh, Wayfarer, don't feel badly -- it's not like I was unprepared for cold toes in Alaska! And thanks for sending my rain pants (d'oh!) -- they arrived earlier this week. did you ever find the leash?