After a stop at Starbucks in Ketchikan for fortification, we headed to the ferry dock and waited in the rain for our ship (the Taku) to come in. Tom had to crawl under the van to shut off the propane (for Coast Guard safety reasons) and we were able to eat lunch as the Taku slowly unloaded the passengers and vehicles from Prince Rupert. We had reserved a stateroom on board for this 10 hour trip that would get into Petersburg at 1:45 in the morning.
There were only half a dozen vehicles to be boarded and we went last. In these ferry boats, you drive into the vehicle bay and park under the able direction of the crew. Then you take the belongings you want on board the ship and walk up a few flights of stairs to the passenger decks. We had packed our stuff and went to the cabin deck where the purser gave us our stateroom key. We were delighted with the size of the room that had a bathroom with a shower complete with made up beds and towels. Tom got the upper birth which had a welded steel ladder (most of the furnishings were rather solid).
From our window we could see the activities as the ship pulled away from the port. As we sailed from Ketchikan, we saw the sights on road we had traveled the previous days from a new perspective. Tom explored the ship and reported back that there were three entries for dinner - Salmon, chicken, and ham (with yams). Anne was excited with the ambiance of the room and the great positive energy the ship conveyed. All of the crew was so courteous and friendly which was even more exciting since there were signs posted that said, "Tipping is prohibited by law."
After dinner, Tom worked on making postcards and Anne enjoyed her iPod music while knitting and enjoying the sights of the islands going by. Around 10PM, we reached the first stop - Wrangell where is was permissible to reenter the van and get the stuff you always seem to forget. (Entry is only allowed in port and never when the ship is underway).
While daylight is long (17 hours) in Alaska, it does get dark for a few hours. This is when we entered the Wrangell Narrows. The ship slowed and we saw red marker buoys passing by our starboard cabin window that had to be only a few feet away from the ship. There was even more excitement with this navigation when the ship's searchlight scanned the waters ahead to see the next turn. This brought back memories as Tom remembered his own navigation in the St. Lawrence River in the late 1980's when we would come to our island at night and weave our way through the narrow channels.
A gentle knock on our door around 1:30AM reminded us that we were approaching our destination of Petersburg. We gathered up our stuff and headed to the vehicle deck and disembarked from the ship in the darkness. This was the first time we had driven the van in the dark. We found the RV staging area parking lot and quickly (after Tom turned the propane back on to fuel the furnace) got into bed for a short night's sleep.
In the morning, we drove a few blocks into the small, prosperous town of Petersburg. This is a working fishing village with a Norwegian heritage. We drove a few miles out of town where there were very nice houses indicating the residents were doing well supplying the world with the famous Alaskan Salmon, King Crab and other seafood delights. Back in town, we bought a good supply of Salmon and King Crab for our camp meals. A well stocked IGA provided the staples for our camping (including a pint of Ben & Jerry's "Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies" ice cream).
At this point we realized we had not had breakfast, so we headed to the historic Sing Lee Alley where we had a breakfast fit for a lumberjack at the Northern Lights Restaurant. Tom, being anxious to catch a big salmon, purchased a license and Anne found a craft shop where she found some great stuff for drawing and fiber work.
We made the relatively short drive of 22 miles to the Ohmer Creek campground over mostly paved roads (the last 4 miles was on gravel) and the rain forest setting is absolutely beautiful. Road trips in South East Alaska ARE all short since the roads are not much longer than 40 miles before they just end. None of the towns are connected by road and that's why the ferry system is needed. The campground hosts were wonderful and gave us some smoked salmon which was fantastic. It was rather rainy, and we just took it easy for for a couple of days. It is so relaxing in the solitude of the forest. We ate the fresh King Salmon from town, prepared with soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon and Dijon Mustard. It was the best salmon we had ever tasted.
On Sunday, June 4, we launched our kayaks into Blind Slough. Tom tried fishing and Anne circled the entire slough. For our 40th Wedding Anniversary, we dined on King Crab smothered in lemon butter. We had moved to the Twin Creek RV park closer to town since the ferryboat departure to Sitka was at 4AM on June 5. We were rather groggy as we boarded and we continued our night's rest in our stateroom. We were becoming familiar with the ferry, Taku and enjoyed the 12 hour trip during the day. There were humpback whales in the straights and narrows, diving and feeding after their winter in the tropics where their calves were born.
We stocked up on groceries and gas in Sitka and headed out to the Starrigavan National Forest Service campground. We were tired and slept for over 10 hours in the gently falling rain. Just a short distance from our campsite, there is an artesian well with the best tasting water that attracted all the locals who came in with jugs, 5 gallon containers and even a 720 gallon truck that filled up all day for distribution in town as the "Misty Fiords Water Company." Tom made many trips to the well for this wonderful water.
On Tuesday, we visited the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Sitka. Here injured eagles and other birds are taught to fly after having accidents with electrical wires or automobiles. Tom got some really close shots of the eagles. It was sad to see them in their almost helpless state, but gratifying to know that humans can extend the kind of love, care, and attention to rehabilitate these gigantic birds.
On Wednesday, it continued to rain (it is a rainforest!), but the subtile light made some of the most beautiful pictures of the trees and ground foliage. On Wednesday, June 7, Tom caught his first Alaskan fish. Not knowing what kind of fish it was, he put them back. They were about the size of legal bass back home. Later, he learned they were probably rock cod. In the afternoon, the sky began to clear and we took a hike to Mosquito Cove over a trail that went up to the "tsunami safe" 100 foot level and beyond and then down back to the sea to the cove. There were no mosquitos! Again, the changing light made wonderful images in this deep forest.
The sun came out on Thursday. We moved into town and stayed at the Super 8. Shopping in Sitka rounded out the day and we dined at a restaurant and had a luscious meal of seafood with enough leftovers for the next night! Our next ferry trip was scheduled for 8:30, Friday morning. We boarded the Malaspina and during this trip, the whales were out there doing their thing. Tom caught a picture of a diving whale that was only 100 yards off the port side of the ship. We arrived at Juneau and drove to the Spruce Meadow RV park in a beautiful, aromatic setting.
Juneau is the State Capitol and a very metropolitan-looking city unlike the small towns we had seen thus far. The 4 lane highways were quite different from the unpaved or gravel roads we had been on in our 3 previous Alaskan stops. On Saturday, we did a general explore and stocked up on groceries (including fresh sockeye salmon which we had for dinner). We checked out Mendenhall Lake (the Mendenhall Glacier's melt goes here) and found a good place to launch out kayaks. There were icebergs floating in the cold water.
Sunday was a good day to shop in Juneau since only 3 cruise ships were in and there was parking available in a lot that would be filled on weekdays with government employees. We found treasures in the shops (exotic yarn, enameled zipper pulls, handmade glass beads, and fudge). We drove across the bridge to Douglas Island and explored to the end of the road. (Alaska has a lot of "Road ends 1000 ft." signs).
Monday was out last day in Juneau and we launched our kayaks in Mendenhall Lake. What a fantastic way to end our stay in the South East part of Alaska! We were able to paddle up to the Mendenhall Glacier among the calved-off icebergs. There was a powerful waterfall just to the right of the glacier and we didn't want to leave this spectacular place.