July Fourth in Pelican

No, we don’t have pelicans in southeast Alaska. This tiny boardwalk town perched on a mountainside on the ocean coast of Chichagof Island was named after a fishing boat – the PELICAN. About 40 people winter over, but the town hustles a lot more in the summer with a few charter fishing lodges, a small fish processing operation and a cold storage facility.

Supplies, mail and people arrive by either boat or by floatplane, and often when a plane is coming in someone zips down the dock in an ATV (with a little dog between the handlebars) towing a cart.

All the vehicles in town are ATVs of some type, except for the trash truck (a pickup with a large aluminum box in the bed) and the fire truck (another pickup).

We heard about the schedule for the next day’s July Fourth festivities while having lunch at the little cafe (good to know that we needed to bring a side dish for the cookout), and to know when the parade would start. I love an old-fashioned parade!

I’ll post more of the July Fourth festivities tomorrow – especially the Greased Pole competition… not to be missed.

Elfin Cove

Our first stop on the outer coast is the little community of Elfin Cove. We’ve tried to visit here a few times in the past but the dock was always chock full of fishing boats. This time, we planned our arrival for just after a commercial trolling opening… and voila – plenty of space on the dock!

The town has just a handful of residents that winter over, but the population swells during the summer with sport fishing lodges and commercial fishing activity. Most of the town is along a boardwalk loop, connecting the front dock area with the back bay.

Back bay docks

I shot a little drone video to give you a better idea of what the community looks like, and to show the views looking out towards the scattering of islands that protect Elfin Cove from ocean waves.

There are two entrances to the town, on either side of a small steep island. The cut to the back bay is pretty narrow and shallow – navigable only at mid-tide or higher… and definitely high tide for a boat like ours.

The old school no longer has enough children to remain open so the building is home to the post office, community gym and a little museum. We had a nice lunch at the Coho Cafe… and caught up on some local news and plans for July Fourth.

Flowers were blooming and people’s gardens were growing quickly in the long hours of daylight.

We particularly liked this planting arrangement – “Croc Pots”

We strolled the boardwalks and admired the effort required to build houses in such a remote place with steep cliffs and massive trees. Berries were just about ready for picking – the salmonberries were a few days away from perfection…

…and the blueberries looked just about right.

Playing host to so much fishing activity means that there’s a lot of demand for fuel, and I suspect the fuel barge doesn’t come around very often. A community like this has to be able to store a lot of fuel – diesel and gasoline.

Fuel farm

Besides the cafe and the fishing lodges, Elfin Cove has a little General Store stocked with food items, marine supplies, t-shirts and sweatshirts, and of course some fishing gear.

A Pilot boat is based here – used to pick up the Alaska State (navigational) Pilots that are aboard every large cruise ship to guide them while they are in the inside channels.

As you can imagine, supplies are very expensive here – everything arrives either by boat or by float plane. Mail, cargo, fishing lodge guests, food and supplies arrive on the various float planes that arrive throughout the day – weather permitting.

With the commercial trolling season opening, the barge next to the main dock became a platform for receiving fish and selling ice to the trollers. Other tenders (fish buying boats) also came in to load fish to be taken to the processing plants, and it was a very tight squeeze when an 85′ tender needed to get past some small boats at low tide. One wrong move and those little guys would have been splinters… but the tender was piloted perfectly – an impressive job.

We were tempted to stay a bit longer to enjoy the July Fourth festivities, but we had good weather to run out and around to another tiny town – Pelican. Stay tuned.

Just a Few More…

Some last photos from Glacier Bay, and some other treats.

If you remember from the last post, we looked for mountain goats on Gloomy Knob as we were northbound in the bay but didn’t see any. We decided to head back there on our way south and had success! Groups of goats…

…and a nanny with her kid. So sweet!

And since we were so close to Tidal Inlet we nosed in to check the beach and the alluvial fan for wildlife, and we lucked out with a brown bear sow and her very blonde two year old cubs.

We drifted in the deep part of the inlet to have lunch, and spotted a pair of sub-adult brown bears on a different part of the beach – a “brownie” and a “blondie”. This is the first time we’ve seen so many light colored brown bears.

A sleepy sea otter waved as we headed out of the bay and back to Hoonah – we needed a few days to pick up some forwarded mail and catch up on laundry.

The weather was clear but hot! It was 80 degrees one day, which is way too hot for the wildlife and the locals. It’s very scary to see so much fishbelly-white skin when the Alaskans don their shorts! It was a relief when the sun set (around 10pm) and we enjoyed seeing the pretty sky.

The eagles were still sitting on their nest, but we haven’t seen any little fuzzy heads yet. We don’t know if the eaglets have hatched yet, but that nest is pretty deep.

All caught up on mail, Internet and phone calls, we headed out of Hoonah, past the docked cruise ship. I had to laugh at the two crew members standing on a little float by the ship’s bow, painting with very long-handled rollers. Maintenance on any kind of boat, big or small, never ends.

We cruised west towards the outside coast of Chichagof Island, and had to take the boat out of gear quickly when a humpback appeared right next to us. We drifted for a while to make sure it cleared the area before we put the engines back in gear. You just never know what’s around the next corner.

Like a Yo-yo

We had so much fun in Glacier Bay that we had to go back. But first, we spent a few days in Juneau to do some major shopping at Costco and Fred Meyer. The freezers are full, we saved some bucks, saw some friends, and we headed back towards the park. We had a nice bit of alpenglow at Swanson Harbor along the way…

…and then we were back to masses of barking sea lions…

…swarms of nesting gulls – so many that when a bald eagle came too close it was like a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds”!

The numbers of tufted puffins are definitely down this year, and the rangers told us it was due to a lack of food. Climate Change is making a negative impact on sea birds in Alaska at an alarming rate. There were a small number of tufted puffins…

…and we spotted a couple of horned puffins again – a rare treat.

We headed farther up-bay to look for wildlife in Tidal Inlet. We loved the colors on the mountains near there, enhanced by the light and shade from the clouds.

We looked for mountain goats on Gloomy Knob but they must have been hiding on the back side of the ridge. We continued on up to look for wildlife behind Russell Island, but had no joy there either, except for the cool interface between silty glacier meltwater (the putty color) and the sea water.

This sea otter was impressed!

We anchored by the Reid glacier for the night, then ventured out for a morning tour of the Johns Hopkins glacier (the most dramatic setting of the bay’s glaciers, I think), as well as a few of its neighbors.

We couldn’t get any closer to the glacier even though the inlet was very ice-free, because seals still had young pups in there. They’re vulnerable to the cold water until they’re about six weeks old.

The Lamplugh, the most blue of Glacier Bay’s glaciers, is no longer a tidewater glacier – it no longer calves into salt water except at unusually high tides. It’s so sad to see how much it has changed in just a few years.

The low tide gave people a chance to take a skiff or a kayak ashore to explore the big grounded bergy bits. The relatively tiny people makes us realize how massive this ice river is.

The Margerie glacier was pretty in the early afternoon light, and the ice-free inlet allowed us to venture pretty far north so we could see the glacier snake its way down through the mountains.

The little bit of ice floating near the glaciers offers food for the imagination – like this ice dragon.

And the clear skies let us see the Fairweather mountain range along the ocean coast about 50 miles away, and I especially liked this peak with a beautiful lenticular cloud.

The summer solstice has passed and that means that the days are starting to get shorter, albeit by only a minute per day right now. But that will accelerate to 4-5 minutes of loss per day in another month or two. It’s a sad thought, going from 18 hours of daylight to six and a half hours by the winter’s solstice in late December. I woke up early one morning, before 4am, and had to photograph the pastel pre-dawn light over the mountains. The only good thing about the winter solstice is that we can sleep in, enjoy a cup of coffee, and still have time to catch the sunrise.