Photographs of a Bald Eagle in Ketchikan, AK

Like moths to a flame, tourists off an Alaska cruise are drawn towards the Bald Eagles. Although no longer endangered these amazing predators still need our care sometimes; like this bird we encountered in Ketchikan.

No, I don’t have a giant telephoto lens; we were just in the right place at the right time. This majestic fisherman was on dry land on the arm of its tender as it was rehabilitated from injury.

I did shoot at 200mm so I could keep a fair distance and still get as many photographs as possible as quickly as possible without stressing the bird or the handler. Now you know my secret on how I capture these Bald Eagle photographs but I will still tell friends and family that we had to rappel through the rainforest and wade chest-deep in icy glacial rivers to capture these.

Sitka: Eagles, Shopping and Fish Nuggets

Sitka Alaska Welcome Sign and Tender

Sitka Alaska Welcome Sign and ms Veendam Tender in background

Day Six – Sitka, Alaska – No excursions planned as we decided there was enough in the city for us to experience on our own. Sitka was originally the capital of ‘Russian America’, a conglomerate of Russian colonies existing on current American territory. Many of the historic buildings, shops, restaurants still carry their Russian roots aesthetically. Ryan was even able to buy a Russian Tank Helmet for his brother, so fun and well received.

Holland America Line ms Veendam Tender Launching

Holland America Line ms Veendam Tender Launching

So the cruise ship itself wasn’t able to dock at the harbor and we had to take a tender boat from the ship to the shore; it was overcast, drizzling and cold. We were finding though, per usual, the dismal weather didn’t really dampen our excitement at all. Alaska has a way of still being beautiful through the fog and rain.

On cruise ships, lifeboat tenders do double duty, serving as tenders in day-to-day activities, but fully equipped to act as lifeboats in an emergency. They are generally carried on davits just above the promenade deck, and may at first glance appear to be regular lifeboats; but they are usually larger and better-equipped. Current lifeboat tender designs favor catamaran models, since they are less likely to roll in the calm to moderate conditions in which tenders are usually used. They typically carry up to 100 to 150 passengers and two to three crew members. —Wikipedia Ship’s Tender article

St. Michael's Cathedral Sitka, AK

St. Michael's Cathedral Sitka, AK

We started at Baranof Castle Hill, nothing like a brisk morning, uphill trek after a big hot breakfast on the ship. Castle Hill is the site of the transfer of Alaska to the United States in 1867. The original forts have not survived battles or fire throughout their past but the site creates a great viewpoint of the surrounding town being on high ground.

We left Castle Hill for Totem Square, the Sitka Pioneers Home, the Russian Block House and Saint Michael’s Cathedral. We found ourselves on Lincoln Street on the way to the Cathedral and were able to wander in and out of several shops and galleries. Sitka’s retail “district” seemed to be centered along this stretch of road. Even with the chill in the air, it was hard to avoid the ice cream and fudge shops!

Sitka Crab on Beach HAL MS Veendam Anchored

Sitka Crab on Beach, HAL MS Veendam Anchored


Totem Pole in Sitka

Totem Pole in Sitka

Our ultimate goal was to spend as much time as we could at the Sitka National Historical Park . We continued along Lincoln, passing several historic homes and a marina along the way. The museum at the entry to the Park houses several original Tlingit and Russian artifacts, depicting the struggle between the two cultures two hundred years ago. The building is also home to several totem poles, both inside and outside the structure.

We left the center to take ourselves on the self-guided tour through the forest behind the museum, the accessible trails available total two miles of peaceful serenity. Along the trail we found several hand carved totem poles, and ended at the site of the original Tlingit fort. Not being two people who love to stay on marked trails, we wandered off a bit and wound up oceanside, walking towards a small inlet to the Indian River that seemed to be a favorite playplace for a large family of American Bald Eagles.

Looking up in the forest with rain on the lens

Looking up in the forest with rain on the lens

Amy with Starfish at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery

Amy with Starfish at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery

Leaving the Park, we walked back up Lincoln Street towards town and stopped at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery. Originally funded by the Sheldon Jackson college up the street (closed by the state in 2007), this small hatchery and aquarium seemed fully supported by volunteers, a bit run-down, but fully loved and enjoyed.

We watched some sea otters play in the ocean behind the aquarium, were astonished by the quantities of salmon in the tanks out back and were very impressed with the open tanks of sea life we were able to touch and hold inside the aquarium. Although small, it was much more interactive and educational than your typical big-city aquarium. I really hope that it acquires the funding it needs to continue.

At this point we were extremely hungry and wanted to find some local cuisine. Fish nuggets and homemade chowder at the Westmark Raven Dining Room, along with a local draught brew. Perfection! I can’t explain the difference between eating fish fresh out of the ocean, compared to the selection we have here in Chicago, but Ryan and I were both convinced we’d never eat farm-raised or frozen again.

We stopped in at a few more shops and made our way back to harbor for the short trip back to the ship. Still convinced we had done the right thing by leaving our plans open in Sitka, you should too.

Ketchikan: Misty Fjords Excursion

We returned to the heart of Ketchikan after our zip-line expedition, in order to catch our next bus. We had scheduled an afternoon tour of the Misty Fjords by floatplane. This became by far the most relaxing, awe inspiring, breathtaking part of the entire vacation for me. It can’t be explained accurately with words, or pictures even… it was a feeling that took me entirely.

de Haviland Beaver Float Plane at Taquan Air

de Haviland Beaver Float Plane at Taquan Air

Board an authentic Alaska seaplane and take off from Ketchikan’s bustling waterfront on a scenic flight over the Tongass National Forest. You are en route to the nation’s second-largest wilderness area, encompassing more than two million acres and, to fully appreciate the vastness of the Misty Fjords National Monument, you must see it from the air. Since its first identification by Captain George Vancouver in 1793, Misty Fjords has been called a scenic wonder not to be missed. You will see majestic fjords, waterfalls and lakes, and perhaps wildlife such as bears, mountain goats, deer, wolves and eagles. Individual headsets allow you to enjoy the lively narrative and inspirational music as you take in the dramatic beauty of a land slowly crafted by the hands of nature. See sheer granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, crystalline lakes and low-hanging mists on your flight from Tongass Narrows over Revillagigedo Island to Misty Fjords. At the entrance of spectacular Rudyerd Bay, your introduction to the monument, watch for New Eddystone Rock–a striking remnant of early geological activity. Enjoy a brief lake landing in Misty Fjords, giving you the opportunity to experience the silence, serenity, and monumental beauty that surrounds you. Each guest is guaranteed a window seat.”

We bussed through Ketchikan to Taquan Air, located just outside of the edge of town. We were a small group and as with previous bus trips, we were given a narrative as we passed the historic structures along the road. Within fifteen minutes we arrived at our destination and were prepared for our flight.

The Misty Fjords National Monument, sometimes spelled Fiord, covers 2.3 million acres of the southeastern region of Alaska. Wikipedia calls it the “Yosemite of the North” due to the similar geology. You basically find yourself flying through a never-ending mountainous forest, carved throughout by glacial activity, full of streams, small lakes and waterfalls. A misty steam rising from the water softens all of the edges. Glacial snow melt, volcanic lava flow and mineral springs add to the unique terrain. Being at such an elevation allowed us to truly understand how glaciation works, the kettles and moraines left by the prehistoric sheets of ice were quite visible to us.

Panorama Misty Fiords Float Plane

Panorama Misty Fiords Float Plane - Click for Full Size

We flew with four others and a pilot into the monument, Enya was being played over our headsets and everyone was just silent. Soon we were flying low through steep rock lined U-shaped valleys, encouraged to look for sheep and bear. It felt at many times we could reach out and touch the soft pines we were flying past. Halfway through our trip, our pilot landed us on a lake, allowing us to really be encompassed by the exhilarating silence. A lone sailboat was asea at the other side of the lake, the water was like glass. We climbed out of the plane to stand on the floats in order to best take in the scenery.

Ketchikan Cape Fox Hill Tram/Funicular

Ketchikan Cape Fox Hill Tram/Funicular

I can’t speak enough as to how much impact this one excursion had on me, it is the one experience I insist you take during your trip to Alaska.

We returned to Ketchikan proper for an hour remaining of shore time. We would have definitely enjoyed having a longer visit in order to explore the village itself, its streets of wooden walkways and fishing museums, but we took in some of the local art instead and bought our first piece to take home. At my husbands dismay, I also insisted on purchasing the obligatory long sleeved tees at the largest tourist shop on the corner, but they did come in handy as essential layering pieces during the rest of our trip!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Ryan was able to work on his portrait photography with a local bald eagle, this one being located at the street market, but we were very aware of the many flying overhead.

We ended our shore stint in Ketchikan with some fried fish from a shack located near the dock. Wow… albeit wrapped in newspaper and served with lemonade in a Styrofoam cup, it was an incredible meal.

Local and quaint is the way to go. I personally left the day fully satisfied, humbled and blessed.