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Ultimate Whale Watch (REALLY!)

Just about the time I think there is no way this vacation could get ANY better, it DOES!

So, on Sunday we went on an unexpected whale watch, courtesy of the ferry company that couldn’t hold the ferry for us last week. You can find the details in my post Whales, Whales, Whales.

Today was our paid whale watch with Harv and Marv’s on a small boat with just the 5 of us. I shared the photos from our last whale watch with Captain Brian, but assured him we knew it was a “once in a lifetime” experience, and would enjoy the trip no matter what. I just KNEW it couldn’t possibly be as good.

For one thing, the weather was pretty crummy. It was raining and at times the fog was as thick as pea soup. I was having fits trying to get my camera to focus on anything. As the fog lifted a bit I was able to get a few pictures of the shoreline.

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Before too long we came upon a few “Dall Porpoises” something you don’t see out there every day. They were pretty skittish and wouldn’t let us get close enough for decent photos. But, it was something we’d never seen before, so that was pretty cool.

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The Captain heard on the radio there were some Orcas nearby so we looked for them with no success.

Then he heard there was a bubble net feeding group nearby, so we set out to see if we could see them.

The remainder of our trip was spent watching them, with results we never could have imagined. I seriously took over 500 photos while Mr. Tattered took videos.

We are accustomed to seeing whales in Maui, and their behavior there is very different than their behavior once they return to their feeding grounds in Alaska. In Maui there is no food source. They are there strictly to either mate or deliver their calves. They meander around and play in the water. You see a lot of breaching and other playful behavior.

In Alaska they get down to the business of fattening up for their migration south, consuming 2000 lbs of food per DAY, primarily herring.   Where in Maui whales travel in very small groups (most of the time just a mom and calf, with an occasional “escort” and even more rarely, a competition pod of several males trying to get a female’s attention,) in Alaska they group into cooperative feeding pods of as many as 11-12 animals to “bubble net fish.”

They all go down together and bubble around a school of herring, trapping them in the middle of the group of whales. The leader of the pod gives a screeching signal and they all head to the surface at the same time, mouths open to catch the herring. On the surface, the sea gulls keep watch, and when the whales are headed up, they circle around overhead to grab the extras.

So, the trick is to watch the birds. MOST of the time they are right, and the whales come up right below them, the whole group, mouths open. It is an incredible sight! Then the birds fly around frantically grabbing fish, and the whales spread out and do shallow dives in preparation to come up again just a few minutes later, so there is lots of tail action.

The thing is, you’re just never sure where they are going to come up. About the time you think they’ve moved away, they pop up right near you. There were times I had to zoom OUT because they were too close for the lens I was using! Some of the whales were close enough that we could have jumped from the boat onto their backs, and we could literally SMELL their fish breath!

The crazy thing is, the photos LOOK like they are black and white because of the weather conditions.

But grab a cup of coffee and enjoy, anyway!

 

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And my favorite…

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Thanks, Captain Brian! We had a GREAT time. And yeah, you kinda blew the last whale watch outta the water!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musher’s Camp

As most of you know, I’m a fanatic animal lover, and don’t like using animals for our amusement.

Prior to going to Alaska in 2010, the Iditarod fell into that category of things I just didn’t like.

That is until I saw the dogs and learned that they just LOVE to run. The trainers would come out to the kennels to select a team to go out and do a demonstration and the dogs went CRAZY barking at the top of their lungs “PICK ME! PICK ME!” It was quite a sight!

So this trip, we discovered that there is a summer training camp for sled dogs just outside Skagway near the old site of the town of Dyea on the Taiya River, right near where we did our float trip, and we wanted the girls to see them.

Hannah studied the Iditarod in school this year, so it would be especially meaningful to her.

Once we got to the camp we boarded vehicles that looked like firefighter movers (UNIMOG) for the beautiful trip up from the base camp to the training course.

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If you aren’t familiar with modern day mushing, the first thing you notice is that the dogs are not the big, furry huskies portrayed in movies. Those dogs were the ones used to pull sleds of supplies. Racing dogs have been bred to be smaller and faster – a pointer/husky cross, and they all look different!

When the dogs saw us coming they got all excited, knowing they were about to be able to run! This was our team…

 

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And they’re off!

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Once we got through with the track, our musher introduced us to our dogs, told us a little about each one, including stories about their temperament, and we got to pet those who like getting to know strangers.

Our two favorites were Donald and the princess, Callie.

Donald HAS to be on the left side of the team, and somehow he got hooked up on the right. So he took matters into his own paws, and jumped the midline. His partner, Kate was not impressed and kept looking back to see if the boss was going to do something about it!

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Callie? Well, she’s a princess, what more do you need to know? We love princesses. She was so calm she got let off-line so we could love her up.

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Within a few minutes, they were rarin’ to go again!

Back at base camp, we watched as one of the trainers gave us an overview of the sport, talked about the history, and basically shared her love of the sport.

And then it was “puppytime! What fun it was to snuggle these 4 1/2 week old bundles! And the puppy breath! Heavenly!

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Even Mr. Tattered was enamored of them!

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We were VERY tempted to stick a few in our pockets, but they were wise to us, and said they’d be doing a puppy count before we left. We wouldn’t REALLY sneak off with them, but we sure would have liked to!

Then we moved over to the pen with the older puppies, and the girls giggled away as the puppies ran ofter them around and around the pen. The girls gave out before the puppies did. When we finally had to leave, the puppies squealed and squealed for their new friends to come back!

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This photo sort of summed up the day.

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Yeah. We pretty much loved them. AND, I’m pretty sure we need puppies…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whales, Whales, Whales!

We continued to reap the benefits of the messed up flight on Alaska Air.

Remember we had a flight delay that threatened to wreak havoc with our vacation plans? If not, you might want to catch up with the story here in “A Lesson Relearned.”

Well, we traveled from Skagway to Juneau today with the same ferry line that we missed a few days ago (when we were going from Juneau to Skagway.) Even though we told them that it turned out well, they felt bad that they had to leave without us. So, once we arrived in Juneau, they were going out to scope out whale sightings for their afternoon whale watch, and asked if we wanted to stay onboard and join them. Ha! That was a no-brainer – we jumped on it!

But before I go into THAT story, these guys were waiting for us when we pulled in to let off the “regular” passengers.

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Then we were off on our whale adventure!

We were hoping to see Orcas. The girls have seen the Humpbacks in both Hawaii and Alaska, but they hadn’t seen the Orcas yet.

The Captain heard that another boat had sighted a pod, so headed out to that area. And there they were, not one, but two pods, each very active. We were surprised to learn that they have behaviors very similar to humpbacks, including pec slaps, tail slaps, spy hops, and breaching (we saw the breach and spy hop, but too far away to get photos.)

Their fins are magnificent!

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There was a lot of tail slapping going on here!

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And lots of pec slaps like this…

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And of course, blows.

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We could have stayed for ages, but the Captain needed to get moving to check out a possible sighting of Humpbacks “bubble net fishing.”

This is a term we had heard of, but never seen.

A pod of Humpbacks will hunt together. When they find an area rich in herring, they surround them, blow out bubbles to herd them all together, then the head whale lets out a high pitched scream saying “GO!” and all the whales at the same time head for the surface with their mouths open and gulp big mouthfuls of herring. It is an incredible process and even more incredible sight to see.

The first sign of a potential bubble net is when a flock of birds start flying around and ’round an area. They are watching what is happening and will swoop in to catch the fish the whales miss. The Captain threw a microphone overboard, and we could hear the whale’s “go” scream, and a few seconds later we’d see them break the surface as a group.

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Then they would dive down…

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…and do it again, and again. He had time to let us watch four times, but then had to get back and pick up his paying customers. We SERIOUSLY did not want to leave, but were so very grateful that we got to see what we did! It was amazing beyond belief, and not anything any of us will ever forget!

And once again, it only happened because Alaska Airlines messed up our flight so badly. WOW! I NEVER in a million years would have believed so much wonderful would happen because of a huge mistake that felt so awful at the time!

 

 

Beauty Along the Chilkoot Trail

When last we met, I was promising you more photos from along the Chilkoot Trail. That night we had an earthquake near where we are here in Skagway. Although we enjoyed being woken up in the middle of the night rockin’ and rollin’ (seriously, we did!) the quake took out the under sea cable line which provides internet service, so we’ve been without for a couple of days. It wasn’t me slackin’ – honest!

So, if you’re joining in now and haven’t gotten the quick little history lesson of the Chilkoot Trail and photos of the trail itself, you might want to check out the first post…

The scenery along the route was just incredible. So many shades of green, amazing textures, and sooooo many varieties of moss and mushrooms. I trailed behind most of the trek, only partly because I’m a slow hiker – I had to stop every two minutes to take another photo! And, unfortunately, they just don’t do the reality justice. But I tried. And tried, and tried.

This area of Coastal Alaska is just one click down from a rainforest. It is wet and the marine air keeps it fairly temperate – not the minus 50 degrees or colder of the interior, so the forests are extremely lush.

Enjoy  a few photos, then I’ll wrap up the story about this adventure!

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These are watermelon berries. We snacked on them along the way. The berries taste a LOT like watermelon, and the root smells like celery!

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Nature will have it’s way. It was amazing how many trees grow right out of the tops of huge boulders.

 

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When we reached the Taiya River we got on a hard-bottom rubber raft for the float portion of our “hike and float” trip. It was a gentle class one section of the river. Beautiful views and a guide who made sure there wasn’t a bad seat on the raft – lots of turning around so we could all see everything.

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We saw an active Bald Eagle nest, but none of it’s inhabitants at that spot.

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Once we got to our destination the girls hopped out of the raft and tried out their rubber boots in the 38 degree water…

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Mama helped the guys bring the raft in to load on the trailer (she’s kind of a stud!)

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On the way back to town we spotted a couple of bald eagles, this female sitting on a log with her man-friend close by.

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What a great end to the outing!

Enjoying Skagway – Chilkoot Trail (a tiny piece, anyway!)

Until this trip I thought Sitka was my favorite little town in Alaska, but I think Skagway has taken over first place now.

It’s just a darling little town, and I knew that already, but until today I didn’t realize how incredible it really is.

I swear I’m not going to bore you with every little thing we do for a month (oh no! Not vacation photos!) but since photography (and making memories!) seem to be the closest I can come to being creative right now, I hope you’ll bear with me! I’ll try really hard to share only the best stuff!

Today we did a “hike and float” trip that just knocked our socks off.

Skagway is very historic in that the Chilkoot Trail was the starting point for miners trying to make their millions in the Alaskan gold rush. I don’t want to give you a big ol’ history lesson. If you want to learn about it, there are plenty of resources that would be far more interesting than the story I could tell, but you need to know just a little to appreciate the historic nature of our tiny little adventure.

 

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We were in hiking clothing and boots carrying tiny little packs, and the toughest part was ascending 300 ft in a 1/4 mile. The people who did this during the gold rush wore wool clothing (the women, skirts!) and had to haul a mandatory 2000 lbs of provisions, 50 lbs at a time. The final climb from Sheep Camp to the summit (4 miles) at 3500 feet was a 30 degree incline up 1500 steps cut into the ice. The average man could only do 1 trip up and back a day for 40 days, and there were still miles to go after that.

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You may have seen this iconic photo of the “golden staircase.” Those aren’t ants! They are some of the thousands attempting the climb…

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The hike we took today was but the first two miles of a 33 mile trek that broke the majority of the people who attempted it, but it gave us a real appreciation for what they went through.

But man, was it a gorgeous two miles.

The trail was fairly steep and fraught with opportunities to trip or slip and fall.

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Our daughter thought it was cute that we helped each other through the tricky parts…

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Hannah filled our water bottles with glacier melt water that was delicious and refreshing!

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Stay tuned, and tomorrow I’ll show you some of the beautiful sights along the trail.

 

 

A Lesson Relearned

There are some things we have to relearn over and over again before we finally get it. I mean REALLY get it. I had one of those experiences today.

Oh, and you remember the part about us ALWAYS having a story to tell from our vacations? Well our streak continues! Grab a cup of coffee…

Mr. Tattered put together the vast majority of the trip to Alaska. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to come up with much, if anything I contributed. It ended up being pretty complicated because of all the different things we’re trying to do.

Getting around in Alaska can be a little dicey. There are areas you can’t get to very easily, and Skagway, our destination for today, is one of them.

The original plan was to fly from Anchorage to Juneau, stay overnight one night, then catch the Alaskan Ferry at 6am for the six hour trip to Skagway. It meant basically two travel days. BUT, he heard about a smaller ferry that left from Juneau in the late afternoon and arrived in Skagway that same evening, thereby getting all the travel into one day. So we  he rearranged everything, cancelling the lodging reservation, and the reservation on the big ferry (which included a penalty) adding an additional night to the lodging reservations in Skagway and booking the new ferry trip, (non-refundable) keeping in mind the whole time to allow extra time for mishaps along the way.

So, of course, there was a mishap. Our plane experienced a mechanical problem in Nome and was delayed 1/2 an hour, then 1 1/2 hours. With each passing minute we were getting closer to the time when we would miss the ferry. We adjusted the pick up point to save time, made new lodging reservations for Juneau just in case we missed the ferry, and we had until 3pm to cancel them without forfeiting the money. We re-made tentative reservations for the big ferry for the following day which needed to be cancelled by midnight to keep from getting ANOTHER cancellation fee. We did everything we could think of to mitigate the problems. Mechanical failures happen, and you have to roll with them.

At 2:30 it looked like we would make it. The ferry company was willing to hold the ferry for 10-15 minutes, and a supervisor with Alaska Airlines called the taxi company in Juneau to make sure that a van taxi big enough to carry us and all our luggage would be waiting for us.  It looked like we were good to go. We called and cancelled the lodging reservations and boarded the plane. We were a little frazzled, but optimistic.

We sat in the plane for five minutes, then ten. FINALLY the flight attendant came on the loudspeaker to let us know there was a holdup in getting the proper catering on board. I spoke up and suggested that no one cared about the food (which is just snacks you have to purchase – it’s ONLY an hour and twenty minute flight – no one was going to starve.) After another ten minutes they decided to go ahead and leave, sans food. Then we sat some more, the minutes ticking by. We were getting closer and closer to having the day blow up in our faces. We’d been praying for everything to fall into place, but it wasn’t happening. By now we are figuring out we’re not going to make it to the ferry before they need to leave and we were VERY UNHAPPY. We had non-refundable ferry tickets and lodging we would not be using to the tune of nearly a thousand dollars. PLUS, we had no place to sleep for the night.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot came over the loudspeaker to tell us that the company had over-ridden their decision, and we would be staying in Anchorage until the catering situation had been taken care of. There were three stops after ours, and Anchorage was the supply stop – they were unable to do it along the route. All hope of a happy ending had been dashed.

Finally we took off, and one hour and twenty minutes later we landed in Juneau. I immediately got on the phone to see if the room we had booked and cancelled earlier was still available. It was not. We considered spending the night at the airport as a last resort. But, we went to customer service first to see if they could help us find some lodging, and we’d worry about trying to get the airline to compensate us for the lost money later. The incident had us thinking it would be cold day in H-E double toothpicks before we flew with Alaska Airlines again.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The lady at the desk said her supervisor would be there in about twenty minutes, could we hang out until then? Then she went to work researching options. When the supervisor arrived they put their heads together and came back and asked us to follow them. The supervisor booked the five of us on a charter flight on a small eight seater plane that would leave in a little over an hour, getting us into Skagway an hour and a half earlier than the ferry would have. On their dime. And the B and B we were booked at had not sold our rooms. Mr. Tattered has an aversion to small planes, but we were about out of options. The skies were pretty clear and we had plenty of daylight left, so we decided to go for it.

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Hannah was able to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and she was THRILLED!

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We weren’t in the air for three minutes before we realized that the messed up, awful, very bad day had suddenly taken a change for the magnificent.

Almost instantly we flew over the Mendenhall Glacier, which is FAR more spectacular from the air than it is from land, and it only got better from there.

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We were awestruck. I couldn’t take photos quickly enough. The majesty of the ice fields and the many, many glaciers it contained (there are 48 of them, and I lost track of how many we saw!) The flight was WAAAAAAAAAY too short, and before we knew it, we were taking a sharp turn into a valley with Skagway at the end of it.

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We were ALL grinning from ear to ear. Okay Bea wasn’t. She was mad that her sister got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. After a few minutes she fell asleep and that was that.

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We agreed that God must have been laughing as we groused about our misfortune. We could almost hear Him saying, “Silly children, you have no idea the awesome plan I have for you…So VERY much better than the ones you made for yourselves!”

Why have we not learned that lesson already?

We felt like we had emotional whiplash to have gone from being SOOOOOOO mad, to SOOOOOOOO glad in a matter of less than two hours. So instead of having a SCATHING conversation with Alaska Airlines on the phone, we’ll be sending them a glowing thank you note.

Yeah. They messed up. A really, REALLY big mess up. But they fixed it in spectacular fashion. REALLY spectacular fashion.

Enjoy a few more snaps of awesomeness…

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And join me in TRYING to remember that when things don’t quite like we hope they will, we need to be open to the possibility that something maybe even better might happen instead!

 

 

Anchorage – Through A Tattered Lens

As far as creativity goes, I’m taking a breather. At least from my traditional means of being creative.

I haven’t done any actual art for a week. Not because I didn’t bring anything with me to work on, because I did. I just have been so busy “making memories” there is little time for actual art. Unless you count writing and photography, which I’m managing to keep up on, and not just the getting paint on your hands, messy kinda art.

So, for right now, let’s say that photography counts (‘cuz, really, it’s all I got right now!)

Let me share a few of my “Through A Tattered Lens” photos of Anchorage. Not the iconic photos you EXPECT to see, but rather the things I see through my lens that a lot of people don’t give a second glance.

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Bridge foundations reflected in the pond water.

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Birch curls.

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Rusty sign.

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Bridge shadow reflection.

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Sucker hole

(that piece of sun peeking through the clouds that makes you think the sun might come out…SUCKER!)

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Alaska Railroad engine.

And my favorite so far…

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Feather floating on the water.

Wishing you the time to search out the interesting and unusual in your world…

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