Alaska Cruise 2017: Part Eight – Day at Sea and Final Destination

It has finally come–our final day aboard ship. This will be a full day at sea with only minimal view of land. We take this opportunity to sleep in a bit and then get breakfast. When we return we see the last of our towel sculptures for the trip–a heart!  Our cabin stewardess was excellent on this trip. She saw to our every need promptly and completely. I should have gotten her photo, but I didn’t think about it.

Ventures onto the deck provided this scene pretty much the entire day. There would be briefings about debarkation procedures and such to attend, and just general relaxing aboard the ship.

One event that we did attend was an ice carving demonstration. This guy was pretty amazing.

He started with a simple block of ice and just started chipping away.

I know that by this point I would have shattered the entire block into nothingness, but he appears to know what he is doing.

Looks like wings. Maybe an angel or a bird?

Jen, the cruise director, pumps up the crowd as he continues his work. The ice is starting to take shape.

Yep, it is starting to look more like an eagle at this point. Do you see the head and beak in the front?

Now the feathers of the wings are taking shape.

And the final product, done in just 23 minutes. Again, I would have a bag of shaved ice left! Incredible!

Checking the view, pretty much the same as before, lots of water, sky, and clouds. Still gorgeous though.

Land ho! Finally, off in the distance I see my beloved mountains! According to the GPS tag of the photo, we are still far enough north that those are Canadian mountains.

But the sun is setting and its time to make sure everything is packed for debarkation. The night is uneventful and when we wake up in the morning I get my first view of Seattle Washington. Yep, there’s the Space Needle! I’ve always wanted to see that!

And there is Mount Rainier! I’ve always wanted to see that as well!

And here they both are together. This is one of those places that is on our list for a return trip where we can spend time. This is not that trip. Duty calls and we must return to our real lives as ordinary workers in the system.

So, with that, it was time to pack up the cameras and prepare for the customs, TSA adventure. It will be nowhere near as exciting as the last few days, but it must be done. By tonight we’ll be back in our own bed in Overton, Texas. It will be many more days before the swaying sensation goes away but hopefully the memories made on this trip will never recede.

Thank you for coming along with us on our trip. I hope that you enjoyed the stories and photos. Watch this site in the future as many of the photos taken on the trip, some shown here and others not, will be made available for sale. Buy them and help pay for our next adventure. If you do, I’ll be sure to share those memories with you as well!

Thank God for the beautiful places to see!

Until next time…

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 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