It proved to be a poignant moment never to be forgotten. My wife, Mary, and I were dining at Anthony's at the Harbor in San Diego. As we watched a Cruise Ship slipped its moorings, moved majestically out into the bay, then slowly and deliberately sailed into the late afternoon haze with a watery sun showing the way.
I said "maybe we will be on that ship next year". But I knew it would not happen since Mary was already showing the early effects of Alzheimer's and that wonderful trip to San Diego proved to be the last we ever took together away from home.
My Mary is gone now but time does move on and seven years later that cruise has taken place when her two sons, Jeffery and Brian, and I departed on Holland American's Amsterdam from Seattle for a seven day junket to Alaska with Mary in our hearts. It had been forty years since we were last in the northernmost State. In 1969 we left the San Fernando Valley in a 1960 Chevy Station Wagon, piled with camping gear, for the 3876 mile trip on the Alaskan Highway, then mostly gravel, to Fairbanks. But that memorable trip is now history.
Moving three people and luggage from Canoga Park to dockside Seattle proved much easier than expected. A tip of the hat to Judy Van Dyke of Camarillo Travel for this. At her suggestion we purchased our tickets with Holland American that included flights on Air Alaska. This made for a stressless two and one half hour flight, the baggage going directly from Seattle airport to our veranda stateroom aboard the Amsterdam plus an informational shuttle ride through Seattle.
Leaving Seattle we passed close to the mountains of the Olympic range to admire their snow capped peaks and slopes in sunlight that lasted and lasted.
Sunday was a relaxing day at sea with all in our party in need of some R & R. Brian had just completed an exhibition of his Fineline surfboards in an outdoor sports show while Jeff was finally taking a well earned break from art work on a new project with an unforgiving deadline.
We had a busy day in Juneau our first landfall. To start a full day of activities we took the Mount Roberts Tram to the top of the 1200 foot mountain. The view from the top puts Alaska's Capitol city on display with a grand panorama of surrounding mountains and water. The Tram is most convenient for cruise ship visitors since the bottom terminal is located very close to dockside.
Jeff and Brian stayed on top to try some of the scenic hiking trails that start from there. Also on top is a site featuring authentic Indian crafts as well as a restaurant and a free film on Indian history in the region.
Back in Juneau my first stop was Tracy's King Crab Shack. Here we had positively the best Crab Bisque we have ever tasted. Tracy opened her Crab Shack four years ago to instant success. It is located on Juneau's cruise ship dock next to the parking structure and features fresh Dungeness and Alaskan King Crab. We tasted, feasted is a better word, on both Dungeness crab legs as well as the memorable Bisque. Tracy's success is such that she now markets her crab via the internet with next day service to the lower 48 states, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is hard to image visiting Juneau without seeing the Mendenhall Glacier close up. The U.S. Forest Service has certainly done its part to make this a special experience. There are numerous hiking trails where animal life can be seen including brown bears feasting on salmon during its July run. We talked with Ranger Doug Jones who showed us photos that record how the glacier has receded in the last century. There is an excellent Visitor Center with graphic explanations on how glaciers are formed and their history. There is also a movie and trails for close up views of the Glacier with excellent photo opportunities.
We were too early in the season to see the spawning salmon in Steep Creek. During the salmon run the migrating salmon can be viewed from a live camera placed underwater. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center at 8465 Old Dairy Road in Juneau is open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. May thru September; Thursday thru Sunday from October thru April. Our day of touring also included a visit to Alaska Brewing. Here we met Nancy Woizeschke who told of the history of Alaska Brewing which started in the 1980s. Now Alaska Brewing makes seven brews including its most popular Pale Ale as well as the award winning smoked Porter. Visits to Alaska Brewing are often packaged as a part of tours that are booked on the cruise ships. Samplings of Alaska's seven brews, some of which vary with the season, are most generous with full glasses. We had to keep saying, stop, stop, to our hostess stressing that we were just tasting.
When the idea of starting a new brewery in Juneau in 1986 a party of 16 investors was formed, many personal friends, and the business prospered from day one. A hundred years ago there were four breweries in Juneau. The recipe for one beer, Alaskan Amber, dates back to one of the original nineteen century breweries.
Early on the brewery solicated volunteers in help in the production and there have always been ample people. Photos of these volunteers decorate the walls of the brewery. There is also an astonishing collection of beer bottles from almost every state in the union. Most of these have been sent by previous visitors to Alaska Brewing and the collection keeps increasing. Today Alaska Brews are marketed throughout the western United States, always in bottles.
We were also fortunate to attend a session of the Chez Alaska Cooking School in Juneau. Here Derrick Snyder, Chef Owner of two restaurants in Anchorage, showed a lively group of some 20 visitors how to prepare a warm pasta salad as well as pan grilled halibut. Romer and Laraine Derr started the cooking school four years ago seeking a new active occupation after long state government careers. For cruise chip visitors the cooking school classes are part of some organized Juneau tours. Visiting chefs from all parts of Alaska demonstrate their skills and recipes
Most of Alaskan cuisine naturally centers on the state's wonderful seafood resources including halibut, salmon and crab but also many other fish species. Naturally we got plates of Chef Derricks's creations which was accompanied with Lindermann's Chardonnay. Printed copies of Chef Derrick's recipes were given to all in attendence as well.
Our agenda for the day was suggested by Elizabeth Arnett of the Juneau Visitors Bureau which has its office almost dockside. If one needs any additional reason for a visit this is the 50th anniversary year of Alaskan Statehood and many special events have been scheduled. For more information on Juneau check out www.traveljuneau.com.
If you are interested in history you will enjoy Sitka. For it was here the Russians first established a European presence in the New World. There had been even earlier Russian explorations in the Aleutians and what is now Alaska but they arrived in Shee Atika (the Tlingit Indian name for Sitka) in 1799. It took five years of warfare before the Russians were firmly in control of Shee Atika.
When we arrived in Sitka aboard the Amsterdam our first destination ashore was the Sitka National Historical Park and Visitor Center. Here we were fortunate to meet Rangers Dusty Kidd and Tom Gamble. From them we learned much about not only the history but also the present in this bountiful region of the Northwest coast. First we looked at the twelve minute film that relates the history and natural riches of the region. Next a walking tour of the Park which includes many of the Totem Poles which have been a part of the Tlingit culture and tradition for centuries. This walk also gives one an excellent view and experience of what woodland in this part of Alaska is really like.
Fronting Sitka Sound the Visitor Center also has large tidelands where it is possible to wander about at low tide to marvel at the richness of the seaside environment. The day we were there dozens of small children with buckets were looking for shells and creatures in the tide pools. Inside the Visitor Center there are exhibits of Tlingit history and culture and actual Tlingit craftsmen can be seen at work with the results on exhibit.
The Sitka National Historical Park is Alaska's oldest federally granted in 1910 to commemorate the Battle of Sitka which took place on the site where Indian River flows into the sound. It is now part of the National Park Service. One of the oldest building in Sitka is Russian Bishop's House. It was completed in 1843 during the period that was Russia's 'Golden Age' in the New World. The Russian Orthodox Church played a major role in establishing a wary but peaceful transition between the Tlingit and the Europeans. Indeed the Orthodox Church still has many members in Alaska. Famous as a central figure in Sitka's history is Ioann Veriaminov who began his career as a priest who converted the Tlingit by recognizing and respecting their culture and way of life. He learned their language and then translated texts to their own language.
Later he was named Bishop Innocent and Bishop House was constructed by the Russian American Company for his use as headquarters for the flourishing Orthodox Church. The house continued as Orthodox Church property until the 1960s when maintenance was too much of a problem. In 1972 U.S. Congress authorized its purchase to become the property of the National Park Service. We visited Bishop's's House and took the tour with U.S. Ranger Samantra Cox as our guide. During the summer there are tours each half hour of Bishop's Quarters and private chapel.
Meanwhile Jeff and Brian decided to hike the Gavin Hill Trail Overlook, one of the most popular trails in Sitka. The trailhead is close to downtown making for easy access for both locals and visitors. Follow Barnoff Street from Market Center till it ends at the cemetery. There a posted sign indicates trail and mileage. This for people in good physical condition. Jeff and Brian reported the trail very steep often resorting to steps but great views from the top.
In Ketchikan our first stop was to the Visitors Bureau located dockside just steps from leaving MS Amsterdam. Here we met with Dragon London of the Visitors Bureau and she helped chart our day's activities. This day the three of us decided to stay together for a walking tour of historic downtown. For this we were provided with a well illustrated map.
Creek Street was in times long past where the saloons and brothels were located. The vice is long gone but the quaint buildings, many built on pilings, remain and Ketchikan Creek still flows through it as of old. Here we hopped aboard the Funicular Tram which offers easy access to trails that follow Ketchikan Creek. We were told by July each year the creek swarms with salmon returning from their sea journeys. Upstream there is a salmon fish hatchery. We were too early in the season to tour this hatchery but during the salmon migration it is a very busy place and tours are available.
At this point we moved downstream stopping to see the salmon ladder which enables the fish to move past a waterfall on their return to the hatchery. Next stop was the Museum and Library. The museum offers many photos of earlier eras and historic moments in Ketchikan history. There were even phots of a few of the Creek Street 'working girls'.
When you visit Ketchikan be sure to allow plenty of time for the Southwest Alaska Discovery Center. This describes the Tongass National Forest which, with seventeen million acres, is the largest in the U.S. Here we viewed a film of Alaskan Wildlife presented by the State's Fish & Game Department. Then there is the Rainforest Room which exhibits the trees that grow in the Tongass. Of great interest to us was the Native Tradition exhibits which displayed the tools, boats and utensils which a clever people had developed over thousands of years in the region. Another exhibit gives a history of the resources of Southeast Alaska since acquired by the U.S. including recreation, timber, fishing and mining.
For this Writer that concluded the walking but Brian decided he had to explore the Deer Mountain Trail. This begins at the Ketchikan Lakes Road. Time prevented him fro reaching the 3,000 foot summit but he did report sweeping vistas of Ketchikan and surrounding country. Ketchikan was a very busy place the day of our visit with five cruise ships berthed in a row at shoreline. The shopping and other activities of the City we left to others.
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