Friday, July 29, 2016


Today we actually had periods of sun. In fact, for much of today I was able to wear my sunglasses.  After breakfast, dad snoozed in the library while I read.  At 11 am, we joined the long queues of people trying to leave the ship when they opened the gangway.  My plan was to go to Creek Street to see the salmon swimming upstream.  First, though, we needed to find the town’s free shuttle bus.

15 minutes later, we joined the hordes of ship’s passengers unwilling to walk and headed off for the center of town.  I chatted with a family on their way back to the Norwegian Pearl, moored one berth over. Having heard such negative stories about Norwegian Cruise Lines, I asked how they liked their ship.  The father said that the food and the service were very disappointing.   His 8-year old daughter piped up, “but I like the food.”  I asked her if she was eating the pizza and she looked at me as if I could read her mind.  The grandmother added that the she thought the food on Carnival and Disney was much better.  I thought the food on Carnival was at best so-so, which didn’t say much for NCL.

We got off near Creek Street and made our way to it.  This part of Ketchikan basically has been restored/built to resemble the town of a 100 years ago.  The two-story wooden houses are perched over the stream, through which salmon are making their way home to spawn.  When we reached Dolly Arthur’s House (which is also a historic dolly house, now a museum), dad recognized that he had been on Creek St. with mom on an earlier visit.  He also recognized the funicular, though to my disappointment, they seemed to be repairing something and it was temporarily disabled.

Looking into the stream we were able to spot several large salmon making their way upstream (along with a few dead ones).  I have to say the salmon didn’t look like they were trying all that hard.  Mostly they were hanging out in the eddies and coves, hoping that the high tide would carry them all the way upstream.  Every now and then one or two would swim against the current, and then regroup back in a little cove.  I have to say that salmon don't look like imagined them.  These were dark grey or blackish with whitish tails.  No pink or red to be seen.  They were about a yard long, too (or at least they looked that size from our distance).

Because I had a 1:05 pm excursion, that didn’t leave us much time.  We headed back to the ship for lunch.  At first, dad wanted to take the shuttle bus back, but I wasn’t sure where to catch it so we walked.  It only took about 20 minutes to reach the ship, and dad said that the probably needed the exercise and it might do him good, but at the same time, it was more than he had walked in much of the trip.

After lunch on the Lido, I headed back outside and met my excursion.  I was heading to some place called the Misty Fjords National Monument.  We sailed for about 30 minutes south from Ketchikan.  We learned that in 8th grade, high school students are dropped in pairs on deserted islands where they have three days to show they’ve mastered all the survival skills they’ve learned. 

The Fjords were formed during the last ice ages, when large glaciers scooped out incredibly deep valleys.  The main channel through which we were moving is over 1800 feet deep (below the water).  Above the water, the visible mountains were thickly covered in green forest of pine and spruce.  Although the sky was somewhat cloudy by now, I could still see patches of blue sky and I could imagine that here was a green world untouched by global warming and pollution.   I could spot a few dead trees among the green and asked the naturalist if they had problems with parasites.  No, she said; they were doing their best to keep out some pest spreading across Canada.  The reason for the dead trees was that their roots were really shallow.  The glaciers removed all the topsoil, and only a few feet had reformed in the last 10-12,000 years.  The trees’ roots spread widely, but could only go down a few feet, which made them vulnerable to intense weather.

As we reached the entrance to the national monument we passed New Eddystone Rock.  Named after a lighthouse in Britain that Captain Vancouver thought it resembled, it’s actually the plug of a dormant volcano, whose cone above sea level has eroded and mostly disappeared, leaving only a sand spit inhabited by harbor seals and some trees where bald eagles nest.

As we turned into the Misty Fjords monument, the sea level rose to only a 1000 feet deep, but the walls of the valley were themselves 1000-2000 feet high, with glacier-polished stone, marked only by the occasional spruce tree.  The shore (above the high-water mark) was heavily forested.  Overhead there were gulls and terns.  I asked the naturalist which were which.  “The gulls are the boring looking ones; the terns are interesting.” 

By now, the skies had mostly clouded over, and we were having bouts of light drizzle intermixed with some sunlight, so the fjords were living up to their name.  The best way I can describe them is to imagine Yosemite Valley, half flooded by seawater.   While it did have a few waterfalls, these were much smaller than Yosemite’s but one was quite beautiful.

The end of our sea journey was a small wooden dock.  Here we boarded our float planes that were landing, dropping off the passengers who would sail back on our boat.  One guide book this morning said that so many float planes land in Misty Fjords, it can resemble Omaha Beach on D-Day, but that was a bit of an exaggeration.  We had been given different colored cards at the beginning, and this determined which plane we flew back in.  I had a blue card, so I flew back in a 1952 de Havilland propeller plane.  Since I was the first, the pilot asked if I would like to sit up front, so I said sure. 

This was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, I had the best view on the plane: 180 degrees.  On the other hand, it was hard to photograph most of it, because although the propeller rotated too fast to be seen as more than a blur, it did show up when I took a picture.  We buckled up and put on protective headphones to mask the (literally) deafening roar of the motor.  In now time at all we had taken off and were flying over first the fjords and then the forested interior. While the sea journey had taken nearly three hours, we flew back in less to Ketchikan in only thirty minutes.  I expected to more scared than I turned out to be, even with the water landing (which is a bit rougher than landing on a tarmac).

I met dad for dinner and we headed back to the Pinnacle Grill for the last time this voyage.  We both started with the jumbo shrimp cocktail, but afterwards our choices completely diverged.  Dad had the Caesar salad and the west coast cioppino, while I ordered the lobster bisque and the 12 oz lobster tail (steamed).  For dessert, dad had the fresh berries with sabayon, while I had the lemon brulee tart with blueberry whipped cream.  I asked first what it was and the maître d’ explained it was like a key lime pie, except with lemon and had a brulee crust that you would find on a crème brulee.  It was quite good.

Now we are listening to the classical performance and tomorrow we have a sea day while cruising the Inner Passage to Vancouver.  The forecast is for partially sunny, so I might even swim in the afternoon. 

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