Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Seven – Ketchikan Alaska

Today is our last port-of-call–the city of Ketchikan. Alaska. We were told that the name Ketchikan is a native word that means “Land of a thousand jewelry stores”. I’m not sure I believe that, but for the size of the town, they certainly have their fair share. They even have a Walmart. We did not go but I did overhear one of the passengers from the boat asking where to catch the “Walmart shuttle”.

We woke pretty much with the sun, as we have most of these mornings and found that we were pulling into the bay. Karen captured this lighthouse as we passed by.

We were told that Ketchican is in the world’s 2nd largest rain forest, the Tongass National Forest. It is actually the largest remaining temperate rainforest. That being the case, we should expect wet weather here. As we get nearer the port, it is certainly more green here than our last two ports.

And yet, the mountains and the clouds, open to show bits of blue sky as we progress through the channel.

Once we arrive in port we disembark for our tour.

This stop we have chosen the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary, Eagles, & Totems tour. It promised a “guided nature hike, bald eagles, Alaskan reindeer, native totem carver and historic sawmill, at an exclusive reserve by the forested mountains”.  Our nature hike lead us through parts of the rainforest with the guide explaining interesting facts along the way, for instance, this is skunk cabbage. The name itself is enough reason for me to not eat it though it can be eaten if prepared right. If it isn’t prepared correctly, you could die. So…

There are lots of red pine trees, some of which are decaying. This is actually good for the forest as the dirt here is very thin. The roots of the trees spread out, but without much depth, the trees can blow over in heavy winds. This rotting tree will help create more soil.

As you would expect in a moist environment, moss and other fungi readily grow.

Here, the moss and fungi are helping to break down a tree that has fallen into much needed soil and nutrients for other plants.

Pointing out how the root structures of the trees adapt to the shallow soil, our guide does some explaining.

This is also a wildlife sanctuary. Here we see signs of bear in the area! Maybe we’ll get lucky!

This beautiful flower is the “Chocolate Lily“. The “rancid smell and dark color of the flower attracts flies for pollination”, according to a sign here. I didn’t bend over to smell it.

The root system of the trees can also be used as a small den for bears in the winter. This one was empty at the moment.

Looks like someone didn’t prepare well enough for the winter. Ah, the circle of life.

Well, they did promise Bald Eagles here. This one was still quite a ways away, but I’ll take what I can get.

And then as we rounded a corner, the grand prize! A bear in the woods! This black bear was looking for food, and since they mostly eat vegetation and fish, we’re not too worried, but cameras are a snappin’!

One thing with nature photography, many times you take what you can get. The bear never came out for a nice clean portrait, but at least I got both eyes in this shot. The guide hurried us along so not too many people would be congregated in one spot. This was not a photography tour after all.

Another part of this location was a raptor rehab center. They had a few birds but of course I focused on the eagle. Just look at the talons on that thing! That’s a human hand it is perched on.

And even though it is a captive, I figure that the way things are going, this will be the only close-up shot I get of the eagle’s eye, so I take it.

They also have a gentleman here who is carrying on the native tradition of passing down stories through the use of totem poles. If you remember from day 1, these poles are used to tell stories, either historical or fiction. Each face represents a character in the story and the only person who knows the story is the builder. At least until the time comes to raise the pole in a ceremony, at which time he recounts the story to all who are there.

Once we left there, we headed back into town to see what Ketchikan was like. I told you that they get a lot of rain. This is their yearly rain gauge. In 1949 they had 202.55 inches of rain. According to this, last year they had about 170 inches! According to the sign, average yearly rainfall is 12.5 feet per year. That’s a lot of rain!

We hadn’t taken a lot of “tourist” shots, so here’s the Welcome to Ketchikan sign–“The Salmon Capital of the World”. I didn’t eat any salmon but I did have some fish-n-chips while here, but I ate those for the halibut.  LOL

A monument to the men and women who came here seeking their fortunes. Some found what they were looking for, many didn’t.

Our ship is almost the length of downtown. It strikes an imposing figure in the background.

And for many of the women who came, they ended up here, the red-light district of the gold rush. They even have a girl in costume at Dolly’s. Notice how the row is built on a pier?

And note the sign at Dolly’s…

Being more interested in eagles, I found one on a radio tower. We were still disappointed that they were not everywhere like we had been told, but speaking with an older native gentleman who was walking along the sidewalk, he told us that they gather there in the mornings to fish. So, going back to one of my first statements in the first post, a cruise is not the best vacation for pure wildlife photography because you have little to no control over your schedule, but it certainly does give us ideas for future adventures.

This is what the first few main streets of town are built over. Not earth, a pier. We were told that during prohibition, bootleggers would smuggle booze into the bars in the red-light district by going under the streets of the city and then come up through the floors.

Here’s one of the many jewelry shops in town.

And sometimes, even my beautiful wife has had enough of the lens.

Back on board, we are greeted by a towel-monkey! Yet another creative use of towels by the Carnival stewards.

As we set sail, we bid farewell to Alaska. We won’t be setting foot on its land again this trip. Maybe someday soon once again we will get to come and spend more time.

Those mountains! Even shrouded in mist and clouds, they still take away my breath.

And our final Alaskan Sunset. Sadness…

Tomorrow is a full day at sea before we wind up in Seattle Washington. What to do for a full day at sea…

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Six – Glacier Bay National Park

Welcome to day 6 of our adventure! Today we stay aboard ship but cruise around the Glacier Bay National Park. I’ll warn you now, my words are inadequate to describe this to you so I’ll rely on the photos, lots of them and fewer words.

We start our day before 5am Alaska time as the sun comes pouring into our stateroom window, alerting us to this beautiful sunrise! I watch it from the bed, Karen gets up and makes a photograph. Yes, it has come to this.

As we begin to enter the passages of the national park, we are greeted by the majestic mountains once again. I personally just can’t get enough of them.

Early inside the park we are met by an otter playing around in the water near the ship as we cruise by.

I am able to capture this 5 shot pano as we are passing the mountains.

Peaks…

Once again I am thankful for the weather we are having. Blue skies with just the right amount of white clouds for dramatic effect.

As we pass one mountain the ship’s biologist informs us over the intercom that there are mountain goats visible. I learned that on a cruise ship, “visible” means grab your binoculars because you probably won’t see it with your naked eyes. This is a pretty tight crop from a zoomed image but 4 of those white dots are cliff-dwelling mountain goats.

This is a small glacier in Reid Inlet. This is nothing compared to what is coming.

As we cruise through the passage, the peaks seem to go on forever.

We are now in the Tarr Inlet, the main attraction is just ahead.

Finally we reach the end of the inlet. Oh wait, the glacier is on the other side of the ship.

This is Margerie Glacier. It goes back into the mountains for 21 miles! This is just the terminus of the glacier.

Gulls are numerous in this area. There must be plenty of food in these inlets to keep them fed.

You can also notice a lot of ice in the water. These glaciers are actively calving. Maybe we’ll get lucky and capture a photo of that happening.

Did I mention that even though the sun was out, it was pretty cold here. Of course, it only makes sense. Look at all the ice!

Looks can be deceiving. Remember, the glacial wall is several stories tall. This ship has 10+ decks and it still towered over us.

And there we go. A large chuck of the glacier let loose. Again, that splash is several stories tall!

The other glacier at the end of this inlet is the Grand Pacific Glacier. This one is about 25 miles long and is right on the boarder of the US and Canada. That’s Canada in the background. Here are a few facts from the National Park Service. This glacier is about 2 miles wide at the terminus, that’s what this photo is showing. It is also about 150 feet tall in the center! <link> The dirty appearance of the glacier is ground-up mountain as it has made its way, scraping along the earth to this point.

Another shot for perspective. That is Margerie Glacier and we’re almost three quarters of a mile away.

One last shot of Margerie before we go.

Now we are in for another treat. The captain makes a turn into the Johns Hopkins Inlet to where we are told is hit favorite location on this cruise. We won’t be able to go all the way to the glacier because this inlet has been declared a critical seal habitat and cruise ships are not allowed in between 5/1 and 8/1 each year. We will get to just enter the inlet and look though.

Nope, not there yet. This is Lamplugh Glacier. It’s only 8 miles long. Small, but pretty.

Karen spots this otter off the side of the ship, playing around on its back! He returns her glance and they both smile.  🙂

Yes, even I am smiling. Better be careful or I’ll lose my rep as a grumpy old man.  🙂

This turn is referred to as “jaw point”. According to our cruise director it is because your jaw drops when you round the corner!

That is the Johns Hopkins Glacier at the end of the inlet! It’s about 6 miles away from us, but the beauty is evident! Wow! Jaw has officially dropped!

Again for scale. That mast is pretty tall but nothing compared to the glacier.

Wow!

After spending time enjoying the sight of Johns Hopkins, it was time to turn the ship around and leave. The trip out of the park was just as amazing as the trip in.

After dinner we are still enjoying the long days here. Finally, as the sun begins to set an amazing thing happens. We get just enough cloud cover for a very cool sky and a “sun dog“. Not quite the Northern Lights, but we’ll take it.

And for some reason, sunset seemed to take forever this evening. We spent time on the balcony, went inside, saw more amazing light, spent time on the balcony, went inside, repeat several times.

Until finally, the sun set behind the mountains, leaving us with the beautiful orange/red/yellow sky once more.

Tonight it looks like our friend is a towel frog. Who comes up with these things?

So, another day exploring God’s beautiful creation. Looking forward to what He shows us tomorrow! Tomorrow brings us to our last port-of-call, Ketchikan Alaska.

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Three – The Fjord

On the schedule for this day was the Tracy Arm Fjord. This was the only cruise that Karen saw when she was researching that took this side trip, so we were very anxious as to what we were going to see this day.

The day started out early. Sunrise here was earlier that we were used to in Texas, and the time was 3 hours behind, so when we woke up around 7am Texas time, it was really 4am Alaska time. And having a balcony with the curtains open meant that as soon as the sun began to rise, we were up as well. But it did mean that we got to witness this sunrise!

And as we were watching the sun rise over the horizon, we noticed something in the water, right off our balcony. Did you see it in the middle of the photo? Let’s take another photo and zoom in!

Yep, that’s the dorsal fin of a humpback whale swimming along side our ship. We learned that this is the time of year that they are migrating from Hawaii back to Alaska. They go to Hawaii to mate and give birth and then return to Alaska to eat and bulk up in order to start the cycle over. As one guide put it, Alaska is their kitchen and Hawaii is their bedroom. The whale was along side us for a short while, enough to get a few more shots before it slipped back into the darkness of the water.

As we continued to the fjord the mountains began to rise higher and higher against us. They were truly magnificent and humbling, realizing that even on this very large ship, we are tiny in nature.

This part of the world gets a lot of rain. We were fortunate that for the most part it was simply overcast and we got very little actual rain the entire trip.

The clouds however created for very dramatic skies. The on-board biologist explained to us that the fjords were created as the glaciers pushed their way across the land, carving out these “U” shaped valleys. “V” shaped valleys were caused by rushing water, such as the Grand Canyon. One way to tell just how deep the glacier ice was is to look at the mountain peaks. If they are rounded, they were likely covered and smoothed by the glacier. If they are jagged the ice did not cover them. But looking at the height of the mountains it is staggering to think of that much ice being that deep!

The mountains are so tall that they create their own weather patterns. You can judge, by looking at the very large trees in the foreground, just how immense the mountains are. Considering it is several miles from the shoreline to the top of the mountain…well, you can just let your mind run wild trying to calculate that distance. Another shot for scale. Here you can see a five story lighthouse in the foreground, dwarfed by the landscape!

As we arrived at the entrance of the Tracy Arm Fjord, our ship met with the “pilot” who would be responsible for directing the ship through the narrow passage. We were informed that because of the ice flows, we would not be allowed into the Tracy Arm today, but not to worry, there is another fjord that we would be able to explore. While somewhat disappointing, we were happy we would not miss out altogether. We make our way through passages which at first glance don’t look like a place you would take a 44 ton cruise ship.

And then we notice that we are not alone. The humpbacks are in the area as well. They like the fjords because the narrow passages makes it easier for them to scoop up food. The narrower the fjord, the more dense the food they like to eat. It makes their hunting much easier. And when you are trying to gain weight, you want as little exertion as possible.

Another interesting fact about the humpback whales is that the patterns on their tail are as unique to each whale as a human’s fingerprint. Photos like this one are used to track the whales between Alaska and Hawaii on their migration tour.

As we get closer, you can see where, what I would have previously considered a glacier, was sliding down the side of the mountain. After what I will be seeing soon, that’s just a bunch of snow and ice.

As we approach the entrance to the fjord (Endicott Arm according to Google), we begin to see icebergs floating in the water. Two things to notice about the icebergs. First is that their dark blue color comes from the fact that they are so dense the longer red light waves are unable to be reflected from the ice, leaving only the shorter blue light waves. And second, only ten percent of the iceberg is visible. Meaning that 90% of the ice is obscured beneath the water. Remember the Titanic? We proceed slowly…

Some people have paid for an off-ship excursion to get an up-close look at the glacier. I give you this photo of their boat as a reference for later. Notice the size as it pulls along side of our ship. It is a three story boat. Not small by any means.

As we enter the fjord, another amazing sight is all of the little waterfalls running down the walls of the valley. Pure mountain water, direct from the source. I bet is is refreshing!

Turn about is fair play. Karen catches me in her lens. Yes, it was much colder here, especially as the wind was whipping down through the fjord from the glacial ice ahead. On a side note, I did not pack gloves because I was expecting temps in the 50s. Luckily I found a very nice pair of ladies leather gloves that fit me perfectly in the ship’s store. I’m not proud. They were warm.

More icebergs. We are getting closer. We traveled about 33 files from the opening of the fjord to the glacier.

Excitement is building on the ship as everyone rushes to the bow of the ship. We tried to get there but it was just too crowded. But we were already told that the captain would be turning the ship so that everyone would be able to see the glacier, so we stayed put on the top deck.

And finally, the glacier! This one is named “Dawes Glacier” and now you see the difference from what I previously referred to as a glacier. But from this distance, it doesn’t look all that big. Just wait.

But first, what is this off the starboard side? Riding along on an iceberg is a group of seals! Harbor Seals I believe.

They remain on the ice as we get closer, until finally one by one they begin to slip off into the water.

Until finally, there was only one left. It really looked like it didn’t want to get into the water and would rather we just went away.

But finally, it did slip into the water along with the others, and we turned our attention to the massive glacier. Now, remember the photo of the excursion vessel from before? It is a three story ship. Not a small ship. You can notice it up close to the glacier in the lower left of this photo! There are actually two ships there now. That little dark spot is a ship!

Glaciers are not static objects, but rather moving rivers of ice. As the ice reaches the termination point, which is here, the ice begins to break off, or calve, which is what creates all the icebergs in the water. When this happens there is a large splash. We were lucky enough to capture this happening here. Remember, that splash is also several stories high! Nothing is small here.

Here is another shot of the excursion boats close to the glacier. For showing scale we zoomed in a bit more. And what looks like tire tracks on the top of the glacier is actually ground up parts of the mountain which is being carried away by the ice. By doing this the glacier turns rock into dirt which will then be deposited in a place where later life will spring forth. The design of nature is truly spectacular!

Some people however decided to bypass the cold and observer nature in comfort inside the ship. This gentleman was watching from indoors on the lido deck. Yes, we were eating again.  🙂

What a day! After spending a couple of hours here, it was time for the ship to leave the fjord and head for tomorrow’s destination, Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier! But, as Carnival likes to do, this was waiting for us back in our stateroom. Just how many different ways can you fold a towel?

No sunset tonight as we were between the mountains of the valley. So that’s it for today. I’ll be back in a few days with part four! Still have lots of photos to sort through!

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Two – A Day at Sea

The vacation started off great, and kept getting greaterer (sic). Yes, I said greaterer! Neither Karen nor I had any trouble adjusting to life on board a ship. No seasickness. No falling down trying to gain our sea legs. This was great. And our first full day at sea would be no different. While there were not a lot of opportunities for my kind of photography on this day, there was plenty to do, and eat, and see, and eat, and eat. Did I mention there was plenty to eat? You’ve probably heard that there is food 24/7 on a cruise ship. To quote Han Solo, “It’s true. All of it.”

Our view for the day varied little since we were at sea all day.  Most of the time it was just open ocean, as far as you could see.

But we were able to catch occasional glimpses of land off the starboard bow (that’s the right side) of the ship. If I’m reading the map right (my camera tags my photos with GPS coordinates), this is Triangle Island, and it was about 20-25 miles away. That gives you an idea of how distance can fool you at sea!

The day at sea gave us plenty of time to explore the ship. And according to our exercise bands, we did a lot of that. Not quite as much walking as we did in Vancouver, but we did plenty considering our limited distance. The Legend is only 963 feet long. Of course, there are stairs between decks.

As I mentioned, we were aboard the Carnival Legend. Weighing in at over 44 tons, it is easy to see why our ride was so smooth. Even with the waves were up, it was just a gentle swaying back and forth that actually aided in sleeping at night. And the orange and white “boats” in the photo below are the escape pods, which were built to remain afloat even if capsized. There was no fear of any tragedy on this trip!

All Carnival ships have the distinctive “winged” smoke stacks which sets them apart from all the other ships. You can know at a glance in a group of ships which one belongs to Carnival.

As you can tell from our reflection, it was quite chilly here on the open sea. Both Karen and I were sufficiently bundled up to remain warm.

While we did have cloudy skies, the breaks showed us the beautiful blue skies were just behind them.

As I mentioned in the previous post, while not the best type of vacation for pure wildlife photography, wildlife was spotted several times. Though not quite as close as we would like for really good photographs. For instance, that puff of white on the left of this photo is from the blowhole of a surfacing humpback whale. We did get to see them closer a couple of times during the trip, but never got to see one breach up out of the water like you see on television. Apparently they do that more in mating season, which was not now.

Another example, here is a pod of either seals or sea lions. I think the on-board biologist said that they were Steller sea lions. But again, too far away for any really great photos.

And while you may not expect to see birds this far away from land, these guys were seen “running” across the surface of the water several times during the cruise. Again, too far away for a good identification, but an interesting bird nonetheless.

That was pretty much it for this day, other than the walking and, did I mention there was plenty to eat? As we neared the end of the day we make our way to the deck to watch the sun set over the horizon. When we first got on deck, the sky still had plenty of blue.

But as the sun neared the horizon, the color began changing to the red/orange/yellow that we saw on our first evening aboard.

Which gave me time to photography my favorite subject…

Just before the last of the sun dropped into the ocean.

Then it was off to dinner (did I mention all the food?) and then a return to our stateroom and another towel creation. This one held a couple of gift cards to help celebrate our 25 years of marriage!

Then it was time for bed to rest up for the Tracy Arm Fjord tomorrow. What a beautiful sight that was! Stay tuned for day 3, coming soon!

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses

Alaska Cruise 2017: Part One – Vancouver CA

Karen and I have been wanting to take an Alaska Cruise for the past 20 years, but we always came up with some reason why we just could not do it each year. This year however, is our 25th anniversary and we decided that there will always be reasons not to go and decided to make the sacrifices necessary and go. So, toward the end of 2016 planning starting coming together to make this happen.

We decided on the Carnival cruise line because they offered an 8 day cruise at the beginning of May through the inside passage with an additional stop at the Tracy Arm Fjord. Karen had learned that this was a spectacular location and we wanted it on the list, so with the cruise booked by the end of 2016, all we had to do was wait. The cruise took place from April 30th to May 8th 2017. What follows is our adventure!

Let me preface by saying that as a photographer whose primary affection is wildlife, I would not recommend a cruise ship as the first choice for seeing the most wildlife. You have little control over your time and are at the mercy of the ship’s captain, excursion leaders, and other factors. That does not however mean that a cruise is not worth the time and money. If for no other reason, it does give you access to many places you would not feasibly be able to get to on a single vacation. Additionally you will quite possibly see places you will want to return to in the future to spend more time for a more in-depth visit. So, if you like, think of it as a scouting trip for a future wildlife-intensive trip.

Now, on with the story…

Our cruise began in the city of Vancouver Canada. With a desire to try something new,  we tried something old. Rather than staying in a well-known chain hotel, we opted to stay at a hotel called the Victorian. This hotel goes back to the days of the 1898 Gold Rush. Of course it has been updated but still maintains the charm of the late 1800s. Truly a slice of history and comfortable to boot. How many hotels can say they have been in operation in the same location for over 100 years? This hotel gets my seal of approval.

The hotel is located in the part of Vancouver called “gastown”. This is the historic old part of Vancouver which is now “hip” with the young urbanites. I found that I myself am no longer “hip”. I was not 100% comfortable walking around this part of town in the evening with a few thousand dollars of camera equipment around my neck, but we had no problems what-so-ever. Because of my own misgivings I probably missed out on a few interesting street shots, but that’s life. Still, it was an interesting visit.

We arrived in Vancouver the night before our departure date in order to allow for any flight delays. So after a good night’s rest, we got up and spent the morning exploring the Vancouver seawall area which leads down to Stanley Park, a massive area of which we only touched the edge. This would be a great place to come back and spend more time. On the plus side, our exercise bands recorded a record number of steps this day! Mine said I walked over 10 miles that day! What follows are some scenes we witnessed around the park and seawall prior to boarding our ship.

Starting out at Vancouver Harbor we saw many ships and sea planes moving about.

The harbor was also full of colorful boats. Again, you can tell from the boats that interesting people live here.

The city skyline made for an interesting backdrop behind the boats docked in the harbor.

Once we got into the park proper, we found many interesting things. The first we came across was a selection of totem poles. I learned later while in Ketchikan that totem poles, rather than being idols which were worshiped, were more like story books. When the pole was raised, the maker of the pole would tell the story. The faces represent the characters int he story. These stories could be historical in nature or much like fairy tales, told to children to teach moral and safety lessons.

I was able to catch Karen here as she was making photos of the poles.

Another point of interest in the park is Brockton Point Lighthouse which was built in 1914. You can read more about the lighthouse <here>. Also, as you can tell from the following two photographs, taken a mere 15 minutes apart, the weather changes pretty rapidly here.

And of course, we found a few birds to photograph. Karen got the best shot of the bald eagle that flew over us. I won’t use the excuse that I only had my wide-angle lens with me because that would just be petty.  😉

Another big landmark here is the Lions Gate Bridge which is a pretty magnificent sight. It opened in 1938 and the name comes from the twin peaks on the North Vancouver side of the harbor called the Lions. Notice the rock that looks like it has someone seated. That is a sculpture of a mermaid. Unfortunately we were running out of time and had to head to our ship before getting that far.

On the way back to get our bags at the hotel, there were several flights of stairs and I got to do my not-so-famous Rocky impression after “running” the stairs. (Editor’s note: By “running” he means moving faster than normal walking speed.)

Vancouver Harbor is a beautiful site and Stanley Park is a treat you must visit if you are in the area. For us, it was time to head to the ship, the Carnival Legend. We had several hours of TSA, Customs, and loading procedures to get through.

Once we finally made it on board, the time came to shove off and leave the land behind. From our stateroom balcony we waved goodbye to Canada and set sail for Alaska and the inside passage.

A few last glimpses of Vancouver. Pulling out of the harbor we passed under the aforementioned Lions Gate Bridge and you can see North Vancouver in the background.

After the bridge, we passed by West Vancouver, set at the foot of beautiful mountains.

As we were leaving the bay, we got a glimpse of the West Lion peak, which is one of the peaks the bridge was named after, rising up behind West Vancouver, which also appeared to be having a local carnival.

Goodbye Canada…

As we set sail for our first full day at sea, we watched in awe as God painted the sky the most beautiful oranges and reds at sunset! This would be a common occurrence most every night of the cruise.

Day two is a full day at sea as we make our way towards the Tracy Arm Fjord!

Stay tuned for part two, coming soon as I process through the 6000+ photos taken between the two of us.

All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses