Rainforest Festival

Every September Petersburg hosts a Rainforest Festival, far enough into the month that it’s obviously not for tourists – they’ve all gone south by then.  The Festival is all about science with lectures, field trips, hands-on learning and activities for kids.  There are so many things to do and see – it can be hard to choose, yet still easy to fill a long weekend.

The artists headed up the Stikine River for some plein air painting and berry picking, the mushroom lovers spent time with a mycologist (“just call me the Fungus guy”) to learn about common as well as rare mushrooms that grow in our rainforest (and to collect edible ones). People took guided boat trips to the Baird glacier gravel bars, and I joined a field trip to our local salmon hatchery.The outflow of the mountain lake that provides much of our hydro-electric power also supports the cooperative salmon hatchery – this one raises king (chinook) and some coho (silver) salmon for sport fishing.  1.6 million eggs are incubating, and the fish are raised until they are just a few inches long before they’re released at the head of several creeks in the region.  Hatcheries use eggs and sperm from wild fish to help improve the percentage of eggs that grown into adult fish – available for marine predators as well as sport fishermen.

We attended an excellent lecture by a local Forest Service hydrologist who spoke about the nature of salmon streams that make them good habitat for the fish to successfully reproduce… and then the hydrologist took us on a field trip out the road to a salmon stream that was severely disturbed by logging back in the 1960s.  The hydrologist’s job has been play detective – analyzing terrain that has been heavily overgrown to understand what happened to the stream over 50 years ago, and what subtle modifications (if any) would restore the stream to its original characteristics for good salmon habitat.  Of course it rained.  But no self-respecting southeast Alaskan would go out without good rain gear and brown boots.  Well, most.  The hydrologist’s wife and daughters came along, and the little girls didn’t want to wear raincoats.  Instead, they made umbrellas from giant skunk cabbage leaves and stayed pretty dry.I chose a kayak trip up Petersburg Creek instead of learning to make fish skin leather, taking advantage of the big tide needed to get up the creek.  We were led by a fisheries biologist who talked about the different sizes of gravel and bottom composition that each type of salmon species prefers, and we could easily see through the clear water.  Coho were leaping and a few sport fishermen were enjoying success… as were the bears.  We saw 5 as we paddled and rode the flood tide up the creek.And yes, that’s rain in the photo.  It’s a rainforest, and we really need the water after such a dry summer.It’s a beautiful creek, accessible all the way up (about 6 miles) only on a big tide.

Thomas Bay – Cascade Creek

We decided to give the dinghy prop a little break from glaciers and hidden rocks, so we headed down to the lower end of Thomas Bay to hike Cascade Creek and to do a little kayaking.Can you spot Cascade Creek?  It’s just to the right of center, looking pretty small at this distance… even though it’s a big roaring stream.The trail follows the creek through the forest, with tiny flowers……even tinier mushrooms and other fungus along the way.We didn’t venture all the way up to the lake – the trail got very rough and the climb wasn’t something we wanted to do, but it was beautiful to see the rushing water as we hiked along.There just isn’t a bad view anywhere in Thomas Bay.

Scenery Cove and Baird Glacier

Sorry about the long lapse between posts – we’ve been super busy, stopping back in town, heading out for one last cruise of the season, back in town in time for the Rainforest Festival, and getting the boat ready for winter.  Last week we had overnight temps just above freezing, with slick frost on the docks in the mornings.  The days are getting much shorter, and we’re losing daylight at a rate of 5 minutes a day! 

We tend to spend so much time exploring far from home that we forget how good the cruising can be in our own backyard.  For the last cruise of the season we traveled just 16 nautical miles to Thomas Bay for another visit to the Baird Glacier and the aptly named Scenery Cove.We had the little mini-fjord all to ourselves for a couple of days, enjoying some kayaking and exploring along the edges.We didn’t see any bears here – there weren’t any salmon, but we saw a deer leaping and lots of interesting little things along the shoreline… like these curly tree branches……and tiny silvery threads of falling water.Fall is starting to make its arrival known…The other great thing about Scenery Cove is that it’s right at the doorstep of the Baird Glacier, one of the two glaciers that formed Thomas Bay.  The Baird is no longer a tidewater glacier, which means that it no longer comes down to the sea, but it has a meltwater lake at its face that flows into the bay.  The outflow changed over the winter, making the channel accessible by small boat this summer.  However, glacier water is completely opaque with glacial silt and the channel is shallow and rocky.  It’s not very forgiving, as our dinghy propeller can attest.But… it’s worth a little excitement for the views and to have a chance to explore the gravel bars and silt plains left behind as the glacier has retreated.

We saw moose tracks and bear scat, and we were careful to make lots of noise when we passed through thickets of brush.  There were barren patches of fine silt and sand, big stretches covered in boulders and cobbles, small trees, and a wonderful assortment of mosses, lichens and tiny mushrooms.I don’t have enough space in this Blog to put all the photos I took of the various lichens and tiny plants – I’m still looking up all the names of everything!  My point is that, while the landscape is a grand one, the many details within that landscape are also special… like a “face” in the silt.And aren’t the patterns and texture of the glacier beautiful?

Adventures in Chatham Strait

Chatham Strait runs between Admiralty Island to the east and Chichagof and Baranof Islands to the west, geologically part of the Denali fault.  This is a “transform” type of fault, where the sides slip laterally.  There has already been about 120 miles of lateral slip based on study of the adjacent islands – the west side has slipped to the north. 

It’s simply beautiful.We haven’t stopped in the tiny community of Tenakee Springs for a few years so we headed there with dreams of their famous cinnamon buns in our heads.  Fortunately we got to the bakery just in time to get the last fresh buns, and unfortunately we saw that the bakery is for sale! 

Residents of the community were in a happy mood because the Alaska State Ferry had just docked, bringing people home as well as lots of boxes and waterproof Rubbermaid totes full of packages and provisions.  We watched a constant procession of smiling people rolling overloaded handtrucks to their homes.

Tenakee is known for its natural hot springs, plumbed into a small block building for public use.  Bathing there is Japanese-style, where you wash in a separate room before you enter the bath.  Posted hours segregate men’s and women’s use of the bath throughout the day, important since no bathing suits are permitted.  We just enjoyed strolling the “main street” – a dirt road that runs just above the shoreline, noshing on ripe thimbleberries and admiring people’s gardens.  A sure sign that autumn is on the way – fireweed starting to turn to seed.Tenakee is a fun and funky place, where the only vehicles are ATVs and there aren’t enough children in town to keep the school open (a community needs at least 10).  Residents are friendly, and they have a good sense of humor.Leaving Tenakee we had a long passage to our next anchorage, interrupted by a pod of orcas!The big dorsal fin belongs to a male – that fin can be up to five feet tall.  We saw calves as well as adults, and luckily they were moving in the same direction that we were.At one point they all dove, and then popped up close to the boat!As they dove and moved off, following whatever food they were hunting, one of the orcas slapped its pectoral, slapped its tail, and then spy-hopped.  What a show!We anchored for the night in a pretty spot where we’ve stayed many times before – Takatz Bay.  The water was very silty, turning it into a pale turquoise color.  I love how it looked against the forest’s many different shades of green.The rocks in Takatz are very photogenic, many with stripes like a tiger’s, and other colors caused by water and lichens.Takatz has a stream, but it’s not a major one for the salmon.  A few fish were around, and a brown bear was napping by the shoreline – the first one I’ve seen there.

As the tide rose I spotted five blue herons fishing in the shallows.  It seems strange to see a bird that we always thought of as a summer or southern resident on the east coast, but we have them up here year-round.A short five nautical miles south of Takatz is Warm Springs Bay, part of Baranof Island’s “waterfall coast”.There’s a roaring waterfall and a tiny cluster of houses along a boardwalk overlooking the bay.  As the name implies, there’s a natural hot spring nearby – access to the rocky pool requires a hike through the woods, but there’s also a little bath house with three private “booths” so you can have a nice soak without climbing over rocks and roots while carrying your bear spray.It’s divine.