Juneau to Sitka, AK
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Rainy, high 50s
Today’s ferry ride was a different kettle of fish. It was 167 miles with a stop in Angoon. However, this was aboard the Fairweather, a nine-year-old vessel, the newest class of vessels, a high speed catamaran. It cruised at 35 mph instead of the 17 mph made by the Matanuska. Quite a difference! We were up at 5:30, inline for the ferry at 6:45 and departed at 8:45.
Unfortunately, it was rainy, dreary and socked in so there wasn’t much sightseeing. Happily, the lounges were very comfortable and we made due. Our route was circuitous, through narrow passages in protected waters and we arrived at about 3:00 pm. We camped at Sitka Harbor RV Park right downtown, overlooking the harbor. We scouted out the downtown area briefly but quickly headed back to the camper. Bill was feeling really crappy with his cold and took a nap.
Dinner was gluten free cheese ravioli with “salad by Sandy”. We read till bed time.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Overcast, mid 60s, light rain showers, first day in a while with no wind
We decided on breakfast out and ended up having brunch at the Larkspar Café downtown. It was wonderful! While there we struck up a conversation with a guy from the Seattle area who was doing engineering work on the foundation for an expansion of an existing hydroelectric dam. His commute was a short drive followed by transport by a 400 ft tall crane. (That’s a tall crane!) Walking from the parking area to the jobsite would involve a two-hour hike so they lift people across the river using the crane. Afterwards, we moved our camper to the Sitka Sportsmen’s RV Park near the ferry terminal; it had showers whereas the one downtown didn’t.
Back in town, we toured the Sitka National Historical Park. This park interpreted the site of the 1804 battle between Tlingit natives and the Russian fur traders. There was also a display of Haida and Tlingit totem poles that were carved for the Louisiana Expo in the early 1900s. The totem poles were located along gravel pathway in beautiful, temperate rainforest. Totem poles are used for several purposes. They might tell a story, helping preserve the otherwise oral tradition of these people. They might tell of the history of a family and identify who lived at the location of the totem. Finally, a pole might be carved to honor someone who had died.
As we always did, when we could, we visited places where salmon were spawning hoping to see bears feeding. Again, no luck!
Oh, yeah, dinner. That evening it was smoked pork chops, steamed asparagus and mashed, candied sweet potatoes.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Overcast, then partly sunny, high 50s
We left the campsite around 9:00 for sightseeing; beginning by checking salmon run areas for bears. No luck.
Then we climbed Castle Hill, downtown. This small hill was the historic stronghold of Sitka harbor. It was first occupied by Tlingit natives people, then Russians fur traders and, finally, the US, after the purchase of Seward’s Folly.
The Russian Bishop’s House is one of the main attractions downtown. It was built out of native spruce in 1842 by Finnish carpenters. Funded by the Russian America Company, it was a home for the Russian Orthodox Bishop, Father Ivan Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov, who took up residence there until 1859. It is the oldest, intact Russian building in Sitka; one of only four surviving Russian buildings.
Right up the street was the studio of Tommy Joseph, a well known carver of totem poles. Totem carving was a dying art and Tommy is one of the new generation of master carvers. He was working outside his shop and seemed happy to talk about his work, how he learned the art, how new totems are commissioned and so on. He’s a really nice guy who, according to others we talked to later, is really humble about his achievements.
Driving south on Sawmill Creek Rd, along the harbor, there were really nice views and we passed some of the upscale homes in the area. The road ended at a construction area that was, apparently, the Blue Lake Dam expansion project where yesterday’s contact was working.
We had lunch at the Bayside Pub overlooking harbor and then attended a Tlingit Native dance performance at the Sheet’ka Kevaá Naa Kahidi Community House. The performance included dancers of all ages, from toddlers to adults. The Community house is build in the style of a Tlingit Clan house with massive construction using mortise and tenon technique and huge beams from old-growth forest.
While Sandy explored downtown shopping activities, Bill sat by the harbor and read. Then he explored the Russian Blockhouse that he noticed while reading. The reconstructed blockhouse was one of two erected by the Russians after the Tlingits returned to the area some twenty years after the 1804 battle. The Russians remained distrustful of the natives, building the blockhouses and fitting them with cannon aimed at the village. Interestingly, there is, to this day, a Tlingit neighborhood with tiny, narrow streets, sitting just below the blockhouse!
Harbor Mountain looms above Sitka and there’s a gravel, 5.5 mile, US Forest Service switchback road that goes to the top. We took that drive late that afternoon. Wow, what a drive and what a place! At the top is spectacular, boggy tundra. The foliage was starting to change colors and was just beautiful. To top it off, there were several, one-table picnic areas accessed by short, steep trails from a parking area. The views across the meadows and over the water were incredible. They have to be some of the most beautiful picnic areas anywhere!
Yeah, we checked for bears again and you guessed the result!
It was getting pretty late so we drove a few miles toward town to have dinner at the Channel Club. The place is out of the way but is first class! To top it off, Sandy complimented the chef on the soup he served as part of the salad bar. “Can you sell me a quart?” she asked. He did her one better and GAVE her a quart!
Sitka to Wrangell, AK
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Cloudy, light rain showers, mid 60s
We headed back, this morning, to tour the St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church in middle of town. The church was almost exactly rebuilt after it and another 17 or so buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1966. Fortunately, the managed to salvage nearly all the art, shrines and other fittings, including a 450 lb chandelier in, 25 minutes. A single man managed to lift down the heavy chandelier; an amazing feat. He still visits the church annually and looks at the chandelier in wonder at the miraculous achievement of lifting it down.
We returned to Larkspar Café for a lunch of fish tacos in corn tortillas. Excellent! Then it was time to pack up and get in line for our next ferry ride. We were at the terminal by 1:00 pm and boarded the Columbia, the line’s flagship. We got underway by 3:00 pm. A highlight was slowing down to watch a whale bubble feeding.
Dinner was snacks that we carried onboard and a few odds and ends from the cafeteria.