Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alaska Journal - Day 10

Our first look at a glacier!  We anchored in Thomas Bay so that we could explore the Baird Glacier. Baird Glacier is a land-terminating glacier, which means that it no longer reaches all of the way to the ocean. All of the rock and sand that was being pushed by the glacier now forms a ridge at the end which is called the terminal moraine. This was to be the destination of this morning's hikes.

We got lucky and were on the first skiff out to the terminal moraine. Since we would be out through lunch, we picked up a sack lunch before getting on the skiff.

Our skiff captains had to proceed very carefully as the water is full of "glacier flour", which is the finely ground material that saturates the water coming from the glacier. It is impossible to see rocks in the water so the trip from the ship to the shoreline was done slowly and carefully. And it was cold, so we all bundled up!

We hiked around a little enjoying the scenery before we got our first close-up look at Baird Glacier.  Mark had his smart phone and was able to get some pretty good pictures.
Baird Glacier
Blue ice occurs when snow falls on a glacier, is compressed, and becomes part of the glacier.  Air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals enlarge, making the ice appear blue.

There is a lake at the front of the glacier so we couldn't hike up to it, but we did hike to the top of the terminal moraine where the view was amazing! The river of ice went back as far as the eye could see.

We were able to get next to large pieces of glacier that were sitting on our side of the lake.

We had a lot of time to explore before finding a comfortable rock to sit and have lunch.

After the crew took some group pictures, we headed back to the pick-up site for our ride back to the boat.

Since we had already had lunch, as soon as we got back on the boat we got into a kayak and paddled around Thomas Bay.  We didn’t see any sea stars or sea cucumbers but we enjoyed being out in this beautiful area.

We had just finished dinner when the bridge announced several Orca’s had been spotted.  Mark grabbed his camera and we headed to the bow. This was a large pod with a big male and several females and young. The male was surfacing very close to the ship, and actually came directly toward the ship several times. 

The females and young stayed farther away, but still came close enough for good looks.

Next time:  More whales and some playful Stellar Sea Lions

Monday, June 19, 2017

Alaska Journal - Day 9

Our day today will be different than any of our other days.  We were informed last night that there will only be an early morning breakfast at 6:30.  The early morning breakfast was typically cereal, pastries and toast.  We would have the morning to kayak until about 10 a.m. then we would pull up anchor and head to Wrangell.  While sailing, the chef was planning a huge brunch.

It rained lightly all morning but that didn’t stop us from grabbing a kayak and heading out about 7:30 a.m.  We needed to be back on board by 10:00 but that was plenty of time to see Minks, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and other birds.

Bald Eagles

Common Murre

Brunch was huge, as promised.  We set sail for the town of Wrangell.  Once we disembarked in Wrangell we only had a couple of hours to explore the town.  We opted to go to the Wrangell Museum.  It is a well-done museum and we enjoyed it.

While walking around Wrangell we saw a few birds including a Black-legged Kittiwake and Bonapart Gull.
Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

At 4:00 p.m. we followed several of the crew and most of the passengers to the Chief Shakes Cultural Center where a few of the native people put on a presentation for us.  It was poorly organized and amateurish.  We were glad it only lasted 40 minutes!

Pictures taken by the crew:

We were in for a big surprise when we returned to the ship. The tide had dropped over 20 feet while we were away, and we were not able to use the gangway. So the ship launched their inflatable skiffs and we had to use them to get back aboard.

In the picture below you can see the angle of the ramp down to the water. It was so steep that we had trouble safely walking down. Combined with wind and rough seas it was by far our most adventurous outing of the trip!

Next time: Our very first glacier.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Much Needed Job

I know it seems like all we do is go on vacation and play tourist but we also do some actual work around the refuge. 

There are two observation decks on the trail leading to Dungeness Spit.  The upper deck is very large with benches and several kiosks.

Large upper deck.

What is a Spit?

There are wonderful views from both decks.  This is the view from the much smaller lower deck.

View from the lower deck.

Much smaller lower deck.

We have never thought of this before but we were asked to clean out the grooves between the deck boards.  They get packed with dirt, pine cones and leaf litter.

Decking packed with debris.

Deck after cleaning.

The problem is that when it rains, the water is not able to run off the deck.  The boards stay wet and slick for quite some time.

Mark found this homemade tool in the shed that seemed to be just for this project.

The pine cones seem to be the biggest problem.  Once they get stuck in the spacing nothing else can fall through.  I’m not sure how often these decks had been cleaned but it looked like it needed to be more often.

Except for the first few boards, both decks are raised off the ground.  Mark had to go underneath and scrape some of the litter out that had accumulated.  It wasn’t an easy job!

After sweeping the deck looked great!  We finished the lower deck the next day.

Finished deck.

Next time you visit a refuge or park, check out the decks!  If they're clean, thank a volunteer.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Ready for a break from Alaska?

We had been waiting for the weather to warm up a bit before visiting Hurricane Ridge, which lies at an elevation of 5242 feet in Olympic National Park. After returning from Alaska we decided to head up to view Hurricane Ridge for the first time.

It was drizzly down at sea level, but we'd been told that weather in the mountains was often different than in the lower areas. We started in the rain, but things soon turned foggy.

We passed through a few tunnels as we continued up. 

And finally, we broke out of the clouds and fog and saw blue skies and sunshine up top. 

At the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center we found plenty of snow plowed up alongside the parking lot. It was about twenty degrees cooler up top as well!

Most of the trails were still closed, but we took a short walk. We saw an Olympic Marmot almost immediately. The Olympic Marmot is found only on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington so we felt lucky to see one. 
Olympic Marmot

It was still pretty cold for many birds to be up at this elevation, but we did see a couple. The Gray Jays in the Pacific NW have dark caps on their heads that birds in the Rocky Mountains don't. We were a little confused by this bird until we discovered this information in our field guide. 
Gray Jay

Dark-eyed Juncos were by far the most common birds. They don't seem to mind the snow one bit. 
Dark-eyed Junco

Our favorite find was this Townsend's Warbler. Not to many colorful birds up here right now!

We plan to head back up to Hurricane Ridge a little later this summer to do more hiking. 

Next: More of Alaska!


Friday, June 16, 2017

Alaska Journal - Day 8

This morning finds us in the Behm Canal, which is another arm of the Tongass National Forest. 

Our morning excursion is a bushwhacking hike with our guide Mark.  There are no trails.  If you want to hike, you just start pushing your way into the forest.  This is called bushwhacking.  It was another rainy morning.  Even though the forest was very lush and beautiful, we didn’t see any wildlife.
Our bushwhacking group.  Photo by our guide, Mark.

Our hike took us from breakfast to lunch time.  After lunch we were allowed to take a kayak out on our own.  There were only a couple folks that went out so we were able to get away from everyone else.

We watched 2 minks frolicking on the rocks and had 2 other minks swim around our kayak!

We saw lots of sea stars and sea cucumbers. Since our small camera was DOA, here are a couple of pictures from others during the trip.
Sea Star

Sea Star

Sea Cucumber

Back on the boat we relaxed and watched the wildlife.

Marbled Murrelet trio

Red-throated Loon

Next: Going ashore in Wrangell, Alaska

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alaska Journal - Day 7

We woke up to rain this morning and it ended up raining all day.  A little rain didn’t stop any of the activities on the boat, however.

Our time today was spent in Walker Cove in the Misty Fjords National Monument area. 

It isn't hard to see where the name "Misty" comes from.

Our information said “Home to nearly every ecosystem in Southeast Alaska -- stunning glacial valleys filled with seawater, untouched wetlands and estuaries, and 3,000 foot vertical cliffs that are a haven for wildlife.  Soak in the splendor of this largely unknown corner of the world with an up-close look at this majestic, 2.3 million acre wilderness”.

We saw lots of wildlife in this area including Black Bear, Humpback Whales, and more birds.

The sides of the fjords are incredibly steep, and this Humpback Whale was diving right alongside the edge of the water.

It is easy to see where White-winged Scoters get their name!

After lunch we were signed up for a guided kayak tour with Lindsey.  The bridge had spotted a Brown Bear (Grizzly) mother with her cub digging up clams on a nearby shore. In this picture you can see the large shoulder hump that helps to identify these as Brown Bears. 

The ship had to drop anchor, which is very loud. We were afraid that it would spook the bears, but they just looked up. They ended up feeding on this beach the entire time we were there (6 hours).

At our allotted time we got in the kayaks and Lindsey led the way toward the bears.

We were not going to get very close - all the guides were very cautious about confronting any of the wildlife in any way that would impact their behavior.  There were 7 kayaks in our group and it didn’t take long before I started to hear a lot of grumblings and complaining about the wet, cold weather.  Mark and I were warm, dry, and snug in our new rain gear.

This is a photo that Lindsey took of us.  

As you can tell by the water, it really wasn’t raining all that hard.

After getting a look at the Brown bears, Lindsey took a vote on who wanted to return to the boat and who wanted to stay out for the rest (most) of our allotted time.  Not surprising Mark and I were the only ones wanting to continue with the trip.  We escorted everyone back to the boat then Lindsey and us went on our way.  Lindsey was happy to keep going and we weren’t going to let a little rain stop us!

We headed back to the bears.  Even though we weren’t able to get very close, we still got great looks. This shot was taken from the kayak with my small camera.

After watching the bears for quite some time, we started paddling around again and saw some beautiful waterfalls.

Uh -- Oh!
Oh No!

Yep.  5 days left on our trip and my camera died!

We stayed out with Lindsey and saw lots of beautiful star fish (unfortunately, no pictures).

Next time:  All is not lost - Mark still has his big camera and a smart phone.  I have my kindle that takes pictures.