My Alaskan Cruise, Part 2
Sunday, July 14, 2019

Our first stop in actual Alaska was a little town called Ketchikan. I say "little town" because that's how it appeared to me, used as I am to the sprawling metropolis of Denver, but from what I saw, Ketchikan is about as big as cities get in Alaska. It had one major road in and out of town, an airport, and several places to dock cruise ships. There was also a line of hangers at the water's edge where seaplanes docked, and the noise of them taking off and landing was pretty much constant.
We decided to spend our day in Ketchikan hiking. So, bypassing the tourist shopping area by the docks, we headed straight up the road in the middle of the above picture, and I do mean "straight." Alaska is basically mountains that spring straight out of the sea, so everything is very steep. It was quite a workout for our calves to get up that first hill.
Once we made it over the first ridge, we took a left at the Ketchikan public library (which I was amused to see had the same summer reading program advertisements as we have in my own library) and followed the road up above the town to a set of wooden stairs that would take up even higher to the actual trail.
The Rainbird Trail follows the ridge line above the town from one end to the other, so we were able to walk from the cruise ship terminal to the University of Alaska campus on the other side of town without having to walk through the city proper. Because we were up on a ridge, there were many nice overlooks where we could look down over the town and the surrounding area.
The forests of Alaska are lush and dense. While many of the plants on our hike reminded me of home, everything was amplified. The trees were taller and there were more of them. The ferns and other bushes covered almost all of the forest floor. Lichen, moss, and mushrooms clung to everything. It was both very familiar and very strange compared to my usual, Colorado stomping grounds.
Once we reached the far end of the trail, after a pleasant, and not terribly difficult stroll through the forest, we descended into town at the far end and walked to a wonderful restaurant called Goldpan Pizza for lunch. After our mean, we scaled the steep road back up to the trail again, and went back the way we'd come. In retrospect, the repeated hikes up and down the roads were the only really difficult part of the hike. The trail along the ridge was quite tame by comparison. ;)
After a day at sea, during which our calves *mostly* recovered from the steep hills of Ketchikan, we arrived in the capital city of Alaska: Juneau.
Juneau is the only port we actually purchased a tour for, because we really wanted to make sure we got to see whales on this trip. The tour we got was for glacier / whale viewing, so we started the day with a bus ride to the Mendenhall Glacier just outside of town.
You can see the bottom of the glacier in the picture to the left. When the visitor center (where I was when I took the picture) was built, a person could reach out and touch the glacier. When we were there, the glacier was a mile and a half away, across a lake created by the melt and runoff.
The second, and larger part of our tour was whale watching. We went out on a smaller boat (although it was sill pretty large) from a marina north of town and traveled up the Saginaw Channel. As you can see from the pictures, we were able to see a pair of humpback whales traveling together. The naturalist on board was able to identify the larger whale from the patters on its fluke, and told us it was a mother and baby. The mom's name was Flame, and her baby's name was Bunsen. (Cute, right?)
We actually got to see Bunsen jump out of the water in a full breach, which was very cool. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of it since it was over almost as soon as it started.
One thing that surprised me: whales are not as big as I had imagined. As someone who grew up in a land-locked state and only ever saw whales on TV and in stories, I pictured them as massive. In reality, a full grown whale is about the size of a bus. That's not to say they're small... just smaller than I was expecting.
That's pretty much it for this leg of the journey. After returning to the cruise ship we had a fun dinner at a hibachi grill and went to an awesome aerial dance show that we weren't allowed to take pictures of. Stay tuned for the final chapter of my trip, which will include Glacier Bay, Skagway, Seward, and Anchorage.