Alaskan Towns

We have often written about the routine of stopping to reprovision, do laundry, refill water, etc. This is something we need to do every 2 weeks or so, then we’re good to go again. Each time we stop, we get to explore a different town on the water’s edge. Each town has its own characteristics – some charming, and some less so. We are always looking to experience the unique.

We enjoy the colorful seaside towns

The town of Petersburg has a Norwegian influence. The traditional Rosemaling painting appears on storefronts, signs and sidewalks. The town is clean, the people are friendly. They seem anxious for the visitor to enjoy being in their small town, which they obviously take pride in. We enjoyed our stay there, and found provisions with ease. One thing I noticed in Petersburg, is that the ravens (which were featured in an earlier blog post) have a different dialect. Their utterances are more a clicking/rattling sound than a squawk. Their appearance though, is the same as their raven brothers we saw and heard in Wrangell.

Rooftop ravens

Sitka provided a lovely stop for resupplying. This was a larger sized town, and we enjoyed seeing the Russian influence and history there. Good shopping, nice gift shops and street vendor fish tacos made our stay pleasant.

Russian Orthodox Church with onion dome

Tanakee Springs is a town, but of a different sort. Colorfully painted homes dot this isolated coastline for about a mile. The one “road” is a dirt track traveled by ATVs. We saw no cars. We did see men getting dropped off after work by helicopter, their lunch pails in hand. We spoke with them as they stopped by the store to pick up supplies for dinner. The “downtown” area also features a floatplane dock, so people can travel to this remote town by air. Another item of interest is a communal hot spring bath. There are separate hours for men and women, and the large, sunken tub is designed for group soaking. Perhaps the most unique thing we saw was the combination community greenhouse/self-serve restaurant. Community members plant, tend, and harvest from the small greenhouse. Just adjacent to that is a tiny café with 4 stools at a counter. Someone makes coffee; someone had made enchiladas, which were in the refrigerator; someone had made cookies and displayed them in a jar. A local informed us that the procedure is: Go in, drink coffee, warm up the food and serve it on the plates. Eat your food, wash your dishes and put them away, leave some money in the jar. What a concept! Unique and wonderful! Again, there were friendly people, eager to share their way of life with us.

This fish scale has seen better days
4 wheeler Main Street
(the only street)
The self serve cafe

On to the Native Tlingit village of Hoonah. In normal tourist seasons, cruise ships stop at a huge dock north of Hoonah, called The Cannery. We suspect it was built on the site of an original cannery, but it definitely has a “new-built-to-look-old” appearance. It has an upscale cruise ship passenger appeal. In this year of Covid closures, The Cannery was not open, and we did not stop there. Instead, we docked at the town itself, and walked around. It was a Sunday, and pretty much everything was closed. A young Native girl on a pink bicycle stopped and said, “You’re not from here, are you?” It was apparent that we stood out. We said, “What should we see here?” She pointed to a small store specializing in Doritos and other snack foods. Once again, a friendly, helpful individual seeking to share the things she values.

A real highlight was our stop at Warm Springs. This community can’t really be called a town. There are no stores. There are a small number of homes along the shore, and tucked back into a hill. A lot of the residents seem to come seasonally, but there are a hearty few who stay year round. Boat and floatplane provide the only access. There is a natural hot spring that has been developed very nicely. Soaking provides a great source of Ahhhhhh….. for a weary traveler. One way to soak, is to follow a boardwalk up into the woods. There are natural rock pools beside a roaring waterfall, into which some hot springs water feeds through a pipe. I don’t know which is more enjoyable – the hot pool or the waterfall. It definitely is an outdoor, rough luxury experience. We enjoyed this on the first day.

The boardwalk
See the waterfall next to the pool?
Ok, here’s a better look

The second day, we resolved to use the beachside “bath house.” The community has built and maintains three 8 foot oblong tubs (about 3 feet deep). Each tub is in a 10 x 10 foot wooden room with a door on one side and a curtain on the other (for privacy). The 3 rooms are connected. There is generous room for 2 people in each tub. There are pegs for hanging your clothes, a plug for the tub, 2 hoses: one for cold water, and one for HOT! You plug the tub and fill it to your desired temperature, climb in with your sweetie, and open the curtain. No one can see in because you are above water level. But you can see out to the bay, and a view of the waterfall. Wonderful! I don’t know which soaking experience we enjoyed more. We might have to return and try it all again to determine the answer.

The bath house
Inside looking out.
The tub is filled and ready!

There is no charge for using the rock pools or the tubs. There is a donation box to help the community continue to provide this wonderful resource. There is a spray bottle of disinfectant and a brush for scrubbing your own tub when you finish. We love the generosity and common sense of the Alaskan culture we have encountered. People truly want to share the good things they enjoy, and not for their own profit. It’s a fine way to live.


When In Alaska…

There are some things you just have to get used to when visiting Alaska.  One of those things is rain and drizzle – lots of it.  A positive result of all that rain is the lush rainforest and abundance of green meadow grasses which cover the land.  After experiencing drought in California for years, the abundant shades of green are a refreshing sight for sore eyes.  Oh, to export some of this water to that thirsty southern land!  There is a downside to lots of water, though:  Mud.  Sticky, slippery, messy mud.  The hearty Alaska dwellers have come up with a solution to the problem by adopting an almost universal uniform for the feet.  This uniform is the Xtra Tuf boot.  The boots come in a few different styles:  Short tops for puddles and boat decks, and taller boots for fishermen and those wading through deeper muck.  I call it a uniform because you see these boots worn everywhere, even when it isn’t raining.  Because, you know, it WILL rain eventually, and you wouldn’t want to get caught out without your Xtra Tufs.

Here’s Mike, modeling the short top version. These definitely have house slippers beat, especially when you’re engaged in pulling up the anchor, or hosing down the deck.

Raising the anchor
Do the boots make the man? No!
The man makes the boots.

And here’s my pair. I like the higher boot, because I’m the one who jumps into the shallows from the dinghy and drags it to shore, while Mike is dealing with the motor at the stern.

Ready for action!

We are right at the height of fashion in Alaska. Or at the very least we don’t stand out too badly as outsiders. We love our boots, and we think these Alaskans are Extra Smart.

Tuf love!

Where’ve Ya Been?

It’s been a while since our last post.  It seems that each day has its fill of activity, and oftentimes the day doesn’t include enough hours to sit and write.  There’s also the off-the-grid factor.  Even if we do write, we are in places where there is little or no cell coverage, so we can’t post to the blog.  It’s a problem that we actually enjoy.  The immediate access of cell phones can start to rule our lives if we aren’t mindful.

We had a few wonderful days with dear friends from California. We took them to Misty Fiords, the land of waterfalls, mountain grandeur and bears. It did not disappoint, and we were glad to visit there again.

After their departure, we had an adventure that no visit to Alaska is complete without: We took a chartered fishing trip. Being inexperienced city kids, we thought we’d see what fishing is all about, and whether or not we’d like to invest in equipment of our own for the boat. I was a bit concerned that I would get seasick and ruin the trip for everyone. But as my son tells me, I have gained my sea legs, and I had no problem being out in the rolling sea and fresh air. We caught salmon – lots of them. What beautiful fish they are! Our freezer is stocked, and though I’ve never been a salmon lover, I find that they taste wonderful when they are fresh and you’ve caught them yourself. I can’t wait to catch some halibut!

My first salmon – a beauty!
Mike didn’t have any fun at all.
We did share the haul!

We decided it was time to head north in earnest, or we would never get further than the Ketchikan area. We stayed in a lovely secluded cove named Meyers Chuck, where there are a few vacation cabins, but only about 5 residents who stay year-round. One of these residents is a post-mistress of many talents. She delivers the mail, but she will also get in her dinghy and deliver hot homemade cinnamon rolls to your boat in the morning, if you call her the night prior. It was worth falling off the diet for this special treat!

There is yumminess under that plastic wrap!

We journeyed on to Wrangell, a small frontier town, where the grocery store was a mile from the dock. And the walk back from the grocery store, loaded down with provisions, was about 10 miles. Two things about Wrangell stand out in my mind. First, the only way to boat from Wrangell to the next town north, is by way of Wrangell Narrows – a shallow, narrow, twisting waterway, filled with strong currents and treacherous rocks. You have to time your passage to go at slack current (between flood and ebb tides) so that your boat doesn’t get pushed off course into the rocks. You also have to share the narrow passageway with other boats, who may be faster and want to pass you (think Indianapolis Raceway), leaving you wallowing in their massive wake waves. It can be exciting!

The second thing we noticed at Wrangell, is the ravens. At home we have crows. Their call is a dependable “Caw, caw!” But the ravens here seem to live in a perpetual state of alarm. Their call is a panic filled, “AAAH! AAAH!” Now these birds are not small. They are as big as any eagle around. But they fly around and sit around seemingly wringing their talons and filling the air with doom. “AAAH! I’m dyin’ here!” We’ve had lots of laughs at the ravens’ problems du jour. It teaches us to not take our own problems too seriously.


It’s hard to describe just how vast Alaska is. The distances between stopping points can be quite spread out. The mountains here are as impressive as the Sierras in the Bishop area, where I grew up. Maybe these are even more impressive, when judged by the sheer quantity of magnificent, craggy peaks. We pass by them so casually every day, but wow, are they ever amazing!

South Baranof Wilderness, Baranof Island
A glacier in the distance

We are hoping to get as far north as Glacier Bay before we have to turn south for the homeward trek. We want a closer look at a glacier, and we definitely need a more close up picture to share with you. Stay tuned…

We made it!

All of a sudden, things got busy.  We made our open ocean crossing around Cape Caution without mishap.  The seas were relatively calm, though definitely different from our usual sheltered inland waters.  The ocean swell creates an ever-moving picture as you look out the window.  The view undulates up and down in every direction, and it is a sensation that takes some getting used to.  On top of the swell, there may be waves driven by wind and current.  Our trusty Voyager brought us safely through both swell and waves, and it was not as fearful an experience as we had anticipated.

More long travel days followed, and finally it was time to cross into US waters. We were able to accomplish our customs check-in via cell phone. This was an advantage to us, because it meant we could go exploring before going to Ketchikan, the port of entry. We opted to explore an area whose very name is captivating: Misty Fiords.

Living in the foothills of central California, Yosemite is a familiar and beloved national park that we enjoy visiting. Misty Fiords is a lot like Yosemite in that there are huge granite walls, glaciated slabs and chasms, waterfalls galore, and amazing views in every direction. The difference between the two areas is that Misty Fiords is accessible only by boat. The granite cliffs come right down into the water, as do the waterfalls after falling hundreds of feet from melting snows and high lakes. Another difference is that the area is huge – much larger than Yosemite. We picked out a Half Dome, El Capitan, Cloud’s Rest, and Royal Arches that were equivalent formations to what is seen in Yosemite. There was just so much more of it! It is so big and majestic that photographs don’t do it justice, but here are a few:

Glacier sculpted
El Capitan’s brother
Majestic morning

After being on the boat for 2 weeks, we were a little anxious to get onto dry land and walk around. Our first day at Misty Fiords was very misty, so we dressed in our yellow rain slickers, got into the dinghy, and headed for shore. We discovered that the slickers (which came with the boat) are not completely waterproof, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. We beached the dinghy and set off on our first hike in Alaska.

Voyager and the Captain
Alaska fashion statement

And then… Bear scat in the trail. A big pile of it! Gulp. (I do have pictures, but I’ll spare you). Because of the rain, we couldn’t tell how fresh it was. We decided to continue on, but we were very watchful, and a little nervous. The “boardwalk” was a bit misleading, because it consisted of rotting, slippery logs and boards which were in need of upkeep. Each step was a challenge, and each of us ended up falling down in the mud at least once. We were a sight!

Part of the boardwalk

Eventually we reached the waterfall overlook, and decided to head back to the boat. On the way back, we ran across a new pile of bear scat that was definitely fresh. High alert! We reached the trailhead and started for the dinghy. Across the meadow from us was a grizzly bear! We wanted to see bears, but not necessarily close up, so we California kids are rethinking our hiking habits. We are suddenly aware that we are not at the top of the food chain. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Grizzly in the meadow



Milestone:  a point used to measure progress toward a goal

The journey sometimes becomes more meaningful than the original objective. Perhaps the long-standing goal of taking the inside passage in our own boat to Alaska is a worthy goal, but the realization of the dream only emphasizes the path it took to get here.

Voyager at rest after 600 miles at sea

There are easier ways to see Alaska. Before cruise ship travel became the pariah it has become, thousands of people with a dream of the Last Frontier would flock here. This mode of travel was relatively easy and quick. You wouldn’t have to wait until retirement. Many itineraries would fit just about anyone’s schedule and budget. We opted for a more intimate experience, albeit more difficult. There must have been a sense that in the difficulty there would be commensurate reward. As I write, we are at the end of a deep fiord – alone, with only the sound of waterfalls and wildlife. All of this in Misty Fiord National Wilderness, a place that receives on average ½” of rain per DAY. Today is cloudless – a gift to us. It causes me to wax philosophic…

Many are curious about the cost. It is hard, if not impossible to quantify how much it cost. Sure, you could tally receipts and come up with numbers, but real cost is deeper. A dream requires the imagination of what could be, that something could be missing or maybe better than a current state of being. And, to actually move toward its fulfillment, you must believe. Most often dreams are too expensive – the perceived journey prohibitive. There is worthy competition too. Earlier in life, before retirement, family and work commitments are part of the journey.

There is usually something to fix – just a light bulb here. The boat is running great…

As you may have gathered from earlier posts, we are not life long mariners. Big Girl (Voyager) is our first boat. It has been a joy (most of the time) to learn new skills together in the retirement season of life. For example, how do you anchor in a fiord? The depths are crazy deep – over a thousand feet sometimes. It is sometimes possible to hook up right where it gets shallow enough at the head of the bay. We are still learning and relying on each other.

This where the bears hang out too.

Another hidden ‘cost’ of a bucket list dream is distance, and not just the mileage kind. Yes, we are close to two thousand miles from home and at 7 mph, it is a long way. The distance from family and community is a sacrifice indeed. These are the intangibles that will eventually bring us ‘home’. We’ve decided to simply come back with friends. Sharing the journey will be great.

The larger journey – whether it is a lifelong goal or not, is really the thing. Experiencing love in the context of family and community along with some of God’s great beauty, is what I am thankful for…

What is a milestone in your journey?

– mike