Coast Guard Rescue and Nehalem​ Bay

Tuesday morning we found ourselves with several hours to explore Fort Stevens before driving to nearby Nehalem Bay State Park to meet Clara and her friend Lia later in the afternoon.

We drove to the South Jetty observation tower to spot ships crossing the Columbia River bar and arrived just in time to witness the United States Coast Guard rescue a teen stranded on a sandbar at flood tide. A gaggle of birders flocked with the Oregon Park Rangers, the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office, the Warrenton Fire Department, and the Warrenton Police Department to watch the rescue unfold.

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MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria

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Watching the rescue with Park’s Department and Sheriff’s Department

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USCG helicopter maneuvering over South Jetty

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Post-rescue prepping for landing

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Landing to let teen reunite with his family

After the excitement was over we turned our attention to the surfers catching late morning waves along the jetty.

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Looking south on Clatsop Spit

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Surfer heading out

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Catching a wave off Clatsop Spit

Oregon_Coast - 22We walked the trail out to the South Jetty for a better view of the Columbia River and to spot endangered migrating brown pelicans.

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The trail to bird nesting area

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Brown pelicans

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Brown pelicans over South Jetty

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We packed up our site and headed south on Highway 101 towards Seaside, Oregon as we waited for our check-in time at Nehalem Bay State Park. We hadn’t been to Seaside in well over 15 years. We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon wandering through town and grabbing a quick lunch before heading to Nehalem Bay.

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Beach at Seaside, Oregon

We arrived at Nehalem State Park with plenty of time to trick out our campsite with hammocks, chairs around the firepit, a canopy over our tableclothed picnic table, candles and fairy lights and a regulation cornhole game set. Clara and Lia arrived in their Volt from their first road trip just in time for dinner.

After dinner, we walked over to check out the horse campsites. Not being equestrians, we didn’t know camping with horses in a state park was a thing. But apparently, it is. And the sites looked really nice.

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Horse Camp? Who knew?!

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Campsite Corral

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Camping with horses

With wine glasses in hand and sand in our shoes, we navigated our way through trails of tall grasses across the dunes to the beach at Nehalem Spit for sunset.

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Clara and Lia through the dunes

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Dunes of Nehalem Spit

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Beach at Nehalem Spit

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Clara and Lia

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Tawny, Clara, and Marc

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Riding into the sunset

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Heading back to camp

As the sun set the temperature dropped and the marine layer quickly rolled onshore like a foggy quilt to tuck us in for the night. We kept it at bay with Lia’s pyro-maniacal campfire-making skills complete with toasty s’mores. It was a sweet ending to an already sweet day.

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Lia the “Fire Queen”!

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Clara roasts a perfect marshmallow



Categories: Camping, Great American Roadtrip, Oregon | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Smoke, Fires, and Coastal Detours

We were to travel to Eureka, Montana the last week of August for my friend Karl’s 50th surprise Virgo Barn Dance Party at his Frisky Chicken Ranch (aka Tobacco Valley Ranch). His better half Nikki had been planning it for over a year. Hoards of friends would be coming from around the country and the globe to celebrate a milestone birthday with live bands, brews from Homestead Ales, dips in Dickey Lake, and other sundried shenanigans.

But about a week ago, while we were in Maui dodging Hurricane Lane, Nikki contacted us with a heavy heart to call off the party. The smoke from the British Columbia fires as well as from the nearby Howe Ridge fire in Glacier National Park had left the air quality in Eureka “Hazardous” and “Very Unhealthy” as categorized by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. We heard stories from home about the smoke from the BC fires in Seattle as well. We decided we were going to try and go anyway, even if the party was postponed until next year we love Karl’s ranch and we hadn’t been since August of 2014. We closely monitored the air quality authorities across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. It was bad. We made the decision at the end of the week that we’d abandon our plans for a road trip to Eureka with a side trip to Silverwood Theme Park and improvise a camping trip to the pristine salty air of the Oregon Coast.

We were lucky enough to reserve the last campsites available at Fort Stevens State Park and Nehalem Bay State Park during the busy last week of summer. Our r-pod was already packed and ready to go, so Tawny and I hooked it up and drove ourselves Fort Stevens arriving in the late afternoon. We quickly set up camp, had a surprisingly good dinner at the unassuming South Jetty Dining Room and Bar and then went to catch the sunset on the beach with the skeletal remains of a 112-year-old shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.

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Categories: Camping, Great American Roadtrip, Oregon | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Hurricane Up and Wait…

Thursday we expected to feel the full wrath and fury of Hurricane Lane by 2pm in the afternoon. We had gotten up several times Wednesday night to check on things. But oddly things were still and calm.

The morning news brought us reports of widespread rain, wind, landslides, road closures, school closures, business closures, government offices closures, etc. But Kihei was quiet. No wind and only a drizzle. The town was also quiet with only a few stores opened. The staff at our condo was locking down furniture and asked us to do the same by bringing all the furniture off the lanai and putting it into our condo with us. We had drinking water, pots and pans and wastepaper baskets filled with water for flushing toilets, flashlights, food cooked and stocked, electronics charged, dishes cleaned, extra bags ready to go if we had to evacuate to a shelter. The news reports looked bad and the condo posted this in the elevator.

We watched the news much of the morning and while there was definitely flooding, winds, and issues around the island, Kihei seemed to be protected in the shadow of Haleakala. The surf was up! We decided to go boogie boarding.

Later that morning we checked the news again and it appears Lane was stalling. The storm had slowed its advancement across the Pacific towards Hawaii and had weakened to a Cat 4 storm. It would appear that the storm may not come in until later that night.

We decided to go see a matinee, assuming we may have heavy weather when the movie was over. There weren’t many choices in town but Tawny caught (and loved) Crazy Rich Asians, while the rest of us (being in Hawaii) thought it would be more fun to see The Meg (Spoiler alert: Pippen lives).

Thursday night we had dinner reservations at Ko, a seafood restaurant within the Fairmont Kea Lani resort for my mother’s birthday. We had called the restaurant the day before and they weren’t sure they’d be open. We called them again to see if we should cancel our reservations as it coincided with the forecasted impact of Lane. The restaurant manager assured us that although they are an open-air restaurant they’d do their best to accommodate us, even suggesting they could move us to an interior hallway and serve us if necessary. We felt at the very least we’d have an adventurous meal. We decided to keep the reservations. We arrived and saw the Fairmont was locked down and ready for the hurricane with furniture stacked, display cases secured, and shelter in place notices posted for their guests.

But the weather was calm and our meal was delicious. The sunset in the outdoor venue was the most spectacular of our trip.

Checking the news before bed we expected the storm to hit us during the night. It didn’t. Again we woke several times to check the weather. Calm. No rain.

When morning came we learned that the storm had further weakened to a Category 3 but was still headed towards Maui. It had slowed its advance to only a few miles an hour but was still assumed to be coming our way. We received several flash flood alerts throughout the day for Maui, just none in Kihei where it remained calm and only a drizzle. We learned there had been a large fire near Lahaina overnight burning over 300 acres and destroying several homes. Flights were getting canceled into and out of Maui. It looked like the storm was imminent. We spent our morning inside watching the rain and the weather from our lanai as well as all the other guests at our condo.

But the weather in Kihei actually improved by late morning. The surf was up and while it was cloudy it brightened up. We continued to get flash flood warnings and see widespread damage to some parts of the island on TV, but Kihei remained well protected. The wind did pick up for a bit, and with it the surf got HUGE! The result was we had some of the best boogie-boarding of our lives until the surf got so big we felt it best to leave the water with our spines intact.

As the day progressed Hurricane Lane became Hurricane Lame. It was downgraded throughout the day to a category 2, then 1, and by the late afternoon became Tropical Storm Lane. It wasn’t until well after dinner that night we actually got our first serious rain, which continues as I write this, but with no wind to speak of.

While we are personally disappointed we didn’t get to experience a little more Hurricane we are grateful to be safe and sound and flying home tomorrow. We feel sorry for those who weren’t as lucky as us. There were many reports of washed out roads, landslides, flooding (with up to 40 inches of rain), wind damage, power outages, and fires. We just didn’t have any of that. We do now have some newfound disaster prep skills we didn’t know we had previously which should prove useful for our next inevitable naturals climate change disaster or zombie apocalypse, whichever comes first.

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Hurricane Prep with an Ethical Will and a Pineapple Upsidedown Cake

Today we awoke to emergency alerts on our phones. I flipped on the TV and immediately saw the emergency alert system broadcasting this about Hurricane Lane:


Yesterday’s hurricane watch had been upgraded to a hurricane warning. I scrambled to the coffee maker…and then across the Googles and Interwebs on my phone to find more news….


We had already done a lot of prepping for the hurricane yesterday before going zip-lining. As our Walking Dead skills started kicking in we decided perhaps we could do better. Tawny and I ran out to see if we could find a portable radio and more wine. No luck. We were met with long lines at Longs Drugs, Safeway, and other locations across Kihei. We decided to head back closer to our condo and top up our fuel at the nearby ABC Store. But it turns out they sell wine! We fueled up, grabbed another bag of ice, a few bottles of red, quarters for the laundry, and a few other miscellaneous food items to top up our already ample supply.

We spent mid-morning enjoying the last of the good weather. The snorkeling was surprisingly good and the water still clear, although choppy. The surf was up so we hit the waves and did some boogie boarding before lunch.

We grabbed lunch across the street at Coconut’s Fish Cafe. We weren’t expecting much but surprisingly this Zagat rated restaurant serves a formidable mixed fish: ono, ahi, and mahi-mahi fish taco.

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A single order of fish tacos includes 2 of these sea-beasts!

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Mmmm….fis,h tacos

After lunch, we went for more shave ice under the assumption we wouldn’t be able to enjoy any tomorrow.

Our afternoon was spent doing some laundry, and prepping for my mother’s birthday dinner. We had planned on going to dinner on Thursday (during the hurricane) to Ko at the Fairmont Kea Lani for dinner. However, we called the restaurant and they said they’d probably be closed as they are basically an open-air restaurant and it would be impossible to have the restaurant open during the hurricane.

We improvised. I prepared a kalbi-style beef short ribs and grilled Shishito peppers with Hawaiian sea salt as appetizers with chicken, bok choi, and broccoli stir-fry for dinner. Tawny made her famous (made every Hawaiian vacation) old-school time-traveling pineapple upsidedown cake as a birthday cake for my mom. My sister tried to find birthday cake candles but could only find a scented coconut candle. We made it work!

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Pineapple perfection!

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All the kids!

After dinner, my mother shared her ethical will with us with hopes of imparting her pioneer stock wisdom and values on to her grandkids. She handed each of them a value and had them read it aloud:

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Don’t feel entitled to anything you don’t sweat and struggle for.

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Never give up. You can make it no matter what comes. Nothing worth having is ever achieved without a struggle.

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The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

And finally my mother read her own:

“Always remember that you are never alone. You are loved unconditionally.  There is nothing you can ever do or say that can ever take away my love for you all.”

I told my mother that the Goddess Pele herself and the God Kanaloa had perhaps sent Hurricane Lane to either help her blow out all her birthday candles or as a guest worthy of such a momentous birthday party. Either way, she is a divine mother and grandmother to us all worthy of a party with the Gods!

We ate our dessert with the sunset as the rain began. It was perhaps our last sunset for a few days to come.

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Happy Birthday, Mom. I look forward to braving the hurricane with you tomorrow.



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Ziplines and Hurricanes

Monday was another perfect day. Woke to a beautiful morning. Took my young niece and nephew snorkeling and spotted many green sea turtles, moray eels, and octopus amongst all the other fish of the Hawaiian reefs. Then spent the day sunning, swimming, and boogie boarding (as well as a fair amount of drinking and eating).

But all was not well as we started to hear a tale of Hurricane Lane. But it was like 500+ miles away, a weakening category 4, and projected to turn away from the Hawaiian Islands. Most of the locals were talking about the surf being up as a good thing. But it did mean rain later in the week.

We decided we’d plan a Tuesday adventure and go ziplining with Jungle Ziplines. We book the excursion for myself, my wife and daughter, her boyfriend, and my niece and nephew. We all had to run out and buy either closed toed shoes, or long pants, or both to ensure we met their clothing requirements. After a few trips to Ross, we were provisioned to zip.

But then we also realized our rental car was not large enough accommodate six. My mother, wanting us to have fun for her birthday and to live vicariously through us (not wanting to zip line herself) offered for us to get a larger rental car for the day. It would be her treat, so we could all go. We made a few phone calls, got a mini-van through Avis nearby and would pick it up in the morning

Morning came. I rose early and put on the local TV news to catch up on the hurricane. While they thought it would weaken overnight they were now reporting that it had actually strengthened and was still a solid Cat 4. And it was turning towards Hawaii. Hurricane watches were now issued for the Big Island and Maui. The first thing I heard the meteorologist say was “People, this is not a drill. There’s a hurricane coming”.

I woke the family for prepping. We quickly headed across the street to the small local store and bought supplies: Water, a flashlight, some additional food, cold coffee drinks (in case we can’t make coffee we’d still get our fix!), did we have enough booze? Yes!, cash from the ATM, etc. We then checked in with the office. They told us we had 36 or so hours. That they’d give us instructions on how to hunker down if necessary or evacuation instructions. EVACUATION INSTRUCTIONS?! Say what? Basically, it was to make our way to a nearby school as a shelter in the unlikely event it might come to that. We felt prepared. At least enough to go pick up the rental and head out to the ziplines.

The Chrysler Town and Country is a bulbous piece of shit of a van, IMO. It drove terribly and sounded even worse. We loaded up and headed on our way to Jungle Ziplines in the jungle at 50 Waipio Road, but with a quick stop in the hippie/surfer town of Pa’ia first. By the time we got to Pa’ia the transmission started slipping. I couldn’t get the car (an automatic) to shift to anything but first or reverse. I pulled over and call Avis. They were great. “So sorry to hear that. You are close to the airport, do you think you can get it to our main Avis location where you can swap it out? I’ll call ahead and arrange a new car for you”. I dropped my family in Pa’ia to explore and grab lunch and I made a harrowing trip, in first gear, on a highway, near redlining, back to the airport for a swap. They had a car waiting for me and the swap took only minutes. I was really impressed with their customer service. It was a far cry from the miserable experience I had with Hertz and the Fiat 500 I rented in Portugal.

Back on the road, I found my family waiting for me at Flatbread Company in Pa’ia with a fresh flatbed just delivered. It was delicious. We ate up and headed towards the ziplines for a fun-filled day of zipping in the rain.

After successfully zipping our way through 7 courses of jungle foliage in the rain, we set back out for Kihei, but first, we made a quick stop at the Ho’okipa Beach lookout to watch the surfers, boogie-boarders, kite-surfers, and windsurfers taking advantage of the rising swell preceding Hurricane Lane.

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When we got back to Kehei we took advantage of the increasing wind and surf ourselves with a little boogie boarding, body surfing, and skimboarding before dinner.

As we prepared dinner we learned that Hurrican Lane had grown to a Category 5. Tomorrow we’d spend more time preparing for a potential hit or a close call. Either way, we are going to see some storm.

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How to have a perfect day on Maui

We’ve returned to Hale Pau Hana, a favorite spot of ours on Maui, to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday.

This is a special place for us. We’ve been coming here on and off for the past 40 years. Hale Pau Hana is uniquely placed in Kehei between Kamaole Beach I and Kamaole Beach II. It is one of the few condos in Kihei located on the beach side of busy South Kihei Road. It has everything you want and nothing you don’t. Small enough to feel exclusive, yet remaining unpretentious. Great snorkeling (with turtles and rays) and boogie boarding right out front on a beach of fine Maui sand. But offering enough shade for extended periods of book reading under a palm of your choice, with a nearby pool to cool off in if the drier side of Maui gets too hot (and it is HOT today – over 90º with 82% humidity). There are many stores (grocery and liquor), shops, restaurants and food trucks, and shave ice all across the street. Everything you want and nothing you don’t.

We have this Hale Pau Hana thing down pat and today we followed our typical agenda for a perfect day in Maui.  We started with breakfast on the lanai with Maui Lovebirds and a sunrise over Haleakala before heading to the beach for some morning snorkeling.

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Sunrise over Haleakala

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Sunrise and calm surf on Kamaole Beach II

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Papaya and Avocado

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Breakfast w/Lovebirds

We had a lazy mid-morning sunning ourselves, cooling ourselves in the ocean, reading books, trying out a skim board, and following a turtle that came close to shore.

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For lunch, we walked to Kinaole, a nearby food truck, for chicken katsu, pulled pork sliders, and some coconut shrimp before hitting Beach Street, a local shave ice shack, for dessert.

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Kinaole food truck near Kamaole I

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So much awesome!

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Waiting for our food order

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Chicken katsu and pulled pork sliders

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Tawny’s Shave Ice: Ice cream on the bottom, 1/2 tigers blood 1/2 lilikoi with “snow cap” (sweetened condensed milk)

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My shave ice: Pineapple, Li Hing Mui with Ice Cream, Azuki Beans, Haupia and Lihing Mui Powder

Our afternoon started with Tawny’s preparing her most excellent Mai Tais while I made mango gazpacho for dinner.

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Strong Mai Tais

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Mango gazpacho

My sister and her kids arrived in the late afternoon and we all swam until the Portuguese Man-o-War announcement drove us all from the water. We saw a few dead ones on the beach and thought better about returning to the waves until the winds shift in a day or two.

We had dinner on the lanai at sunset and tried to keep cool as the trade winds subsided with the sun.

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Our evening entertainment was a praying mantis that came to visit our lanai.

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Alaska Cruise: A short walk around Ketchikan

Salmon are the lifeblood of Alaska. They return each year to spawn up her rivers and streams like many cells in the veins and arteries of the varied animals they provide substance to; eagles, bears, whales, and people alike.

The important role salmon play in this cycle of life was perhaps nowhere more evident than in Ketchikan, where salmon literally swim through the heart of town: the Creek Street Historic District.

We arrived early morning in Ketchikan with only a few short hours in port. It was too early to schedule an excursion (at least for us), so we chose instead to spend our time with a short exploratory walk around the town.

We headed away from the crowded cruise ship berths towards the Downtown National Historic District. We quickly passed the saccharine taffy shops, faux furriers, and tacky gift stores, to make our way to Creek Street, recently named to the Register of Historic Places. Creek Street has been many things over the years, from a Tlingit fish camp to the site of a sawmill, but perhaps it is best known for its bars and bawdy houses of ill-repute that catered to the loggers and fisherman of the early 20th century.

Ketchikan creek was teeming with returning salmon gathering their strength before working their way up the Ketchikan Creek falls to the fertile salmon spawning grounds (and local hatchery). But there was also a small herd of harbor seals making of game of playing with their food.

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Salmon returning

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Salmon returning

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A hungry seal

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Seal with a catch

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Seals playing

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Smug and full seal resting

We walked the “Married Man’s Trail” towards the waterfall and the fish ladder working our way up to the spawning grounds.

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Ketchikan Creek Falls and fish ladder

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Ketchikan Creek

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Ketchikan Creek spawning grounds

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Clever local boy

We worked out way past the fish hatchery and across Ketchikan Creek to the Totem Heritage Center. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the museum, but it was interesting to see the many totems place in around Ketchikan.

We headed back to town and our ship passing by and popping into the local radio station. Our daughter works at KEXP in Seattle and we thought it would be interesting to get her some swag from KTKN/KGTW.

We left Ketchikan around lunchtime. It was a short trip but a nice walk with lots of salmon, seal, and eagles. And it was a beautiful day, the first sunny and warm day of the cruise. We took over the best viewing site in the port left corner of the Spinnaker Lounge and spent our afternoon playing dominoes and shanghai rummy watching numerous (I stopped counting gray whales after 10) whales (grays and orcas), porpoise and the beautiful islands of Alaska pass us by as we headed to Victoria and then back home to Seattle.

Goodbye Alaska. Like your returning salmon, I too am sure to return to your icy waters one day…

Timelapse of leaving Ketchikan via Tongass Narrows.

Timelapse of arriving in Victoria:

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Alaska Cruise: Glaciers Galore & Whales Breaching

I had no idea Glacier Bay National Park would be so incredibly spectacular and awe-inspiring. Early Thursday morning the Norweigan Pearl pushed through the fog like an icebreaker. I was worried we’d have limited visibility of the glaciers for our few short hours in the bay and given our Alaskan weather to date. However, upon our first view of Margerie Glacier in Tarr Inlet the got had lifted and we had great viewing opportunities.


While I’m not a huge fan of cruises, a cruise ship is an excellent way to see Glacier Bay. Our captain did an excellent job of maneuvering the Pearl around Tarr Inlet so everybody could see the majestic Margerie Glacier and a rather dull Grand Pacific Glacier. We had an aft cabin and had planned to view Glacier Bay from our balcony. But our initial arrival was bow first and the cruise opened the bow of the ship (usually used for mooring only) to passengers. We quickly made our way to the front of the ship and were able to secure an excellent position on the port side of the bow for excellent viewing opportunities, including the sights and sounds of glacial calving.


After a few hours of rotating maneuvers around Tarr Inlet we headed away from Margerie Glacier and into John Hopkins Inlet to view the John Hopkins Glacier.


After John Hopkins Glacier we headed close to the Lamplugh Glacier where kayakers in the turquoise waters provided some scale to the behemoth block of ice.


Leaving Lamplugh Glacier in our wake we got a quick peek at Reid Glacier before weaving our way out of Glacier Bay and down Icy Strait on our way to Ketchikan. We’d have the rest of the day at sea.

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Reid Glacier

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Fishing boat in Icy Strait

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Dramatic light in Icy Strait.

Tawny and I headed up to the spa (which had some of the best views on the ship). We spent our early afternoon spotting numerous porpoise, whales, and dozens of sea otters clinging to kelp from the warmth and comfort of our saunas.

We took a quick lunch in one of the specialty restaurants – the Sushi Bar. We had found that this consistently had the best food on the boat and Aries, our sushi chef, made us many chef special roles, each more delicious than that last.


That afternoon we landed a prime bow facing window seat in the Spinnaker Lounge where Tawny and I spent the afternoon playing dominoes and spotting Dall’s porpoise and whales. We were lucky enough to see a gray whale breaching seven times right in front of the ship. The ship had to slow to wait for it to pass and as the captain announced the sighting we were already in the best viewing location with a hundred passengers craning their necks behind us for a peak. While we had good binoculars with us we didn’t have our camera. All we were able to get is this iPhone video of a few breaches. It was a bonus round added to an already perfect day.


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Alaska Cruise: Skagway, White Pass Railway, and Laughton Glacier Wilderness Hike

7:15am: Funneled by the narrow Lynn Canal, near gale force winds (according to the Beaufort scale) and driving rain met us as we met Rylan, our guide from Packer Expeditions, for the 8-mile 9-hour round trip hike to the Laughton Glacier.

Skagway Forecast

Looks like rain

We walked through downtown Skagway (population ~1000) to meet our train on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. While once a bustling gold rush waypoint, today Skagway has little reason to exist beyond inclusion in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and its catering to hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer. Many come simply to ride the precariously perched narrow gauge railroad into the Yukon dating from 1899. The more foolhardy hear The Call of the Wild, abandon the tracks, and venture deeper into the last frontier.

The train slowly wound its way up White Pass over narrow trestles and past varied signpost stops, such as Denver where you can spend the night in a boxcar by the side of the tracks and hike various trails near Skagway. Our stop was a little over 14 miles up the pass where we disembarked in the rain (but less wind) and to start our hike.


Rent this caboose from the Forest Service for $35 a night.


Falls from railway


Glacier stop. Don’t miss your train…


Leaving us behind

We started our hike through easy flowered meadows of fireweed and Devil’s club and lush and dampened green temperate rainforest trails before starting a more arduous ascent into the sub-alpine region. Along the way, we were reminded of the wilds in which we hiked by the bear scat and bear markings on a tree along the trail.

As we climbed the terrain changed and became steeper and more rugged. We traded the muddy trail of the valley below for rocky gravel and boulders. The trail all but disappeared and we were left to follow in single file footsteps of our guide Rylan towards Laughton Glacier.

Arrival at the glacier brought us chills. It was cold. We were soaked. People were wringing out their hats and gloves as we prepared for the next portion of our hike by affixing our crampons to our hiking boots for another 30-minute hike up the glacier.

Hiking on the glacier was easier than we anticipated as the crampons provided more secure footing on the ice than our boots did on the boulders.  We stopped about halfway up the toe of the glacier for a quick lunch. And it was quick. To stop moving to was to get cold. The rain, the wind chill, and the glacier-effect of sitting on a massive block of ancient ice made the effective temperature hover somewhere in the upper 30s. We quickly downed our ham sandwiches, a Snicker’s bar with a quick cup of cocoa to muster enough energy to hike further up the toe for a better view of the ice falls, the vertical portion of the Laughton Glacier, and some interesting features.

After hiking different portions of the glacier we started a rather quick descent. Everybody was cold and wet and wanted to get off the glacier. My thumb was frozen. There was a kid from the cruise hiking in tennis shoes and sweatpants who was soaked to the bone.  We made it back to the railway and took refuge from the rain in an old railcar on the side of the tracks while we awaited our train back to Skagway.


The hike was pretty difficult with rain, wind, and cold making it harder. Even so, while shivering our way back to the ship we all felt a sense of accomplishment and awe in having stood and hiked upon a glacier that 100 years ago extended close to where the train dropped us off and picked us up again after the hike, and was predicted to be completely gone in another 35-40 years.

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Cruise Ships, and Glaciers, but no Bears, oh my! Alaska Cruise: Juneau/Mendenhall​

About eight years ago we embarked on a Carribean cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. And we swore we’d never cruise again. So, how is it I find myself aboard the sister-ship Norwegian Pearl on a cruise to Alaska? A loophole in our agreement. Tawny had never been to Alaska before and always said, “I’d only ever do a cruise again if it was to Alaska”. I agreed because it seemed an easy way to see Southeast Alaska and Glacier Bay, much of which is only accessible by plane or boat. When we asked our daughter if she’d like to accompany us her reply was a swift, “Um,…No”.

And so here we find ourselves departing Seattle on a ship we can see from our deck on a 7-day cruise to Alaska with a few close friends and leaving our daughter behind.

Tawny and I each had our own agenda for the cruise:

  1. Tawny: See glaciers
  2. Marc: Photograph bears
  3. Both: Relax w/friends

We had already pre-purchased our excursions and amenities to achieve these goals. In Juneau, Tawny would be going with our friends to visit Mendenhall Glacier, while I’d be heading on a bear and wildlife adventure via floatplane. We had also purchased the “Adult Ultimate Beverage Package”, a “3 Meal Specialty Dining Package”, and the “Thermal Suite Spa Pass”, a trifecta of drinking, eating, and relaxation.

Before arriving in Juneau we’d have two nights and a full day-and-a-half to bide our time exploring the ship. We leisured ourselves in the spa (best views on the boat are from the sauna), lost money in the casino, attended an “Art” raffle where we won a few bottles of champagne and four “$100 Bid Credit Certificates” (which we determined were a scam for the following day’s Park West “Art Auction”). We whittled away the hours with ample eating, drinking, and playing of board games in the velvet ensconced Bliss Lounge. And spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get our stateroom balcony door fixed.

The door to our cabin balcony couldn’t be locked, and therefore would open and close with each to-and-fro the Pacific Ocean waved at our ship.  It took us two days, eight formal complaints, and this video to explain the situation and finally get the issue resolved.

Cruise problems aside, one thing everybody loves about a cruise is the assortment of towel animals, a virtual terrycloth Noah’s Ark. Our cabin steward Gerry not only helped us get our door fixed and left our room spotless, he’d also playfully place a towel whimsy upon our bed during turndown service each night.

Unfortunately, the night before arriving in Juneau I received an envelope next to the towel elephant left on our bed:

“Shore Excursion Notice – Tour Cancellation: BEAR & WILDLIFE VIA FLOAT PLANE”

“Dear guest, we regret to inform you that the above tour for Juneau has been canceled due to lack of participation.”

I was pretty disappointed. My main goal for this trip was to photograph brown bears fishing for spawning salmon and this was really my only opportunity. While there were other bear excursions offered in ports such as Ketchikan, they were for the much smaller and more common black bears. I reluctantly rebooked my excursion to join Tawny and our friends on the trip to the Mendenhall Glacier.

We arrived in Juneau a little early and had to wait for the 4000-passenger-1100-foot-long-behemoth Norwegian Bliss (the 9th largest cruise ship in the world) to leave port before we could dock.

We disembarked in a light, Juneau rain and waited for our tour bus to drive us up the glacier. Nestled in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, Mendenhall is beautiful, even in the rain. We walked Nugget Falls Trail and Photo Point Trails to take in vistas of Mendenhall Lake, Mendenhall Glacier, and Nugget Falls.

As the rain increased we headed over to the Steep Creek Trail to see if we could see black bears fishing for spawning salmon. Unfortunately, large portions of Steep Creek Trail were closed for the seasonal return of salmon. While there was a large viewing platform from which to watch bears, there were no bears to watch there that day. While disappointing, seeing the spawning salmon struggling up the shallow creekbed to complete their lifecycle was pretty awe-inspiring and the scenery was spectacular.

We visited the visitor center to learn more about the glaciers while we waited for our bus back to Juneau. While there were no bears for me and it was raining during our hike, Mendenhall was a stunning and educational destination for an afternoon excursion.

Once back in eagles-wherever-you-look Juneau we took some time to walk around the downtown area a bit (which is pretty touristy) before ducking out of the rain and into The Hangar on the Wharf for dinner. Housed in what was once the original humble home of Alaska Airlines we each had formidable baskets of Alaskan halibut and chips before returning to our ship for an overnight sailing to Skagway, and our next adventure.

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