Saturday, August 15, 2015

Skagway--Ocean Raft Trip

Friday Trisha and I went on what was billed as an ocean raft trip, and it was a super fun excursion!  It was a 25 passenger Zodiac boat, with 3 250 hp outboard motors.  The seats were "jockey seats," basically looked like a small pommel horse that you straddled, with a padded back, but just a rounded handle in front of you to hold, as the driver of the boat would race across the water and suddenly make sharp turns and do donuts in the water, so you had to hold on to keep from sliding off your seat!  They dressed us up in "warm suits," big orange coveralls that were lined and filled with buoyant material so it would be a life vest as well.  The driver would race toward the rocks and just when we were so close it looked like we would crash, he cut the wheel sharply and we would fly back out into the narrows.  It was really exciting!  Plus we saw tons and tons of bald eagles, some harbor seals, some gorgeous waterfalls.  It was a fantastic day, weather wise--brilliant sunshine, warm, for Alaska standards, and just overall a wonderful trip!  In addition to the driver there was a naturalist on board, who would tell us about the various eagles we saw, pointing out the nests, which couples were which, explaining how the young chicks are with the parents in the nest only for a relatively short time while they learned to fly and hunt.  And, what do you know, the boat driver was from Atlanta!  He grew up near I-85 and Claremont and went to Lakeside High School and Georgia State.  He's been in Alaska for 19 years; says he goes back to Atlanta once a year, but after a couple weeks there, the crowds and traffic start to make him nervous and longing to get back to Alaska.  Almost everyone on the boat were from the cruise ships in town, as Skagway is a stop for nearly 18 cruise ships a week during the summer! There were a couple of young women who are here for the summer working at a helicopter tours agency, but other than those two, everyone else was from one of the three ships docked here for the day.  And, surprise, surprise, Trisha and I raised the average age of the group by several years!!

This was our last night in Alaska, so a group of us went out to eat.  Most of this group had not gone to the restaurant where we ate with some others the night before, so, even though we had just been there, we wanted to have a last night out together.  It was a lot of fun, and after supper we drove out to the site of a historic town called Dyea. No longer any town there, but there are the Dyea Flats, a marshy area with some streams where there are lots of salmon swimming upstream for spawning at this time of year.  Since it's a site where sometimes bears are seen coming out to fish we were hoping for a sighting, but no such luck.  It was a pretty drive out there, though, and we loved seeing the sun beginning to sink a little lower, casting some beautiful shades of pink on the mountains and glaciers.  As we were driving back into Skagway, we could see the cruise ships heading out, all lit up.  It's been interesting to hear various members of our group who have been on cruises talk about how much fun they have, though for us going on a cruise has never held the same attraction as it does for a lot of people.  I'd always said the one cruise I might want to do would be an Alaskan cruise along the Inside Passage, and who knows, maybe we will do that one day, but for now, we're having too much fun with the RV.  Anyway, it's an interesting phenomenon to us to see a small town like Skagway just chock full of people during the day, where so many of the shops are jewelry shops catering to the cruise ship population, and then, as the day draws to a close, the streets empty when the people head back to their ships.  The train we rode the other day even has a stop by the docks to pick up passengers from the ships.  We talked to one shopkeeper who told us the last ships come in late September and then most folks close their doors until next summer.  It's been so fascinating to learn how the different parts of Alaska function--so different from place to place, just a wonderful learning process!

Interesting building downtown that we noticed on our way to meet our boat tour
 Couple of the trains waiting to pick up cruise ship passengers

There were three ships docked on this day

Here's our boat, the trip before ours coming back to unload
As we sat outside the Harbor Master's office waiting for the tour folks to come, took these shots--just can't get enough of these glaciers on the mountains, just right there in front of you, all the time!  Amazing!!

Getting suited up!

The jockey seats

the naturalist, handing out ski goggles, since the wind is pretty strong when we're going fast

As we started out, the driver sped up to do some donuts beside the cruise ships

Dashing toward the rocks on the shoreline

Bald eagles

Hard to get focus on one in flight!

These next two shots show how close we came to the rocks before the boat captain made a hard left turn!

Eagle nest
You can see one of the babies, all brown until about 5 years old, on the left of the nest

We got really close to these rocks!!

Harbor seals

Their faces are so cute!

More eagles
An interesting fact we learned from the naturalist--when it's warm weather, as on this day, an eagle will stretch out its neck, making it much taller.  In cold weather, the eagle scrunches its neck down, helping it to keep warmer!

Coming back into the harbor
About to buzz the ships!

Bye bye, Zodiac!

Trisha loved the sign on this little food truck!
Evening drive to Dyea Flats

The muskeg was so beautiful!

And these are fireweed with all their snowy fuzz about to blow the seeds around

Stopped by a stream to watch the salmon--the water is so shallow, that when they are working hard to swim upstream, much of their bodies are out of the water.  The pattern seems to be that they work up some energy, make a run for it, don't make it all the way to the next rest area, fall back and then try again.  We would watch a particular fish keep trying and keep trying and finally succeed--it was the same on the fish ladders we saw in different places.  Real determination these fish have, to make it to the spawning.

Goodnight to our last night in Alaska--what an amazing place.  We will have one more day where we cross back from BC into Hyder, Alaska--hopefully to see some bears fishing--but this was our last overnight in this incredible state.