Category Archives: Canada 2017

Homeward bound

Our last days in Seattle saw us out on the buses to Ballard. This is quite a famous spot because it is the location of a sophisticated set of locks that connect the salt waters of Puget Sound with the fresh water of  Lake Washington. Lake Washington and the streams that flow into it are prime salmon spawning grounds. The locks were constructed in the early 1900s to allow the transport of timber, minerals and agricultural production to Seattle’s seaport.

The locks between Puget Sound and Lake Washington

There is a small lock for pleasure craft, lift bridge in the background.








A big lock for large transports

To build the locks the water level of the lakes had to be lowered by about 8 feet but still kept about 20 ft higher than the Puget Sound sea waters. This height difference together with the digging of a basin on the lake side keeps the salt water from mixing with the fresh water of the lake. Any salt water entering the lake, being denser than fresh water, sinks into the basin and is then ‘drained’ back into Puget Sound. Quite cunning, but it is a bit more complex than this and uses a few other gadgets as well. Allthego and Homealone have been on boats through quite a few fresh water locks; but these ones are different in that, because sea water is denser than fresh water, when the locks open to let you out the sea water side is a bit lower than the fresh water side and a ‘little river like’ flow of fresh water comes into the lock. It’s not just a smooth exit. Also, traditionally you need to throw lines to the top of locks when going upstream and then pull them in as the water level rises in the lock. This can be a bit of a challenge. These locks though have ‘rising’ bollards attached to the side of the lock, so you just tie up to them and they also go up the side of the lock as the water comes in, no pesky tossing of lines and the fun and games of hanging on as the water comes in. They haven’t forgotten about the salmon either as on one edge of the locks a salmon ladder has been constructed. There are over 20 steps in the ladder and a section of it has glass panels so you can view the salmon making their way up into the lake water. As well as salmon we saw a number of commercial and pleasure craft, including a kayak, transit the locks.

and canoes can come in too

Beside the locks is a salmon ladder, about 20 steps up










Back at the Seatlle Centre we were into more culture at the Chuhily Glass Gardens. Chuhily is a famous glass blower from Seattle who has a whole team of glass blowers that work on big exhibitions of blown glass. He has had exhibitions in various parts of the world. The displays are quite stunning and awe-inspiring. He specializes in garden representations, not only glass gardens but also real ones with his works as centre pieces.

Chihuly Glass , huge flower like thing in front of building holding another sculpture hanging from the roof.

Chihuly Glass garden









Chihuly Glass

Chihuly Glass, somethings








The weather in Seattle has been kind to us. Warm sunny days, a bit of a change from the chill of Fairbanks a few days earlier. Our time though in the north-west has drawn to a close and we have moved south to Houston to have some days with Mitchell and Piper, before heading home to Brisbane. They are both well having seen off the hurricane. The weather in Houston is now fine, hot and humid.

It has been a great trip, we are a little weary though and looking forward to unpacking and doing the washing early next week in Brisbane.




What lies beneath

We have ventured out again on the buses to Downtown Seattle to check out the waterfront area.

Seattle is physically a relatively new city. The entire nineteenth century central business district fronting the waterfront was constructed of mostly wooden buildings and was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1889.  In rebuilding the city after the fire it was decreed that all new buildings had to be made of brick or stone. The dilemma in this is that the area was really a very marshy locale and had to be ‘dried out’ and built up to support the new buildings and streets. So a plan was devised to progressively ‘fill in ‘ the streets between the new buildings, effectively raising them by one level. Walls were built alongside the buildings and at street ends  and soil washed into the voids. Streets ultimately occupying the top-level. This story can get quite involved with all sorts of tales about the shops that lay beneath the streets. We traipsed off on the Underground Tour to hear all about this story. The tour took us down into the walkways between the buildings and the ‘street walls’ and you can still see the shop front windows and town infrastructure of water pipes and footpaths. All very interesting but too much detail is a little tedious for your readers Homealone reminds Allthego. So we went back to the topside for lunch. On the topside the footpaths still have these glass panels embedded in the concrete, they are the means by which light got into the underground walkways.

What lies beneath?

We had lunch in one of the waterfront cafes. Allthego had clam chowder followed by some fish n chips, Homealone had some prawn skewers. Now Allthego is rather partial to fish n chips and has been carefully weighing up the offerings he has had on this trip. First of all the standout has really been the crab cakes, all the ones he has had have been rather tasty. Light and fluffy. The crab really flavoursome. Salmon of course is also big over here. Some nice salmon dishes have been had. Baked with a maple syrup glaze particularly good. Sometimes it has been overcooked and gets a bit dry. But the standard fish n chips have generally been very marginal at best. On the menu more seems to be made of the virtues of the beer batter and tartare sauce than the fish. Invariably the fish is a piece of some nondescript Pacific or Atlantic cod. Generally solidly cooked so the batter is very golden brown and super crunchy, the fish becomes dried out and flakey, held together on your fork by the tartare sauce. The fish generally appears on the plate shaped a bit like a Christmas Bob Bon, ready to be popped open. Aussie fish n chips far superior!

The waterfront area is in the grips of redevelopment. The whole streetscape looking back from the harbour is consumed by a double-decker concrete viaduct carrying traffic through the city. There are  traffic lanes underneath it as well. Looks awful, a bit like the Cahill Expressway across Sydney’s Circular Quay. The powers that be are in the process of building a pretty big tunnel underneath the viaduct. When the tunnel is finished the viaduct is to be knocked down and the waterfront redeveloped. Should be good. Being home to Microsoft and Amazon all the creative tech types will be able to sit in the parks and dream up new apps to clog our Iphones.

From the Smith Tower, the Space Needle is at the end of Second Avenue

Smith Tower, 1914










Pikes Market, is the towns tourist trap. Full of the typical market stalls and vendors. Interesting stop by the fish shop. All sorts of fish, crabs etc on display.

Moving on we went up the Smith Tower. The Tower was built in 1914 and at the time was the fourth tallest skyscraper in the USA. It has recently opened up its top level as a viewing platform. This tower is  new competition for the Space Needle, which we didn’t ascend. The Smith Tower’s advantage over the Space Needle ( although much taller) is  in having an open air viewing platform. Great views are had of the street scape and harbour. Unfortunately, snow-capped Mt Rainier which towers over Seattle could not be seen because it was obliterated by smoke haze from the wild fires.


Piles of salmon at Pikes Market

These make great crab cakes








It had been a long day in the city and we welcomed the ambience of the Inn on Queen Ann……….


Sleepless in Seattle

Even though we had gone to bed at 9.30 it was still grim having to get up at 2 am to get ready and then drive to the airport for a 6 am getaway from Fairbanks. The day before I had planned to top the car up with petrol before returning it to the hirer but encountered a most unusual problem. The petrol tank did not want to accept the fuel. You would squirt a bit in and it would squirt it back out at you, even though it was half empty. The station attendant couldn’t get it to work either. We went back to the hirer and rather sheepishly told them the issue, some looks of disbelief. But to their credit they accepted my explanation and we ended up with no charge for petrol. A small bonus.

Inn on Queen Anne


We arrived in Seattle at our hotel around 12.30 after catching the train from the airport and then the monorail. Usual problem of not being able to get in until 3pm so it was off on a wander around the Seattle Centre. This is a collection of all sorts of Arts types buildings, eateries, park land etc. The Space Needle is here as well. Our hotel is well positioned, only being about 5 minutes away. We are in the Lower Queen Anne district of the city. This is an older area,  but is being reinvented as a ‘hip’ area for the arty and creative types.  All sorts of restaurants around here, food from around the world. It still has a little grimy gritty edge to it though, however we feel quite safe wandering through the neighbourhood in the evening.

Fremont Bridge

Fremont Cut, looks towards the locks








Our hotel is a typical construction of the area. It is a bit old,  tired and worn. Quite clean and comfortable though. Appears to have survived the various earthquakes and shakes Seattle gets periodically, walls have cracks in them and floors are uneven. There have been a lot of cover up jobs done! So we go off to dinner and then take in another Shakespeare performance, Julius Caesar. The Seattle Shakespeare company are starting their season off and we have stumbled into it. It was an unusual costuming experience. It started in modern dress (was it a ‘Trump like effect’?) and as the play progressed, particularly after intermission, the actors reverted to Roman attire. It was explained that this was to show that the struggle for power is ageless. The company is also big on ‘diversity’ in its casting, so we have more female roman soldiers than male. There are  white, black and Asian actors in the mix. Females portraying male lead characters etc. The irony in this is of course that in Shakespeare’s day males played the female roles. Despite this Allthego did not find it a satisfying performance, seemed to be overtly political edge as well. Then Seattle is a very Democrat town!


This barrel has been coming to the festival for 10 years









The following day we were off on a local bus out to the Fremont area, another one of those ‘hip’ places, the bus takes about half an hour to get there. Fremont sits beside the Fremont Cut which is part of the Washington Ship Canal (built in the early 1900s) that links the Pacific Ocean (Puget Sound) to the freshwater of the large inland  Lake Washington. The reason for going to Fremont is to visit the iconic Fremont Oktoberfest, held over 3 days traditionally in late September.


Texas Chainsaw pumpkin carving competition, Green Lantern in action

It is not a particularly ‘grand’ setting, set around two streets. But there are the usual beer stalls and American takes on German sausage and sauerkraut and other things German. There are the local favourites , hot dogs and curly chips. We are there on ‘family day’, not that there are many families. It is a well controlled event though with no overly disruptive or excitable attendees. The Texas Chainsaw Pumpkin Carving completion between Batman, Green Lantern and the Tuck Shop Lady is entertaining. The tuck shop lady wins. The banter is more important than the carvings……


Duck trip

Seattle skyline from Union lake aboard the Duck








After a couple of hours  we head back to town and a trip out in a ‘duck’ for a city tour and a ‘swim’ in Union Lake. This was a bit of fun with some interesting commentary. We sighted the location of the building where Sleepless in Seattle was filmed. A fitting end to the day.

Denali and Fairbanks

As we have travelled north it has got noticeably cooler and some of the woollies are coming out of the bags. Unfortunately, the weather has also turned cloudy and  wet to go with the cold. We arrive late in the morning and settle in at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge beside the Nenana River for the night. This lodge is also closing tomorrow so we are here for one night.

The Princess Bus

Along the road to Denali. The yellow/orange leaves along the edge of the road are willow. Favourite food of moose.









Allthego had made arrangements for a water rafting expedition down the canyon section of the river in the afternoon. Homealone avoided this and was going to hang around the lodge and await Allthego’s return. Allthego hasn’t been rafting for many years, the last time with Mitchell on a river near Coffs Harbour maybe 25 years ago. There was only one other person in our raft that had also previously done it. So the guide really wound everyone up with tales of being tipped out and how to survive in the river etc. We had a few oohs and ahs along the way. Allthego held tight to a cold bar. It  rained a bit and water splashed into the raft as we bumped our way down the river. The trip down the canyon took a bit over 2 hours and we went through about 10 rapid sections, grades 2 and 3 with one 4. I think 6 is he highest rating. They were pretty tame but a good experience. The guide said that because we were late in the season the water levels were down and the rapids were not quite as vigorous as earlier in the season. The river is fed by glaciers and is very silt laden, apparently there are few if any fish because of  the heavy silt content. We finished up back at the lodge around 5 pm for dinner and bed.

River rafting on Nenana River. Allthego front left.


Made it out of the hole









It was to be a 6 am start the next morning with a tour out into Denali National Park. We had another chilly start when we set off in the National Parks Service bus and accompanying guide. Because of the weather the outlook from the bus was bleak.  The trip takes us past the tree line and looking out of the window you can feel how vast  and remote the park is. We don’t get a view of Denali because of cloud cover. No animals. It would be good to see the park at another time of year in warmer weather. Back at the lodge it was a quick lunch before boarding the bus to head for Fairbanks.


This was a big moose

Landscape in Denali NP








Fairbanks was to be the end of the road for us on the way north. It is about 180 miles south of the Arctic circle. In contrast Hobart, in Tasmania, is 1630 mile north of the Antarctic circle. We had 2 nights here in Fairbanks at the Princess accommodation before it too was closing for the season! We then left our fellow cruislings for another couple of nights in town. The major attraction in Fairbanks are the Northern lights, they are completely natural of course and although predictable to a certain extent, seeing them is weather dependent. If there is cloud then there is no seeing the lights. Fairbanks is a prime spot for the experience. The day we arrived the night skies were clear but we sought of overlooked going out ( feeling too ragged in other words to make it) thinking we had another 3 nights to do it. Guess what? The next 3 nights were cloudy so no lights! Maybe there will be another time or place to see them.


Along the road to Fairbanks

The Princess people had arranged a couple of tours for us to catch some Fairbanks sights. First up was an old  Gold Dredge historic site just out-of-town. Gold dredges were apparently an invention of our Kiwi mates in the late 1800s. They were used to mine alluvial gold in streams or on  ancient river flats. Enormous quantities of water were required to blast away overburden material, the dredge then scooped the gravels up, washed them and extracted the gold from sludge along washing boards. Quite efficient at a certain level but totally destroys the environment. Their use petered out after the 1920s as cost structures escalated and environmental controls made the method uneconomic. Haven’t heard of these machines being used in Australia and this is probably because of the large quantities of water required. Part of the experience here was doing some panning. Everyone was more or less guaranteed to ‘find’ some gold. We each got a small bag of gravel to wash, probably ‘salted’ with about $10 worth of gold. We dutifully found our gold and were then funnelled into a weighing room to ‘value’ it. We were then mined ourselves to put our small pile of gold into various styles of trinkets. The trinkets would have cost almost nothing and sold for a minimum of twice the ‘value’ of the gold. Some trinkets were like 10 times the ‘value’ of the gold. Quite a seductive little operation which got a fair few of us in.  Written off by  Allthego as an experience.

Gold Dredge 8

Homelone panning








$30 worth


Then off onto the Chenna River for a riverboat cruise, along the way seeing some indigenous life experiences, dog sled racing and general river scenery. An interesting feature of the Chenna River is that it freezes over to a depth of 5 or more feet in winter. Locals take advantage of this and make winter short cuts across the river on ‘ice bridges’, more than one driver has stretched the season out and sank into a chilly thawing stream.

Discovery 3 Paddlewheeler

Ice Bridge












Fairbanks is really a stepping off place to explore the wilds of the north. We hired a car for the last couple of days and drove around a bit, managing to get to North Pole to check out Santa’s Christmas operations . Santa was winding up operations for the season and doing some renovations to his premises in time for the Christmas rush period. Enjoyed a Big Mac here at North Pole McDonalds, tasted much like Big macs taste at other places.

At North Pole

McDonalds at North Pole







North Pole






It is now time to leave Alaska and head south on Alaska Airlines to Seattle where the journey continues, in hopefully warmer weather. On this part of the journey the internet has proved fairly slow at times and the blog is behind a bit. We are now actually back in Vancouver, having come up by train from Seattle. Tomorrow we head to Houston to see Mitchell and Piper, will catch up the blog when we are there. Have to rise at 2 am to get to the airport for a 6 am getaway, so it is to be early to bed.

On the way to Denali

We are now on our way north to Fairbanks. This section of the journey is an extension of the cruise arrangement up the Inland Passage. We are hooked into Princess Cruises travel and itinerary arrangements. So the train we get on in Anchorage for the first stage is a special train arranged for us being hauled by a big loco all ablaze with Alaska but pulling dome carriages ablaze with ‘Princess’. During this train trip we get the ‘usual’ views of pine studded snow-capped mountains and rushing streams. The Aspens are turning golden with the onset of fall and it is truly a great scene.

The loco

Denali from the train on the right








The train comes to a stop to allow us a chance to photograph Denali for the first time across a shallow river. A very impressive mountain. We alight the train at a town called Talkeetna, a bit over 100 miles north of Anchorage. It is in an ideal possie for tourists with another great spot  beside the river for Denali photo taking. A local tells us that today has been the best day of the season for seeing the mountain in relatively clear skies. After wandering around town and having  lunch at the local brewery we board a Princess bus bound for the Princess Mt McKinley Lodge, a further 30 miles up the Parks Highway and just inside the Denali State Park, not Denali National Park.

Denali at Talkeetna again on the right

Colourful moose








As my readers will know Allthego is rather partial to some fish n chips and in Talkeetna he had some of the best so far in the brewery and washed them down with a flight selection of the local brews. This was the best fish n chips so far on the trip. When the journey concludes in Seattle in a few days time there will be a reflection on the fish n chips encountered.

Fish n chips

Flight of local brew










We arrive at the Lodge around 5pm in time to book in and to go on a short trail walk through the forest. Homealone spotted a vole, a very small rodent like creature hiding in the grass. Too small for the blog unfortunately. There is another great view of Denali from the Main Lodge complex’s balcony.

Denali from Mt McKinley lodge

It is here we learn of the fact that the Lodge is closing the next morning for the season, 7 ft of snow fell around the lodge in the 2016 fall/winter season. It reopens in May 2018, just in time for the next cruise ship passengers heading north! This has a familiar ring to it! We are to be out early and on our way to Princess’s Denali Lodge another 120 miles north and  just outside the Denali National Park, of which there will be more next time!


We have a brief stopover in Anchorage on the way north to Fairbanks. Just enough time to have a short wander through the streets and catch a trolley tour of the town before hitting the pillow cases. Anchorage has a couple of claims to fame. The major one being the victim of a big earthquake in 1964, one of the main streets was split in half with one side dropping 15 ft or so, not sure whether the ‘facts of quantum ‘ here are totally correct. But we did see a section of bushland that had slumped by about that amount due to the quake, quite an impressive sight. The tunnel we had travelled through earlier was not affected. The other famous thing is Anchorage is the traditional start of the Iditarod dog sled race that goes for over a thousand miles into the north-east, takes over 20 days or so to complete. Sometimes the race has to start further north due to lack of snow in various sections. It is a big race, the Melbourne Cup of Alaska!

Driving to Anchorage, these trees died as a result of the Tsunami that followed the 1964 earthquake.

Further along the road to Anchorage









Anchorage and also the north-west coast of North America shares some common history with Australia. Captain Cook roamed around here on his 3rd voyage looking for the north-west passage. But Anchorage in particular really acknowledges his impact in a big way. There is a statue of him overlooking Cook Inlet, the point where he turned south to Hawaii after abandoning the north-west passage search. Our hotel the ‘Captain Cook, is adorned with all sorts of Cook memorabilia. Bronze busts, copies of famous portraits, an original copy of the book that was published of his voyages, maps and even a copy of the Kangaroo painting are all over the place.

Capt Cook looking out over Cook Inlet

Starting line for the Iditarod dog sled race











Sea plane airport, sea planes everywhere

The town has all the usual tourist traps. One in particular was interesting. It sold ‘wool’ and various knitted up items from the Muskox. Proceeds benefit the indigenous people from the north who collect the  ‘wool’  during the short period when the Muskox shed it. It is not cheap $US90, about $A120, for one ball of it. Homealone was consequently reluctant to acquire a ball to add to her collection of crafty projects in hand. A modest jumper would require about 16 of these and end up at around $1920…….

This little shop sold all things Muskox

Homealone with the gang








The next day we will leave by train to head for Fairbanks.  Along the way we overnight  a couple of times to view (from various angles) Denali, formerly Mt McKinley. It is North America’s largest peak at 20,320 ft and is claimed to be quite a sight! There are of course a few other things to do as well.





After landing in Whittier we disembarked the ship and boarded a bus to take us across the peninsular to Anchorage. Whittier is a very small village and had its origins in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour in WW2|The Americans wanted to establish a deep water ice-free port to act as  a base for part of its Pacific fleet, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour they wanted to disperse the fleet as a tactical measure. Whittier was an ideal spot it seems in part because of the lousy weather. A lot of days of extensive low-level cloud cover provided ideal protection from attack. But it was cut off from Anchorage by a ‘big rock’ and a 2 and half mile tunnel had to be cut through the mountain. Today it remains a one lane tunnel which doubles as a train line and vehicle passage. It goes one way at the ‘top of the hour’ and the other way at the ‘bottom of the hour’ there is a wait in between for the gases and smoke to be cleared out. Interesting experience queuing up for the trip.

Black Bear

Stitka Black tailed deer








Along the way to Anchorage we stop for a visit to an animal protection place where a selection of the Alaskan icons are on display in an open range situation. So if you don’t see them in the wild well you get a good look at them here.










The Caribou are a particularly  scary beast our driver said……… ‘Cari-boo’…………, very funny………….perhaps. Caribou are actually wild reindeer it seems, the reindeer is a domesticated version of the same beast.  Also, as we all know, reindeer fly and caribou don’t.










After an hour here we headed off in the bus to Anchorage and the Captain Cook Hotel for the night.


Our final two days at sea have us heading north by north-west out of the Inland Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska. First viewings of the glaciers are in Glacier Bay, the day is heavy with cloud which covers the tops of the mountains on either side of the Bay. At the start it’s wet and rather cold, beanies and weather jackets on but as the morning advances it clears up a bit. Still no blue skies for those postcard like views one sees in the travel brochures, apparently the weather we have is more the norm. The glaciers though are still impressive and the quiet misty waters surrounded by mountains really emphasises that we are in a quite remote and special part of the world. Our big ship moving very slowly around the Bay seems out of place, an invader if you like!

Another cruise boat leaving Glacier Bay , only room for one boat at a time.

Entering Glacier Bay








We get to the end of the Bay in front of the Margerie Glacier and the ship does a slow 360 pivot several times so that all can get a good view of the scene. Many of the glaciers in the bay are clearly in retreat up their valleys, others seem to be close to having their noses crawl out of the sea. No more pieces breaking off and plunging into the water. There is one though that is still advancing, the Johns Hopkins Glacier. Apparently it is fed by part of the Ice field on Mt Fairweather which still gets enormous quantities of snow each year.  Mt Fairweather was named by Captain Cook on his 3rd and final voyage when he was searching for the long hoped for North West Passage across the top to Europe. Unable to find it he turned back near present day Anchorage and headed south for Hawaii.

Margerie Glacier at the end of Glacier Bay

Margerie Glacier up close








We leave Glacier Bay around lunchtime and head across the Gulf of Alaska. Our next viewing is in College Fjord late in the afternoon the next day. College Fjord is found not far to the south of Whittier which is our final port and where we leave the ship for the land journey  to Fairbanks. College Fjord and many of the glaciers along side it are named after the famous American Universities. So at the end of it is Harvard Glacier, Yale Glacier is beside it.

Mt Fairweather at left pokes its top out of clouds


Smith Glacier comes down beside the Harvard Glacier into College Fjord

Ice cave in Smith Glacier up close








Harvard Glacier was responsible for carving out College Fjord, before retreating and having its valley inundated. A number of the glaciers are still well in the water and are known as tide water glaciers. All of them though are receding and one wonders how long the current scene will persist? It has been pretty gloomy and cold in College Fjord as well. At the end of the Fjord we do a few half pivots in front of Harvard Glacier and a little patch of blue sky appears above the glacier. Not for long though!


Iceberg in the fjord, carrying some moraine rock along for the ride

Harvard Glacier at the end of College Fjord, this mighty glacier carved out College Fjord








We now head off to Whittier and the end of the cruise early on the following day.

We’re going on a bear hunt

We’re going on a bear hunt

We’re going to catch a big one

We’re not scared

What a beautiful day



We are still at Skagway and are off on a tour to see if we can see some wildlife in the wild. Particularly a grizzly bear or two. We have seen black bears and a grizzly (brown bear) would be good. Now a grizzly is very distinguishable from a black bear because it has a hump on its back behind its head. Its snout is also a bit longer. It is also a bit more aggressive if annoyed, challenged etc.

We are off to Haines which is a town on an inlet about a 45 min boat trip away from Skagway. There is a small river here that runs down into the bay. It is a spot were the salmon run. And the salmon are running strongly when we arrive. Our transport heads up the river and stops for all to alight to check out the river and the salmon, there are lots of sea birds flocking around and the salmon are going this way and that.

Salmon thrashing around, some going up stream to spawn, others have spawned and are dying.


The ones that haven’t spawned yet are heading up-stream and the ones that have spawned, well they are dying and thrashing around in the shallows and pooling against the river bank. On the bank itself we have to be careful where we tread as there are lots of dead salmon lying around on the ground. Bellies slashed open and innards exposed. These have been the victims of bears it seems.

Dead salmon, quite an odour along the bank.

Victim of a bear








Bears like to eat the roe of the yet to spawn female salmon and don’t worry too much about the other parts, so just leave them lying around to rot away. Apparently, a bear can pick the female salmon from the male salmon and so the male may well feel more secure in his travels. Comforting thought if you are a male salmon.

We then come across evidence of bear, a modest size bear paw print in the muddy bank. There is a lot of interest shown in this bear paw print by our fellow travellers. Cameras are working hard.


Bear paw print


THEN someone gets excited and calls out BEAR,  and on the other side of the river this grizzly comes out of the brush beside the river and proceeds to gaze at the stream. Then with a bit of a splash she wades into the water and starts chasing fish around. Our guide lets us know that this grizzly is about 2 and a half and is ‘learning’ how to fish. For about 40 minutes we follow this bear up and down the river as she chases salmon around the shallows. She is sometimes up to her neck in the water and at others plunging around after fish. Quite a show.

A grizzly (brown) bear out fishing

She got up to her neck in the stream.








Our guide said that the bear would have known we were around watching the performance, but being on the other side of the river was not in an insecure place. So she was quite happy to put on a show for us! We lingered a while watching this inter play of nature before heading back down to the river mouth to see some seals patrolling the river mouth and eagles flying around cleaning up fish pieces drifting by into the bay. We finally headed back to Skagway for an 8.30 sail away.

We are now at sea for a couple of days making our way north-west to Anchorage …………… but before reaching it we will check out a few more glaciers. You could well ask whether once you have seen a few glaciers do you have to see any more? Only time will tell it seems!


Juneau and Skagway

Well the reasonably good weather has continued for us as the journey continues north up the Inland Passage. We have an early start in Juneau. This city/town is the State Capital of Alaska, it is unusual in that it is landlocked. There is no way in except by sea or air, no roads out! In the morning we are off on a tour taking us to the Mendenhall Glacier. This is not far out-of-town and is a major attraction as you can almost walk up to the nose of the glacier, although with it retreating the nose is getting further away. It is an interesting walk through the rainforest to get to one of the viewing platforms.

Temperate rainforest walk


Bears go for these with great enthusiasm.










Along the way there are markers indicating where the nose was in years gone by, the first marker is 1916 and it is a fair way back from where the glacier is now. What is fascinating is how the forest has reclaimed the area vacated by the glacier. At the 1916 point there is a very significant area of rainforest which slowly ‘thins’ out as you move towards the viewing platform.

Point where the Mendenhall Glacier nose was in 1916. So the forest here is about 100 years old.

Mendenhall Glacier nose. Rock on right has been exposed this summer.









Leaving the glacier we then head off to the harbour for the second half of the trip out onto the water to search for a few whales and other sea life. The group is led by a photographer who passes on photo taking technique tips. We search around the waterways and eventually find a couple of humpbacks entertaining the crowds in a number of boats with fluke waves and dives. We also sight a ‘gang’ of harbour seals lying on a beach and some Stella sea lions that have taken over a buoy.

Whale tail

Stella sea lions








Back in Juneau for the afternoon we do our usual wander around the town. As well as eyeing off the usual  eateries and souvenir shops it sinks in that there are numerous jewelry shops in these towns. It transpires that many of them are actually owned by the cruise ship companies and that is why they get the never-ending plugs on board the ship. We avoid them.

Juneau’s is Alaska’s State Capital

Very popular place near the port in Juneau.











Next stop along the way is Skagway. We have another long all day stop in this town which was the step off place in the 1890s for the thousands who headed off on the trek to the Yukon during the gold rush period. It was a pretty treacherous trip (500 mile?) up and over the coastal mountain range and then along the Yukon River to Dawson City in Canada.  Many of the buildings in the town are preserved structures from the late 1800s and the National Parks service look after them.


Skagway’s main street

This engine was used to clear the snow from the track up to Whites Pass and beyond.









We took the easy way up in a small bus and fog to Whites Pass and the Canadian border, it’s about 3,000 ft up the steep route. The road follows in part the old railway which fellow cruislings are doing aboard the train. The train doesn’t stop for pictures, so in some ways the bus is an advantage in that we stop along the way and are able to take in the atmosphere of the place. It also allows us to reflect on the journey the gold seekers endured a hundred and thirtysomething years ago. It was a bit chilly up there too!

At the border

The train crossing a canyon on the way up to White Pass

A the top of White Pass, a clear patch amongst the fog




We headed back down to the ship and lunch on board, after which it was off on a late afternoon wildlife expedition. It would see us back on board around 8 o’clock for the sail away. The amazing events of that wildlife expedition though must await the next blog.