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Yet more Alaska

2005-09-01 02:00:17.51925+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

Even in Petersburg, a town that rightfully thinks fairly highly of itself, a question we got asked on our trip was "why Petersburg?".

Charlene said "I want to go to Alaska". I'd been planning a road trip up through Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but I re-targeted my research a bit, and discovered that Alaska's a pretty huge place. I had visions of everything from glaciers and the Inside Passage to Denali and Prince William Sound. Clearly this wasn't going to happen in one week. So I asked "why?", and she said "I want to see whales".

The coolest whales to see are humpbacks. They're more "whale like" than orcas, but still play more on (and above) the surface a lot. In winter they're found out by Hawaii and points west, but in summer the largest concentrations are in Frederick Sound.

The big cruise ships don't go to into Frederick Sound. The passage at the south end is either through Wrangell Narrows, which passes the larger of the Alaska Marine Highway boats with only a hundred feet to spare at some points and involves some huge number of course changes, or through "Dry Strait", which, you can tell from its name, is a place that even in a skiff you need to check the tide tables.

We looked at the high end cruise ships that get in some of the out of the way places, but discovered that same "trying to see too much" feel. As well, the price difference between the premium cruise ships with 75 to a few hundred people and a 50-70 foot yacht with 4 or 6 passengers is smaller than you'd think. So when our attempts to schedule a week with Alaska Passages (one such small charter operator) didn't work out, we looked to doing a land based trip.

Once we prioritized, we wanted at least two days of whale watching, and we wanted serious days, not two hours of jetboat thrill ride, and some classically Alaska scenery, Petersburg was the obvious choice: It sits at the base of Frederick Sound, close to the whales; it has a solid fishing economy so we were less likely to be overrun with Pier 39 style gift shops and more likely to get into discussions with authentic locals (that sounds patronizing, I don't mean it to be); it's right near Le Conte glacier, lots of icebergs and such; and it has regularly scheduled airline service, so it's easy to get to.

One of the things we missed when we wandered out to this park was the few thousand year old remains of fish traps that are said to be visible at a minus tide. We got distracted by cool stuff in the low tide muck:

The parts that aren't saltwater or mountainside leading directly to mile plus peaks are fields of glacier silt called "muskeg". The soil is acidic and very wet, and the plants which grow in it are interesting. The trees supposedly have a very hard and dense wood, when they can get enough nutrient to stand up straight, and fallen trees make a rich soil, other trees grow straight up out of the supine trunks.

In our later trip to Glacier Garden we saw some trees with exposed roots that we asked about, and were told that this was what happened when the host log had rotted away, as in:

[ related topics: Photography Nature and environment Aviation Travel Boats Dan & Charlene's 2005 Alaska Trip Alaska ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-01 13:39:28.991101+00 by: ebradway

BTW, if you want to see whales in a warmer environment, the Bellenas National Marine Sanctuary in Punta de Uvita de Osa, Costa Rica, is the southern breeding grounds of the humpbacks. It's also pretty much still unknown to Yankee travellers. When Asha and I visited a couple years ago, most of the "tourists" were vacationing Ticos (Costa Ricans) and it was hard to find people who could speak English (not a problem in the slower pace of Tico-time).

We paid $88 for six nights in a bungalow walking distance from the beach and park. Our favorite eatery was a few hundred yards from the beach and cost about $1.50 American for a big plate of beans and rice with fresh fruit Frescas.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-01 20:52:21.952965+00 by: Dan Lyke

Cool! Is that on the Atlantic or Pacific side?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-02 17:59:45.117226+00 by: ebradway

Pacific. Uvita de Osa is about 35km south of Quepos, one of the major tourist destinations (Manuel Antonio National Park), and about 10km south of Dominical, a big surfer destination. Access by bus is cheap. It cost less than $6 for Asha and I to ride from Alajuela (where the airport is) to Uvita. It's an all-day bus trip, despite the fact that it's only about 150km.

The water in Uvita is warm and calm. The largest coral reef on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is in the marine park. The reef shelters the beach from the Pacific surf. So, no surfers and no undertow!