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.


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.


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 Five – Skagway Alaska

When we awoke on day 5 the sun was coming through the patio window as normal, and there was land not far from the starboard side of the ship (our side). Guess we had better close the curtains while we get up and get ready for the day!

Not much later, we pulled into the Skagway harbor where we were greeted with this sight. These are logos from ships, cruise lines, and other organizations that have docked here. A little unsightly considering Alaska is known for being a “natural beauty”, but I guess everyplace needs a “hook”. This must be theirs.

We disembark to meet up with the tour guide for our “Skagway In Focus” photo tour of the area. Once more we choose a photo specific tour, not so much for the learning basic camera techniques, but to have a tour that is a little slower paced and give us time to “focus” on what we want to see.  (Did you see what I did there?)  🙂

Our first stop was at the north end of Nahku Bay on the Dyea Road. During the gold rush of the late 1800s there was competition between Skagway and Dyea as to who had the best passage to the Yukon. Since Skagway had the better deep water harbor Dyea soon fell out of favor with the travelers as the larger ships began coming for the gold. Considering that Wikipedia calls Dyea “a former town”, you can guess who won that competition.

There were plenty of sea birds fishing in the bay. You can see them here fighting over a small fish. Apparently they haven’t learned to share.

And there was a herd of seals in the bay as well. While the bank was pretty steep, this one came close enough to look up at the group of photographers to try and figure out what they were doing.

I love Texas, but the mountains still take my breath away! I can’t look at them without the sense of awe at how big God is.

One of the more touristy areas in Skagway is the gold rush cemetery, where many of those who came here to find their fortunes found their final stop. Two graves to note are that of “Soapy” Smith, the town villain, who is actually buried outside of the graveyard proper, and the largest tombstone which belonged to Frank Reid, the man credited with giving his life to stop Soapy. If you want a good story, google these two and enjoy! Here is a short one just to get you started <<here>>.

On our way back to town we stopped at an overlook where we were able to get a full shot of our ship in the harbor…

And to let the tour guide take a shot of us as well!

Once the official tour was over, Karen and I took to the streets of Skagway to explore on our own some. The Camp Skagway No 1 of the Artic Brotherhood building is known as the most photographed building in Alaska. The facade, which dates to 1900, is covered with nearly 9000 pieces of driftwood in 1899.

Definitely an interesting looking building! Add my two shots to the list!

Compared to the stories about its past, Skagway seems to be a quiet little town nestled in the mountains of Alaska. However the locals tell me things can get pretty hectic when more than one cruise ship docks on the same day!

Here is a mural showing the trek up the pass that the prospectors had to take to get to the gold, while taking a ton of supplies along. The Canadian government apparently enacted that rule because they got tired of people searching for gold, running out of food, and dying on their side of the boarder. Note the pictures of Soapy and Frank Reid in the upper left corner. Frank was killed by Soapy at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf which is where Soapy was also shot, though he died later.

Yes, times were lonely for the gold miners in Skagway. Women were in short supply. No, we didn’t visit this place.

Although, I did get a picture of Karen at the “House of Negotiable Affection“. Sorry guys, her contract has already been signed and negotiations are over!

One of the early residents of modern day Skagway, not counting the native residents, was Captain William Moore. He was captain of the mail steamer Queen which was the first of the gold rush flotilla. He built this cabin and settled here. Another interesting story if you care to follow the link attached to his name.

This was the inside of his “house”. I asked about the newspaper and was told by the attendant that they recycled almost everything they could in those days. The newspaper was used as a type of insulation for the cabin.

Skagway is full of colorful buildings against the majestic mountain backdrop. They certainly play to the tourist, but what else would they do?

More colorful buildings recalling the town’s past.

I even found the local Presbyterian church! What a great place this must be for a church!

And…we finally found that turnip truck, and Karen fell off.  🙂

As we return to the ship, I take time to set Karen in place for a shot of her with the ship and mountains. Just a few of my favorite things!

And back in our stateroom, the critter showed up early today. Our cabin steward (stewardess?) was very great. Because we never knew when we would be out of the room she worked around our schedule to keep our room in tip-top shape!

While we were out walking around Skagway, the sun came out and we actually got very warm. In fact, this was the only day we had where a jacket was no longer required! We spent time in the afternoon lounging on the Serenity Desk, watching the clouds and mountains. I might have even caught a long look at the inside of my eyelids while I was there!

And, Karen skunked me again on a bald eagle that flew overhead. She’s really liking the Canon 28-300L lens that I got her for this trip. The quality and extra reach are really working out for her. Once more I was stuck with a wider angle lens as we were just walking around the ship.

From the deck of the ship you can get a nice view of the small town of Skagway nestled between the mountains. What a beautiful place!

As evening approaches we begin our departure from Skagway. Here, as the sun begins getting lower in the sky, the remaining light is only clipping the peaks of the magnificent mountains.

As we round the bend in the Chilkoot Inlet, I notice another small village across the bank.

Pulling up google maps, I find that this is the town of Haines, Alaska. Haines calls itself the “Adventure Capital of Alaska”. It sounds like a place we might wish to plan a return visit. I have also heard it is a great place for Bald Eagles!

Also in the inlet we spotted a raft of sea lions, at least I think they are. With the sun setting it is difficult to make out the ear flaps.


More mountain goodness!

Have I mentioned how much I love mountains?

Finally, the shadows of the mountains begin to fall and the valleys start to become dark. Nightfall is coming. And you know what that means?

Sunset photos! Not a lot of clouds for dramatic effect, but the orange and yellow soon start to appear in the sky.

And as the sun sets behind those beautiful mountains, we are reminded once more of what a wonderful day we have had.

Next stop, Glacier Bay National Park! Stay Tuned!

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 Four – Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier

It is hard to believe that here on day 4 of the cruise, it is already half over. As usually happens on a vacation, time seems to have sped up when all you really want it to do is slow down. That said, we are ready to make our first port of call in Juneau Alaska! We are looking forward to this stop because we booked a photography excursion with a local company that will lead us to the Mendenhall Glacier as well as taking us out on a smaller boat to look for whales!

We disembark the ship and head for land. First day on solid land in a few days does seem a little strange. Nothing is swaying anymore. And do you see that big water slide on the top deck of the ship? I don’t remember ever seeing anyone use it this trip, though there were a few people in the hot tubs from time to time. But since this same ship is also used for Hawaii cruises as well, I’m sure it gets used plenty then.

Our excursion was called “Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari” and was ran by Gastineau Guiding. Our tour guides were Andy and Tawny and both were very knowledgeable about the area, flora and fauna, as well as the photography aspects of the tour.

First, the led us through the “Trail of Time” which had very interesting flora. I don’t remember all the names of the plants, but they were very interesting.

This one I do remember as being called “Old Man’s Beard“. This is a type of Spanish Moss like we have around here in east Texas. This is just a little sprig of it but it grows into large clumps that hang from the trees.

Karen reminded me that this one is called “Devil’s Club“. The guides told us to be careful and not grab it if you start to fall! Those little points are sharp!

The area gets plenty of rain, as evidenced by all of the moss growing on everything.

And of course, there are plenty of small waterfalls coming down the sides of the mountains from all of the melting ice this time of year. Spring has arrived!

The trail is called the “Trail of Time”. At several points along the way they have markers like this one with dates. These dates are showing where the glacier was on that particular year. In 1920 this rock was under ice. Now you can see that as the ice has receded, life has taken over thanks to all of the sediment that it left behind.

As we near the glacier (still a ways off) there is a large waterfall. This is “Nugget Falls“. The water is coming from Nugget Glacier which is way up in the mountains to the east. Note the very small people at the bottom to get a feel for the size!

And finally, Mendenhall Glacier! Glaciers are created when the snow fall is faster than the snow melt. As the weight build, the snow and ice gets packed more and more dense and then it begins scrubbing its way down the mountain, grinding rocks into dirt and carving those “U” shaped valleys and fjords. The dark streaks you see are mineral deposits from that scrubbing which will be deposited downstream providing places for moss, grass, and then trees to grow.

A close up view of the ice and sediment. Again, you can see that blue color showing how dense that ice has become from all of the weight.

As with the other glacier, they are moving things and as they reach the terminus chunks break off and become icebergs. Here a small group is exploring the area giving you a sense of the size of some of these ice-chunks! Remember, only 10% is visible.

Here is another shot of Nugget Fallas. Again, those little dots at the bottom are people.

This is Andy, our guide. He was a great source of information while leading us on the entire tour. Being a photo tour, he not only had knowledge of the local area and the attractions, he was also there to answer any photo questions anyone might bring up. He had an analogy about a photography that I had never heard and thought was very helpful. He said that a photo is like a cheeseburger. The top bun is your background, the bottom bun is your foreground and the meat is your subject. The cheese? That’s the light. I’m going to be using this in the future! Thanks Andy!

At over a mile away, the glacier is still huge! The people were maybe an eighth of a mile from us.

Andy was even nice enough to take our photo together.

As we were leaving the area we spotted this quiet scene and reflection.

And yet another waterfall coming down the side of the mountain.

And as we were boarding the bus to head to the water portion of our tour, I spotted this young bald eagle fly over and land in a tree. I maneuvered to try and get a clear shot while the others were boarding the bus. When Andy asked about the missing person Karen mentioned, “That would be my husband. He’s chasing a bald eagle. I’m used to it by now.”

Once we boarded the boat and headed out into the bay, it didn’t take too long before we saw signs of humpback whales. This one popped up pretty close to the boat, but then went for a deep dive not to be seen again. We were told up front that the whales would be spotty because they were just arriving in the area from their migration at this time of year. However, they would not be the only wildlife in the water today.

In the bay was this island and lighthouse. I thought it made for a picturesque scene, especially with the bald eagle flying in from the right. As you can tell, it was very cloudy for our day in Juneau. In fact it did rain off and on during the day while we were on the boat, but nothing bad. Still very thankful for the weather during this trip.

I was able to zoom in just in time for the bald eagle to touch down on the small island.

As we surveyed the area, suddenly the boat captain headed towards a new area. As we approached this buoy, it became clear what he was excited about. Soon, we were excited as well!

These are Stellar Sea Lions. The difference between sea lions and seals are small, but easy to recognize once you learn. Sea lions have small flaps over their ear holes whereas seals have none. Sea lions also have longer flippers which they can use to “walk” where seals have shorter flippers and do more sliding around. Here is a link that shows the difference <<here>>.  Most of these were asleep, but this one watched as we circled the buoy a few times.

These guys were so cute. With both the subject and my platform (boat) were moving quite a bit, I was shooting in burst mode just to get a few clear shots. I learned that shooting from a boat on bumpy water is challenging!

It must have been nap time because they didn’t appear bothered by our presence at all.

Lots of interesting points about Juneau, too many to bore you with here, but as the capital of Alaska, the city is pretty remote. The most interesting fact I learned is that there are no roads that lead into town. You can’t drive there! We found this sign in downtown showing how far we were from multiple places on the earth.

And Karen snagged this bald eagle while we were in town. They were around, but we weren’t overwhelmed by eagles like people had told us. We had heard stories that eagles were as prevalent in Alaska as grackles were in Dallas. Not quite, but we were still excited to see them when we could. Perhaps again this had to do with the time or year.

After a full day exploring Juneau, we made our way back to the ship for dinner and unloading the images to my laptop and backup hard drive. Once more we were greeted with another towel creature.

We were still getting accustomed to the three hour time shift but were getting there slowly. Day 5 would be another day on ground as we visit Skagway Alaska!

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