Saturday, July 26, 2014

Going to My Angry Place...

I awoke to a cloudy day in Sitka and took off for a 4 mile run. The town is so small, that this distance covered everything. I ran the totem walk and through the woods and ended up on the beach at low tide. At least a dozen eagles were hanging out on the driftwood looking for breakfast. I tried to get close enough to take pictures, but no luck. I didn’t want to harass the birds and I could tell they were not comfortable with my presence.

Totem walk - my morning jog.

The driftwood on the beach was loaded with eagles. The is only one piece.

A little closer.
Coffee bike cart down on beach...  I got to enjoy my walk back with a hot cup.
We visited the Rapter Center  - a rescue center for birds injured in the state. Unlike the bears, if these guys can fly, they are released back into the wild as soon as possible. Some birds are long term tenants – their wings too damaged to fly. Most of these birds have been shot – a lot of eagles and owls. I didn’t particularly care too much for this center. It seemed slick and robotic, set up to make money. The employees seem to be mostly young males bent on moving people through as quickly as possible (pack them and rack them). If you can only visit one of the animal places in Sitka, go to Fortress of the Bear. We had coffee with Becky from Sitka NHP and talked shop for a short bit.

Eagle with most of wing gone from shotgun blast. Bird center.
We drove to Old Sitka (NHL) at the other end of the road; this means Sitka, Juneau and Haines are all thoroughly explored. We ended our day with a walk on the beach and dinner at Ludvig’s. Oh my goodness – what a wonderful jewel in Sitka. If you can only eat one place in Sitka, this should be the one! 
Halibut and wine at Ludvig's

We passed gift shops that were actually selling sea salt to the tourists. Now this is better than moose poop... don’t you think? They had many flavors of sea salt.

Flavored salt for sale to tourists.

The residents of Sitka definitely have a thing for cross walks. They want to make sure you cross at the walk, not 15 feet on either side of it, or at some random location. They will stop and roll down their windows and tell you that you are not in a crosswalk. This phenomenon occurred numerous times; perhaps because many folks drive worse here than in Anchorage and there is genuine concern for your safety?  There was one particular exchange I’m not proud of since I let an individual draw out “Angry Judy”.  We were crossing a bank parking lot and this crazy maniac raced around us to park, cutting it uncomfortably close.  I got him to go from “buzz off lady” to “fuck you” in 10 seconds. I smiled sweetly.

This trip has been a little challenging for the digital photographs. Jazz inadvertently deleted all the photos she took of the Russian cemetery (first on her computer, second on the memory card). Although she didn’t swear like a truck driver – she is getting mellower as the years go one.  I washed and dried my memory card that contained all the totem pole images and my images from my recent Nome trip. I had forgotten it was in my pocket. Luckily, after an overnight dryout, my photos recovered fine. 

We boarded the ferry and headed back to Juneau. It was a nice easy trip with lots of walking and photo shooting.
fishing nets


A Day of Totem Poles

We started the day off with cappuccinos and crepes at Homeport. We road our motorcycles to Sitka National Historical Park to walk the totem pole trail. Sitka is small enough that you can park your bike while here and walk everywhere. We didn’t know this yet, but once discovered, we enjoyed being able to stretch out the legs. And walk /jog I did. I think while in Sitka, I put about 22 miles on the legs.

Sitka National Historical Park is the oldest national park in Alaska (set aside in 1890 to be a federal reserve). Near the main visitor center, there is a walk through a tranquil rainforest environment. Along this trail are 18 totem poles whose design originates from throughout Southeast Alaska. In addition, the fort and battle site for the 1804 battle between colonists Russians and Tlingit Indians is located here; the area is considered sacred by the native community. We started out very slow, enjoying every pole. I walked around every pole to admire it from all different angles – how the light hits it. The rainforest added to the beauty of the poles. It took me several hours to enjoy the poles. We walked back to the motorcycles and I happened to run into Joel Hard, the deputy regional director and Mary Miller the superintendent of the park. We chatted for a bit about Sitka in general (where to visit, what to see). I bid farewell to my coworkers and we moved on.

We then went out to visit Fortress of the Bears. This was an unusual place, and ended up being more pleasant than I expected. The site is located outside of Sitka in an old water treatment plant. The tanks have been converted to cage like containers for the bears. The bears housed here are orphaned or injured to the extent that they would not survive in the wilderness. The current bears are all orphaned bears where the mother was killed during bear/human conflict. If the bears are too small, they won’t survive. Once the critical opportunity to teach bears the skills they need have passed or the animals are used to human contact, they cannot be successfully reintroduced. They are destroyed instead.

Fortress of the Bears is a non-profit organization that tries to intervene and either keep the bear locally, or provide assistance in placing the bear in a zoo in the lower 48. When we came out here, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was pretty obvious the bears are happy here. They are well fed with salmon and berries, the water in the areas flows naturally and they even put live salmon in the water to allow the bears to catch them.  Because the competition for food is low, the bears tend to get along with each other and be pretty playful. I have never seen zoo animals as happy as these guys were. I guess it is better than the alternative.
Once finished with the bears we moved on to another National Historic Landmark by visiting the Russian Bishop’s House. Authentically restored to its 1843 appearance and includes many of the original furnishings and icons. The building is one of only four surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. The construction of the joints and walls are interesting.

 We had a late lunch at the Larkspur, which was wonderful food, but the service was so agonizingly slow that it impacted the overall meal. The late lunch, coupled with lots of walking meant there was no need for dinner. We did find a cute coffee shop called The Back Door. Gandhi was hanging out.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Castle on a Hill

We woke up on the ferry. Gorgeous patterns in the wake as we cruised into Sitka.

Wake from the ferry with reflection in Sitka Sound.
I have wanted to come and photograph the totem poles for some time, and also visit some of the National Historic Landmarks (NHL) in town. I used to work for cultural resources in the regional office, for the National Landmark program. I am very familiar with the history in this small little town.

We arrived in Sitka too early to check into our hotel, so we hit the ground running… first Castle Hill (an NHL), drove around the St. Michael’s Cathedral (NHL), walked around town, watched the fisherman fish, visited the Sheldon Jackson Campus (an NHL) and Museum, and an old Russian Cemetery. We finished the day of exploring by walking the fishing docks and admiring the ships.

Castle Hill or Noow Tlein (Tlingit) is a rocky hill that overlooks Sitka. The top of this location is significant to the history of this area. First the Tlingit, then the Russians built and lost forts in battle on this hill. It was on this very hill where the Russians lowered their flag and the American flag was raised, signifying US ownership.
At this ceremony in 1867, a dual cannon salute was fired. The Russian flag got stuck in the lanyards as they tried to lower the flag. Several soldiers tried to climb the pole with no success. Eventually they got it down, but once it was untangled, it fell, landing on the Russian soldier’s bayonets. The American flag was raised with no incidents, and Alaska became part of the United States. Today, there are no sign of forts, structures, or bayonets. Two cannons sit there, and the space is a grassy spot with a view.

1827 illustration of Castle Hill in Russian-controlled Sitka. The hilltop building was an imposing fortification on a hill overlooking the water and Tlingit areas. (Old Sitka, Alaska) by Postels.
Source: Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
The top of Castle Hill today.
In 1959, after Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state, Castle Hill was the location where the first 49-star U.S. flag in Alaska was raised.

Sheldon Jackson (May 18,1834 – May 2, 1909) was a Presbyterian minister, missionary, and political leader. His history and legacy in Sitka is very interesting, particularly his interest in education. He is interesting enough that he should have a blog post all about him, but instead I will mention where my interests are. Sheldon was a collector. An early scientist and ethnographer, he believed in preserving the material objects from all his travels. He traveled extensively in Alaska, and early. I wanted to go to the museum to see some of these artifacts that remain in Sitka. I was not disappointed. If you ever get a chance to get to the Sheldon Jackson Museum, it is definitely a must! Some of the best artifacts I have seen in Alaska are here. I purchased a couple of books on Sheldon Jackson and toured the museum.

Sheldon Jackson School

Center of the Sheldon Jackson Museum has 3 totem pole artifacts.
Collection cases in the museum.
 From the collection (I particularly like the masks):

We spent a good part of the afternoon enjoying the boats.

more boats...

I glanced at a map and noted there was an old Russian Cemetery in town and we opted to wander through there. What an amazing find. The cemetery was overgrown and was very lush. The Russian Orthodox cross was to be seen in many places, and someone had been planting flowers randomly in the cemetery. We later ran into the security guard who told us that she spends a lot of time in the place; she thought natural wildflowers growing would be respectful and add a touch to the graves, many long forgotten. The place was very peaceful and beautiful.
Russian cemetery
mostly forgotten graves
 Soon we will visit the totem poles... my primary reason for coming to Sitka, aside from the fact that I have done every other road in Alaska, and I am now reaching...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


So I started my trip with a wobble in the front end of my motorcycle. I have pretty much decided, after experimenting with repacking, that I am carrying too much weight in the rear and need to change the dynamics or lighten the load. Needless to say, every day that passes and I watch my toothpaste and shampoo stock decrease, I smile. I wonder how many times I need to brush my teeth before the wobble goes away. These are the things I ponder now… 

Our ship from Haines arrived in Juneau late at night and we drove straight to the Silverbow Inn in downtown Juneau. The ladies there were waiting for us; we were the last guests to check-in. They were very courteous and accommodating, and before I knew it we had committed to staying with them on the way back out. Check out was at noon, but our next Ferry didn’t leave until 1 am the following day. The Silverbow offered to let us hang out in their lobby until 11 pm. This was a good thing, since it would be easier and quieter than the ferry terminal. 
Silverbow Inn
We awoke fresh from quality sleep and headed over to The Rookery for a breakfast burrito. There was a small child running in circles and screaming at the top of his lungs. His feet pounded on the hard wooden floors. Jaz and I took bets on how many laps he could make… she said 3 (it was a large area), I said 5. The kid was still running at 7… I realized I had a headache. I considered pushing my chair out as he passed, then I considered punching his mother. I kept saying “chill out you are on vacation- relax” but I could feel myself getting twisted over the disrespect. By lap 11, I reached a peaceful place… imagining all sorts of nasty things happening to the child… I felt guilty for a short bit and then swallowed some Advil.

I fantasized about killing this kid...
Jaz realized she had forgotten her camera battery charger and since the mission was to shoot the totem poles in Sitka, we needed to track down one in Juneau or have her housemate overnight airmail it to Sitka. We wandered around looking at shops and it appeared that everything was closed. Eventually we figured out the town was running on cruise ship hours, which meant we killed a few hours waiting for things to open up. We found a charger and headed back to the hotel to grab the motorbikes and rush out to the Mendenhall Glacier. Once we learned that 4 effing cruise ships would be docking in town in the next little bit, we realized we wanted to stay ahead of the buses. Since the glacier would probably be a popular stop for them we rushed out to beat the crowd.
Peaceful streets of Juneau - no cruise ships but nothing is open.
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall was amazing, and the hike to the waterfall was beautiful. The water flow was impressive – I stood for a short period in front and the spray coming of the falls was so thick it was like being in a shower. There was a small pond where the waterfall was reflecting in the surface. No one saw it but Jaz. I commented to her that she is so observant. She notices everything in her environment, unlike me (who can stumble into all kinds of situations because I am not aware).  I’m trying to be more aware. It is easier when you are on holiday. The sun was shining, the sky was beautiful. Just as we got back to the parking lot, the cruise ship passengers arrived by the bus loads.
The valley below the glacier, notice the water line where the glacier water mixes with non-glacier water.
A reflection for the observant
Me enjoying the spray off the waterfall.
A not so subtle spray...
The fairies have landed.
 We then drove to the end of the northern road, Echo Cove, and someday probably the road to Skagway. The drive was amazing. We got hung up with road construction and another pilot car, but the wait was worth the view on the beach. There was a tree swing hanging on the beach that we both looked at but neither of us wanted to try (our girlhood ambitions have been swapped with the fear of hurting a back).
The forest is so lush here, Echo Cove.
Jaz enjoying the beach.
The swing we did not dare...
30 minute pilot car wait.
 Back in town, we headed over to Tracy’s for the best crab in town. The place was a zoo because of the ships, but the crab was wonderful as was the fresh on tap Alaskan Amber (brewed here in Juneau). We were so stuffed we needed to walk around town to burn of the crab.

Tracy's Crab Shacks
The Alaskan Amber beer girls.
Serious crab eating going on...
Very tasty, I had king crab
Best legs in town.
We stopped off at the hotel and read a bit before heading over to catch the ferry to Sitka. They lined us up in little rows (we were told to go to row 7), to pack you in the boat in a manner that allows easy departure based on destination. 

Row "7" to Sitka
And I thought I was heavy in the ass end..
 We were excited because we thought we were going to board soon. We ended up being the absolute last on the boat. We got the last room, and apparently the last towel (our room had only one). I was so tired by the end of an extremely long and busy day. I sat staring at my shoes. I noticed how busy they were and then I realized… I was AWARE of my shoes. 

Bikes parked inside ferry on deck.

My sleeping quarters to Sitka.

My shoes... I am aware of them.
Two kleenexes separate Princess Cruise Lines from the State of Alaska Ferry System!