Good Times in Alaska: Our Honeymoon

Well, I’ve been rummaging about on an old hard drive and came across several dozen letters I wrote back in the late 1990’s. The following is a letter I wrote to my Aunt Gladys (I’ve mentioned her in my blog several times and included photos her husband, my Uncle Edward, took while they lived in Alaska in the 1940’s and 1950’s).  You can see some of his old photos here and here.

Ann and I went to Alaska on a cruise for our honeymoon in 1997–one of the best trips of my life. Here’s the run-down:

I thought that I’d write to you about our adventures in Alaska. I enjoyed talking to you over the phone about them, but I thought that you would enjoy a slightly more detailed description of our trip.

On Saturday, we flew to Vancouver, British Columbia. I wish that we had more time to spend here, but we hurried to the ship. Riding through on a bus was interesting, however. It is a beautiful city and one that I hope to see again, and in more detail. We got on the ship down by the docks, just blocks from the downtown district. The ship was huge, 11 stories tall and 941 feet long. It was very nice and we went to our room to rest after the long flight.

We got up in time to watch as we sailed out of the Vancouver harbor. Leaving Vancouver was beautiful and we sailed past Stanley Park. It’s amazing to see that much green, undeveloped land in the middle of a city. I really liked that and would love to have time to explore the park some day.

The next day, we spent the entire day on the ship looking out at the mountains, which got larger and taller as we sailed north. There really wasn’t a lot to see on this day because we weren’t very near the shore. As a result, we saw mainly commercial fishing boats and sea gulls. It was nice though, because it gave us a chance to rest.

The following day, Monday, we sailed into Juneau around noon. It was
raining, but that didn’t bother us. We were ready for the rain and had
our rain jackets and hats. We got off the boat and met our guide, who
wasn’t much older than I was but had lived in Juneau for 27 years. He
drove 6 of us north of Juneau out toward the valley (I can’t remember
what the valley was called). We got near the Mendenhall Glacier and got
out of the bus.  After hiking about a mile uphill, we got to a point
overlooking a lake that the Mendenhall Glacier fed. There were large
chunks of ice floating in it. We kept hiking for another 2 miles until
we came to a river of snowmelt. We stopped here and rested. We had a
very good view of the Mendenhall Glacier and took lots of photos. It
was amazing to see such a large expanse of ice and to know that it was
so old.

We turned around and hiked back out (the whole hike lasted almost 5
hours). We were tired after the hike, but decided to see a little bit
of Juneau while we were there. We rode back into town, passing by the
Red Dog Saloon and a newer place called The Hanger. We saw several
eagles on our drive back into town, which was really neat since we
hardly ever see eagles in Alabama. We decided to eat in town instead of
on the ship, so we went to The Hanger (our guide suggested we try it).
We had halibut, which was very good, and salmon patties made from fresh
salmon, which we liked a lot as well. After our meal, we walked around
Juneau for a little while, stopping in several shops before heading
back to the ship.

The next day, Tuesday, we docked in Skagway. We got off the boat and met our guide for the day. We took a van through town (which didn’t take up much of our time) and then drove to the start of the Chilkoot Trail. We hiked up the trail for about 1.5 miles and then got on a rubber raft and floated down the Taiya river. That was fun and we saw some beautiful scenery. The whole hike and float trip was within the Tongass National Forest, so it was really interesting to see everything there. I’ve never seen as many different kinds of moss. All the trees were pretty–the hemlocks, spruce, and cottonwood trees. We also saw something our guide called the poor man’s strawberry, which some of the people with us tried, and some plant with lots of small sharp spines on the underside of its large leaves.

We spent a few hours in town after we got back from our hike. We shopped and found a really interesting otter carved out of walrus ivory. It was really pretty so we decided to get it as a keepsake from our trip. We then headed back to the ship for another evening of cruising.

The next morning we landed in Sitka. We had to take a smaller boat to shore because our boat was larger than the docks could handle. We got to shore and quickly strolled into town. On our way in, we saw lots of very large ravens. They were screaming at everyone as they walked by–noisy birds but really smart I’ve heard. We walked around town and went into several shops, including what they said was the oldest hotel in Alaska. We also went to the Russian church and walked around inside it. We bought a Puffin carved out of ivory and some smoked salmon while in town, then took a smaller boat around several of the different islands looking for wildlife. We saw several eagles (including one baby eagle in a nest), 4 Sitka deer, lots of seals, and about 6 sea otters. We also saw a Minkie whale.

The next morning, Thursday, we docked in Ketchikan. We got off the boat and walked around town. It was sunny the whole time we were there, which surprised us because we had heard that it was really rainy. We shopped and bought some art made by native Alaskans. We walked to the top of a hill and ate a lunch of fried halibut and french fries at a lodge. We took a tram down the mountain, walked around a little bit more, saw a totem pole, and got back on the ship.

We left Ketchikan early that afternoon and sailed to Misty Fjords. The ship went in here and we saw several eagles and 5 brown bear. We also saw salmon jumping out of the water. It was a beautiful place.

The next day, we were at sea the whole day, but we still saw lots of snowcapped mountains and lots of fishing boats. Other than that, we really didn’t see anything that last day. We pulled into Vancouver early the next morning, got off the boat and onto a bus and went to the airport. We had a little time, so we enjoyed a relaxing hour sitting out in the sun outside the airport. Then we flew home.

Day 1. Vancouver. Weather was overcast, slightly humid, and brisk. A sweater was nice.
Day 2. At Sea. Weather was similar to day 1, with a bit more rain.
Day 3. Juneau. Very rainy. Chilly. A light rainproof jacket, sweater, and long underwear felt good for a while. The hike required shedding most of this.
Day 4. Skagway. Weather was not bad. Long sleeve shirt or sweater during some of the day. Short sleeves during other parts.
Day 5. Sitka. No rain. Sweater felt nice. So did a light pile jacket on board the ship at night.
Day 6. Ketchikan. No rain. Actually sunny. Long sleeve shirt and at times short sleeve shirt felt good. Sweater at night. Misty Fjords required a light jacket.
Day 7. At sea. Sun/haze mix. Long sleeve shirt worked well.
Day 8. Vancouver. Very sunny. Short sleeves and jeans. The weather was perfect. I wish we could have spent more time in Vancouver. We sat outside, enjoyed the scenery, read a book, and listened to a crow fuss at each passing car.

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2 Responses to “Good Times in Alaska: Our Honeymoon”

  1. On October 6, 2008 at 2:45 pm Ray Massey responded with... #

    The valley where you visited the Mendenhall Glacier was Mendenhall Valley. Too bad you didn’t have time for the Alaska State Museum while you were in Juneau- great exhibits plus a traveling exhibit area that usually shows great artwork.
    The area near the Chilkoot Trail near Sjagway is not Tongass National Forest, but the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. It’s realy beautiful anyway, and we in the Forest Service won’t hold that against them (the Park Service).
    It’s a shame you didn’t have the time or opportunity to visit the Discovery Center in Ketchikan. It’s located right downtown about a block off of the cruise ship docks. It has beautiful displays depicting Alaska life, past and present. It also contains an Alaska Geographic bookstore and a theater. It is one of four Alaska Lands Public Information Centers and is run by the Forest Service.
    Misty Fiords is both a national monument and a Wilderness, and is one of many national monuments managed by the Forest Service (instead of the Park Service).
    I’m happy you enjoyed your short trip through Southeast Alaska. Come back and visit us anytime!
    Ray Massey, U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Region

  2. On October 6, 2008 at 2:59 pm Joe Watts responded with... #

    Thanks for the corrections. We had a wonderful time in Alaska and would love to make it back up there sometime in the future. I have always loved Alaska–though I have only been once. My Aunt Gladys Waddell lived there for something around 20 years. (Well, she lived in several places including Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau and Kodiak Island. Other places as well, I’m sure.) What a wonderful place to visit or, I suspect, to live. Thanks for the comment.