The ferry ride to Sitka was a long one (13 hours) but we did get to see several Humpback Whales on the way. We also made a stop in a little town called Kake (pronounced cake) along the way. We arrived in Sitka a little after 2:00 a.m. and wound up parked outside the campground gate until about 9:00 a.m. when we could check in. It is a great camp site, very large and isolated with a stream running behind it and large old growth trees all around us. It has an artesian well that everyone in Sitka comes to fill their water jugs. There is a constant stream of cars while the campground is open. That may be why they close the gates at night – to give us campers some peace! We are still in the Tongass National Forest. We have no cell service, no wireless, no satellite, and no utilities – that’s what they call boondocking! We have to check our phone when we are in town and I will check my email the same way every couple of days.
The first day here (Tuesday) we went into Sitka to do some exploring and get some groceries. We are just buying enough each stop to last us that stop as we have to turn our refrigerator off for the ferry rides. All LP tanks must be turned off and that is what the fridge runs on when not connected to electricity. Later in the evening we took a short wildlife cruise that took us out to Saint Lazaria Island which is a National Wildlife refuge used mostly by birds. The island was formed by a volcano a long time ago and has several species of birds that are not found many other places. Probably most interesting was the Tufted Puffins, these were very colorful birds that swim much better than they fly. They float in the water and dive for their food. When they want to fly they kind of start running across the water, hop , skip and jump into the sky – very funny to watch. The island also had a couple of colonies of the Murres which our guide called Penguin wannabees since they looked just like very small Penguins. These guys hang onto the side of a cliff or cave as their nest. The island itself was very picturesque with all of its different formations.
On the way back to Sitka, we also got to observe a Gray Whale. They don’t come as far out of the water when they come up to breathe and they also don’t lift their flukes out of the water like the Humpback do. Nevertheless, they are very interesting to watch. We also passed a large gathering of sea otters. These were all male as the females gather in an area several miles away. Once a year the females will swim to where the males are for mating and then swim back to their own area. The sea otter is why the Russians first settled Sitka as they hunted the sea otter for their pelts which was called “soft gold” due to the value and thickness of their pelt. They almost hunted them to extinction and couldn’t find any other way to make the area economical so they sold it to the U.S. in a land purchase that was called “Seward’s Folly.” You may remember it from your history courses???
Wednesday we went to the Alaska Raptor Center which is a rescue center for all raptors. There are six kinds of raptors: the eagles, the falcons, the hawks, the ospreys, the owls and the kites. They had all but the osprey and kite here. They try to repair the injured raptor so they can fly again and then release them. Unfortunately there are a number that they have to amputate portions of their wing and they can no longer fly well enough to live on their own. These they try to place with zoos or other educational centers. In the center they have an area called the Flight Training Center which is a very large, naturally landscaped area that they place the birds being rehabilitated while they are learning to fly again. It has one way glass and waterfalls so they have no idea someone is watching them as they can’t see or hear us. While we were there they had two older Bald Eagles and two immature Bald Eagles in the Flight Training Center. The Bald Eagles don’t get their white head or tail and yellow beak until they mature at about age five. As they are maturing they go through several stages of brown mottling. This enables us to tell their age until they reach maturity at five. After they mature, you cannot tell their age. They live to about 35 in the wild and about 50 in captivity.
After the Raptor Center we crossed over the O’Connell Bridge to Japonski Island just west of Sitka. This island hosts the airport, Coast Guard and Southeast Sitka Campus of the University of Alaska. The bridge itself is a suspension bridge much like the Golden Gate Bridge but much smaller. Japonski Island is where our military was once stationed during WWII. We then came back to Sitka and visited Castle Hill where the city of Sitka was formally transferred to the United States from Russia. This is the highest point in Sitka and sits right on the edge of the harbor. This is where the Russian Governor Baronsky had a home and many other building followed during the history of Sitka. It is bare now and has been made into an Alaska Historical Site where they hold a ceremony each year celebrating the sale of Alaska to the United States on October 18, 1867.
Thursday we didn’t do much but camp. Friday we went back into town to look at some of the old churches that were built in the 18th century when occupied by the Russians. I have included pictures of the three main ones built during that period. The Russian Orthodox Church, St. Michaels, burned to the ground in 1966 but they were able to save most of the artifacts and display them in the rebuilt church that was the subject of my picture. Doris said it is mostly a museum now and she doesn’t think services are held there anymore. We also found a place to refuel Libby and the Mothership tomorrow. We hadn’t planned on refueling the Mothership until we finished the Inside Passage (she has only been driven about 40 miles since May 28th) but the station we found to get her some propane has wide open spaces making it very easy to get her in and out. It is the first station we have seen since Prince Rupert built similar to our large stations at home. We have to be in line for the ferry tomorrow at 12:45 p.m. for a 1:45 p.m. departure. We are not supposed to get to Juneau until after 6:00 a.m. Sunday – that ought to be a fun time!! At least it will be daylight except for about four hours between 11:00 and 3:00. We hopefully will see more whales!