"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, July 25, 2014

Alaskan Dream Cruise: Return to Sitka

On the last morning of our marvelous sea-faring adventure, we cruised along the length of Sitka,
past fishing boats and processing plants...

sea planes...

and into a private dock in the backyard of Bob and Betty Allen, the owners of Allen Marine and Alaskan Dream Cruises. Can you imagine having a totem pole and a dock in your backyard? It's not so unusual here. This is the Allen home...

…and this is one of several houseboats nearby, docked right next to a very old shipwreck.

During breakfast all our luggage was removed from the ship and we said our last goodbyes to the officers, expedition leaders and crew.  Owner Bob Allen even dropped in to express his thanks to us for cruising with his company. It was a surprisingly emotional experience! The crew had been so effective and generous in their professional relationships with us, that we all felt very grateful. Of course these feelings go a long way towards leaving good tips, which I feel certain many of us left behind.  (If you're interested in reading the review I wrote, see the Cruise Critic website.)

Bye-bye Baranof Dream! 

We had scheduled two days/three nights in Sitka after the cruise to rest and catch up on laundry, emails,  naps, and whatever else we might need.  It turned out that our new friends Dave and Judi also needed to do some laundry and planned on spending the day in Sitka. So we invited them to join us, as we had a rental car, and the four of us spent a rainy day at the laundromat and the McDonald's across the street. We had a great time. Good company makes any chore a pleasure.

After the laundry was done we had some more time before Judi & Dave had to catch their plane, so we used the free vouchers Alaskan Dream had given us to the Alaska Raptor Center.  The very well informed guides there introduced us to many of their birds, including this American Kestrel. What a beautiful little hunter!

The Raptor Center houses and rehabilitates all kinds of raptors, from tiny owls to bald eagles.  The only birds they keep are those that are not able to return to the wild due to disability of some sort.  This bald eagle was one of about 7 or 8 permanent eagle residents that we saw.  Neat to be able to see them so closely. They are intense birds.

We were introduced to several kinds of owls and hawks in their outdoor cages. Then we received a tour of the indoor space where they rehabilitate the birds. The eagles had the largest space - about the size of a gymnasium, where they could safely practice flying between different kinds of perches.   There were smaller spaces reserved for small raptors and owls.  There were no "shows" of trained raptors, like we've seen at various other museums and nature centers. 

The time finally came to drop Judi and Dave off and say goodbye until some future get together. We drove on to Frank & Gloria's Place, where we had stayed overnight right before the cruise. Although  our cabin on the cruise was plenty comfortable, it did feel good to spread out a little bit. 

The next two days were cold and rainy, but we just took it easy and saw some more of Sitka. The first day we drove all the way to the end of the road to the south, and the next day we drove all the way to the end of the road to the north. (The whole road is a total of 15 miles long.) 

At the northern end is Starrigavan Recreation Area, which has lots of trails to explore. After some deliberation we chose the Mosquito Cove Trail. There were brown bear warning signs, indicating that bears had been seen in the area a few days ago. No surprise. Did you know that there is an average of one brown bear per square mile in southeastern Alaska?  Well, we decided to do it anyway, be alert, and make a lot of noise, as is recommended.

It was a beautiful trail, traversing the steep shoreline and passing through rainforest-like terrain. Of course this means dense vegetation, lots of dead trees and big rocks: plenty of places for bears to hang out without being able to see them. Well, we were nervous through the whole walk.

An hour and a half later, no wildlife sightings. That was fine with us. 

But, minutes after getting into our car and driving back toward town, an adolescent brown bear came  bounding across the road in front of us like a big sheepdog, followed by three officers with dart or stun guns in close pursuit! The bear got away into the woods, and the officers stood around deciding what to do next - then waved us on. We had to assume the young bear was getting into trouble in the neighborhood and these guys were problem solving. This was the closest encounter we had with a bear during our whole Alaskan visit. 

I made one more interesting stop while we were in town: the Sitka National Historic Park, also locally known as Totem Pole Park.  I was very impressed with the beautiful collection of Tlingit and Haida totem poles, as well as other native arts and historical artifacts. Many of the poles are mounted along the shore in the deep woods, where they are truly striking, mysterious and powerful, especially in the misty rain.

That about did it for Sitka. We left feeling ready for the next leg of our Alaskan adventure: Anchorage.

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