Well, by now I was thoroughly relaxed, and quite aware that this wonderful vacation was quickly coming to an end. The days might be 20 hours long, but this old body still needed sleep each night. This morning, we decided to have breakfast on our balcony, delivered by room service, as we inched our way between islands to Ketchican, Alaska’s southernmost town, and considered one of the rainiest places in North America. As has been our luck on this holiday, we had another bright, sunny, warm day. Approaching the town, located on an island, we saw beach front housing that was more modern in style than many of the places we’d seen in other ports. The guide book said this place had a climate similar to Scotland and Northern Ireland, but today, it was all clear skies. This was probably the busiest of the ports we’d entered with fishing boats and float planes occupying the waterway with us. We weren’t the first ship into port that morning, and watching the captain parallel park a thousand foot ship was awesome. I can’t even get into the parking space in one move with the car, and yet, he slid that boat in there so easily…
From our balcony, we looked out on the dock area. Since our only pre-booked excursion was late in the afternoon, a bus tour of the town and Saxman Totem Park, one of the many local sites where one can see standing heritage Totem poles, we had lots of time to spare and planned to just walk around and take in the various sites. We figured we’d find a saloon for lunch and go from there.
The first place we visited was the Visitor Center. When we’d been in Anchorage, John had wanted to take a float plane ride. Needless to say, the center was full of vendors offering that service and, while I was a little leery, i agreed to go on a float plane excursion to Misty Fiords. The plane would leave within the hour, so we just hung around and waited to be picked up with the others who’d be in our plane. We took in some of the sites nearby. This bronze statue was the place where we’d be collected. They have a large thermometer there that measures the amount of liquid sunshine (rain) they get each year. This year, the rainfall was much lower than it should’ve been. Since the only way to get in and out of Ketchikan is by boat or plane, they don’t have the problem with salt on their roads like we do. We saw a number of beautifully maintained vintage cars parked along the streets.
All of these things kept me distracted so i couldn’t think about the float plane ride. Let me be frank, I’m not a good flyer, and the thought of going up in a small plane scared me, but everything was happening so fast, I couldn’t dwell on it. We’d spoken to people who’d taken float plane and helicopter rides in other ports and they’d described their experiences, and as much as I was afraid, i was also excited about what I might see. Misty Fiords National Monument is a remote wilderness area that is protected. It can be accessed only by float or bush plane and by boat, although the rough terrain makes exploring it on foot treacherous at best.
The driver collected us and took us to the Taguan Air’s docks. After a quick safety video, we left the building and headed for the plane with out pilot, Jesse, who reminded me of Hawaii 50,’s Steve McGarrett. Feeling a little more confident now. And we’re off!
One of the things I’d hoped to be able to do when I was on this trip was scout out a potential setting for the last book in my Harvester Series, and man, when God delivers, He delivers. The plane took off so smoothly, we were airborne before I even noticed it.
There are no words to describe the incredible, awe-inspiring scenery that unfolded beneath me as the plane followed its flight path. This plane carried seven people–the pilot and six passengers. We were all equipped with headphones and Jesse described what we were seeing as the land beneath us came into view. Here are some of the photographs I took.
What I didn’t expect was for him to land on the lake and let us out of the plane. LOL The landing was so smooth, I hardly noticed it. I was too surprised to be scared. What a rush!
I don’t think I ever really appreciated how beautiful this planet is. Seeing all this pristine water, mountains, and trees made me think of how beautiful my own country must’ve been when the only ones living here were the indigenous people and the wildlife. The Monument is home to bears, mountain goats, and other animals while its waters provide shelter for all kinds of whales and other marine mammals and fish.
The pilot herded us all back into the plane and we took off again, as smoothly as we had earlier, for the flight back to Ketchikan. We’d seen other planes on the fiord with us and soon we were all back in the air. Jesse commented on how clear the day was, one of the best he could remember. He’d probably be flying seven trips before the day was done. he noted that on many days, the conditions were too poor to fly so we were amongst the lucky ones. When our boat had been in the previous week, they hadn’t been able to fly. I considered myself very fortunate to have had this opportunity. This tiny outcropping is probably one of the oldest rocks in North America. While you can’t see them in the picture because of the distance. there were sea otters cavorting in the water near the tip.
Once we landed, we were driven back to the dock area, but that had to have been the most remarkable 2 hours of my life.
At this point, I need to say what a shock it was to learn of the nine people killed just one week later on a similar expedition. My heart goes out to the families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Life is short, as we realized when we heard the news. It has made me look at a lot of things differently.
When we got back to town, we found a saloon, as we’d planned and had lunch. Chowder in a bread bowl for John and salmon for me. This place was as outlandishly decorated as the other saloons we visited had been,and boasted a Johnny Cash lookalike singer. The food at the Fish Pirates Saloon and the drinks were delicious. I opted for one of the bar’s signature cocktails. When we finished eating, we had just enough time to get back to the dock to board the bus for our planned excursion. The day would certainly be one for the books! The bus was an old-style trolley, and we were fortunate to have a driver who was aboriginal and thus knew a lot about the area and it’s background. She took us by creeks famous for salmon that were too low for the salmon to navigate, something of great concern. She explained how the various totems were carved and described some of the myths behind them, myths that may well make it into a book at a later date. I was especially enchanted by the one of the Tlingit princess and the frog shaman. She also explained about the totem of shame and the potlatch. It seems when someone threw you a party, you were supposed to reciprocate, and if you didn’t that brought shame. Seward visited and the chief threw a great feast, but Seward didn’t return the invitation. Since only living things can adorn a totem pole, instead of a ship atop, the carver added a statue of Abraham Lincoln. The problem was, he only had a head shot to work with. The results show a mighty short president. The beautifully carved totems have suffered from the years of weathering, but it was easy to see the hard work and ingenuity that had to have gone into them. I enjoyed seeing the totems and if you look closely, you’ll see the frogs have been immortalized there too. From the village, we returned to the dock area where we learned a little more about Dolly’s House and the infamous Creek Street.
When the tour ended, we returned to the ship which would be leaving within the hour and sat on our balcony enjoying the herbal tea the steward provided daily. While we were watching,one of the participants in the Race to Alaska came into port and the Tlingit and local officials held a ceremony to welcome them. The winner had come in two days earlier, but these guys had to be up there in terms of their arrival. Don’t know if there were prizes for anyone but the winners. Our ship pulled away from the dock and headed out to the ocean and the last leg of the cruise–down the Inside Passage to Vancouver. This was our last stop in Alaska and I was really sad to say goodbye.
Tomorrow is our last day aboard the ship. See you then.