Glacier Bay and Native Culture

When people hear “Glacier Bay National Park” the obvious thing that comes to mind is ice, but there’s much more to it than just the glaciers.  If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time you will remember the story about the Huna Tlingit Tribal House that was dedicated last August – a significant landmark for the native people in the region as well as a celebration of the hard-won partnership between the Huna Tlingit and the Park Service. 

Since last year’s dedication the carvers from Hoonah have added two new totem poles outside, to represent more clans from around the region.  Inclusiveness is a major theme in the Tribal House carvings, including a canoe with nondescript people intended to represent all of us who come to visit, as well as the faces of ancestors in key places inside and out.We were lucky enough to be at the Tribal House for the first every-other-Monday special program presented by some of the carvers from Hoonah – Owen and Herb, who we have gotten to know over the past several years on our many visits to Hoonah.Owen was born in Petersburg and is from the Frog Clan, as you can see by his cedar bark hat.  He’s always working on something, with his sketching tools and one of his many adzes.  Note the texture on the wood wall in the photo above – it was created with an adze, and it’s amazing to learn that every board on the Tribal House, inside and out, was adzed to smooth and waterproof the wood.  It took a year and a half just for that part of the work!Owen and Herb gave a wonderful explanation of just some of the symbolism on the Tribal House carvings, showing us that the large face in the center inside panel represents the glacier that came down and pushed the Huna Tlingit out of the bay in the mid 1700s.  The woman in the center below the glacier was the one who is said to have taunted the glacier, encouraging it to come forward.  The abalone shell in her eyes represents the reflection of the glacier as it came bearing down on her.Herb and Owen donned some of their regalia and explained their clan and house symbols, and then they treated us to some drumming and dancing.  Herb danced with one of the amazing masks that he carved, and they generously shared more stories from their rich culture.The park has hired a new interpretive ranger for the Tribal House, a Tlingit lady who grew up in Hoonah, now an anthropologist.  Her stories and explanations came straight from the heart, and we love that we’re learning more things with every visit.  The Tribal House has added a major attraction to Glacier Bay, equal to the abundant wildlife and the amazing glaciers.

Speaking of wildlife, I can’t resist getting out in the kayak whether I venture near or far.  Not far from our anchored boat I noticed a pair of eagles flapping about on a sandbar, and I was lucky enough to catch the moment of mating.The pair stayed together for a long while afterwards, and I later found one of them perched in a nearby tree.Before heading up the bay we did a little hiking, enjoying the signs of spring slowly turning into summer, with flowers like these shooting stars blooming……though the lupine was only just beginning to open up……and the salmon berries have a long way to go before they become a delicious treat for people and bears.There’s just something special about a walk in the woods.

Crabs, Critters, and Spring

We arrived in Funter Bay at the top of Admiralty Island armed with Jim’s new fishing license, two crab traps, and herring for bait (caught by our friend Knut who kept insisting that Jim didn’t have enough!).  We put the Beastie (our dinghy) in the water and Jim headed out with his traps.While he was carefully checking water depths for the best place to drop his traps, I was watching the bears on the beach.  We saw a pair of younger brown bears, probably siblings, and probably in their third summer when they have recently been cast out on their own by their mother.  They were pretty wary and didn’t stay on the beach very long, but another brown bear hung around and munched on some grass.The lupine was in bloom on shore, but I just photographed it from the kayak, not wanting to disturb the bears.  They’re waiting for berries to ripen in July and for the salmon to start running in later July, so they’re hungry and grumpy since they’re mostly eating grass and foraging on the beach – not their favorite foods.  I think the lupine is just lovely from a distance, don’t you?Our friends Rick and Barb told Jim that it’s best to let his crab pots soak for at least one full tide cycle, so he waited until the next morning to see what he caught.  He had a few undersize and a few females that were all thrown back, but he got four nice big keepers – plenty for a boat where only one of us likes to eat seafood.He steamed them and picked out all the meat – a good bit of work for the afternoon, so now he’s a full-fledged Alaskan since he’s hunted and eaten his food.  He likes his new hobby, and came to understand why Knut kept telling him he didn’t have enough bait.  Those crabs ate everything!

We left Funter Bay and headed west in Icy Strait, bound for Glacier Bay National Park – one of our very favorite places.  Along the way we saw plenty of sea otters – very adorable creatures, but the arch enemy of fisherman since they will wipe out all the crabs and clams in a given area before moving on to devour everything in the next area.Once again we were joined by some Dall’s porpoise riding the pressure wave in front of our bulbous bow – zipping from side to side and zooming along so fast that they leave a rooster tail of spray.We arrived in Glacier Bay, enjoying the fact that spring occurs a bit later up there.  Ferns were just opening, slowly uncoiling their fern fiddles……and the spruce and hemlock were sprouting lots of bright green “tips” that are popular for making beer and as a seasonal ingredient in chef’s creations.If you pick the spruce tips when they’re just emerging from their light brown skin you can eat them – they taste a little lemon-y and a bit bitter, but good.  They’re loaded with vitamin C, but you have to chew them well.  Devil’s club leaves were just unfolding, the lupine was ready to bloom, young bears recently turned out on their own by their mothers were confused and occasionally wandered into areas near people, and the Lodge was relatively quiet in its first few days after opening for the season.  To cap our first day in the bay, we had clear skies so we could see the mountains and a sort-of sunset with some warm light around 10:15pm.

Summer Cruising Begins

We’re back afloat, cruising, and it feels good.  I remember a wine called “Goats Do Roam” that we used to see in the local wine store when we lived in Annapolis, and Roxy and I would buy it and change the G to a B.  Boats do roam.  They’re supposed to be moving, not tied to a dock so much.  Jim and I are wanderers, and we’re not good at sitting still for too long.

We took a short shakedown cruise to nearby Ideal Cove, meeting up with liveaboard friends Barb and Rick.Rick was kind enough to take Jim out and show him some tricks and tips for crabbing and processing the catch.  I don’t eat seafood, but Jim likes it – so it’s silly not to take advantage of the bounty that lives underneath us.  Tammy and Russell were giving away their old small crab pots (because they got bigger ones), so now Jim has two pots, accessories, and bait.  Knut was catching herring off the dock right up until we were about to cast off the lines to make sure Jim had more bait.  “You don’t have enough!!”, he insisted.  (We have such sweet friends!)

The day was brilliant and beautiful as we headed out to start summer cruising.  It’s momentous since the cruising season is so much shorter than we’re used to.  In our east coast life we cruised almost all year, taking about three months off to winter in the Florida Keys and catch up on boat maintenance.  Up here, we wait for good weather to either do maintenance, or to cruise.  We savor every minute on the water that much more.We spotted a number of humpbacks as we cruised along, and were happy to see a few pods of Dall’s porpoise – compact black and white rockets in the water.They liked to ride the pressure wave in front of the bulbous bow, but they’re so hard to photograph because they move so fast and don’t come out of the water very much.  It’s exciting to see them – even more fun than dolphins riding our bow on the east coast.We also spotted some of the other black and white marine mammals in the area – orcas.  As we headed north in Stephens Passage from one anchorage to the next, we heard a significant change in the weather forecast so we headed for Taku Harbor to sit tight for an extra day to wait for the storm to pass.  We were tucked into a protected spot, but even there we had wind gusts of 50 knots all day Sunday.  Late in the day a French sailboat came into the harbor with three young guys aboard.  They had their mainsail reefed down to the tiniest bit of sail, and they said they had a great sail up the passage (ah, youth).  They also said they were going below for a strong drink!

The next day the weather cleared, the winds abated, and this was the view that greeted us as we emerged from Taku…We were heading to Juneau – the big city – to do some shopping at Costco and Fred Meyer to fill our freezers for the summer.  Food is quite expensive here since everything comes up by barge, but it’s cheaper in Juneau than on our island.  Some things are almost half the price, so it’s worth a trip to civilization once in a while.  We stocked up, vacuum packed, stowed and inventoried and finished a few boat chores that are far easier to do while tied to a dock. 

Jim spotted a large humpback (about 50′ long) swimming under and around the docks, feasting on the little fish that are everywhere in the harbor.  The harbormaster told us that the whale spent the winter here, rubbing on the bottoms of boats to scratch itches, and sleeping next to the 65′ tug on the outside dock.  There are also a few harbor seals who stay well fed here. 

Once the weather cleared and the clouds lifted, we could see the mountains surrounding the Mendenhall Glacier from the pilothouse.  We’ll get to see the big glacier as we head out this morning, and we hope to see some whales feeding since the tide will be flooding – their favorite time to feed.Now we’re all finished with docks for a while, and that suits me fine.  Next stop: Funter Bay where Jim heard there’s good crabbing.  I know there’s good kayaking, so we’ll both be happy!

Wrapping Up the Road Trip

It’s time to wrap up the tales from our late winter road trip since, in reality, we’re now about to cast off the lines and get ADVENTURES underway for summer cruising on the water.  We certainly enjoyed cruising on the land, but it can’t compare to cruising on the water, especially here in southeast Alaska.  It’s a wonderful place to find some peace and healing.

The final park we visited was Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah.  The “reef” is a monocline – a natural wrinkle in the earth’s crust that’s almost 100 miles long.  The “capitol” part of the park’s name comes from some light colored pointed dome features.The park has a nice variety of hikes, with natural arches……large washes……round depressions that capture water called “tanks”, odd holes and shapes from wind and water erosion……and wonderful petroglyphs.Although we wanted to explore the farther reaches of the reef, we were running short on time and had to settle for the Scenic Drive… not too shabby!Jim had fun shooting panoramics……and I loved the vivid colors in the rock layers.Deer and wild turkeys were the dominant wildlife that we observed, and we definitely plan to return when we have more time.We were staying in a campground about 20 miles outside the park, and we passed a little area that we remembered visiting with a photo group when we lived in Salt Lake 25 years ago.  After poking around we finally found the right road and were rewarded with a view of Factory Butte.Although it was tempting to hike out to the foot of the butte (it’s one of those things where it looks closer than it is, and you hike and hike and hike and it never gets closer), there are some washes nearby with odd colors and shapes.  Add some approaching storm clouds and Jim had a tough time getting me to leave.Oh, and remember – always keep a sharp lookout for wildlife on the road.  You never know what you’ll run into.We put the camper to bed for the summer, took the very interesting Boeing Factory Tour, and checked out Paul Allen’s excellent Warbird Museum before we did a little shopping and set up a pallet to go on the barge to Petersburg.I don’t remember how many miles we traveled, but we visited 7 National Park/Monuments and 3 state parks, and we had a ball.


Loss and Heartbreak

The news we’ve been dreading for the last eight months finally came last night- my brother lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  Bob was 52.  He was a husband and a father, an Air Force veteran, and a retired police detective.  And he was my only brother and I loved him dearly from the first minute I held him as a baby.We’ve already lost four friends since Christmas, so this has been a very difficult time for us.  Tom Hall, Bob Smith, Kevin Ziese, and Becky Bace all departed far too soon, and left gaping holes in our hearts. 

We’ve tried to soldier on and live our lives as best we can, having adventures and savoring all the beauty and wonder around us.  And we understood that these health struggles were private things that we couldn’t really talk about much.  But as my friend says, a burden shared is a burden halved… and so I’m sharing our very deep sadness in the hopes that it helps to duct-tape our shattered hearts back together a bit.

No matter how sad it is to lose someone you love, I can’t help but think about how very grateful and blessed I am to have loved someone that much, and to have been loved back that much.  Not everyone is so lucky.  It hurts because it was such a good and wonderful thing.

Goblin Valley

Another gem of a place in southern Utah that I’ve always wanted to visit is Goblin Valley State Park, just east of Capitol Reef National Park.  For you quirky science fiction fans, it’s also one of the filming sites used in the Star Trek spoof movie Galaxy Quest.Goblin Valley is home to thousands of small hoodoos – eroded mushroom shaped Entrada sandstone formations about 170 million years old.  It’s a magical place to explore.If you look carefully in the photo above you can spot a person standing next to the goblins to the left of center.  In the photo below you can see Wild Horse Mesa in the background, and some crumbly green rock in the foreground.


We spent two days exploring the goblins, wandering deep into the valley to find caves, climb the odd cone-shaped mounds, and to let our imaginations see things in the rocks – especially faces.

We loved all the views from the different sections of the valley, and it was very easy to lose one another since most of the goblins are taller than we are.On the second day we hiked around the end of the ridge to reach the Goblin’s Lair – a large cavern accessible either by roping down or by a rough scramble over boulders to the entrance, and then a rather challenging climb down boulders to the bottom.  Whichever way you get down into the Lair, you have to climb over the boulders to hike out.Of all the places we visited on this road trip, Goblin Valley made us feel the most like little kids, finding fertile ground for our imaginations, scrambling and running around like someone forgot to give us Ritalin.

Goblin Valley is known for its extremely dark skies, making it a perfect place for stargazing (and star photography).  Of course on the days we were there we had too many clouds to see much, but as we say about all the places we fall in love with – we’ll be back, and next time we’ll camp right in the park.On this trip our campground was a 45 minute drive from Goblin Valley, but after dinner one evening we thought we might get skies clear enough for some nice sunset light, and we were glad we drove all the way back out there.We spotted some small herds of pronghorn as we traveled in southern Utah, and were lucky enough to get close to some near the park entrance.I know I keep calling so many places “favorite”… but who says you can only have one?