Studio Musings

Friday, May 27, 2011

Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan

Disney Wonder docked in Skagway
Wow, time has flown since we got back! It's now been a little over two weeks, but I've promised this post to several people, so here it is.

Last September we barely saw Skagway, as we'd booked an all-day excursion. This time we had no plans except to explore the town.  At first glance, it looks like a movie set for an old western. Turns out many of those buildings are original to the gold  rush era, even if they have played musical chairs with their locations.

Ugly sketch/cool stamp!
In Seattle's Pioneer Square we have a National Park museum for the Klondike Gold Rush as many of the miners sailed north from Seattle.  They sailed to Skagway, then set out on foot (later rail) over the White Pass.  So of course I had to visit the Rangers' Station and get a stamp for my sketchbook.  It was almost strange to realize I was actually there, and to try to imagine the town as it might have been.

Heritage Museum in Skagway
Beyond the National Park exhibits, there's an interesting museum filled with both historical displays and contemporary works by residents and locals (less than 1000 people call Skagway home year round). At the museum we picked up a great walking tour map. The map also detailed several local hikes.

Kirmse's Curios
As we were the first cruise ship of the year, and the only one in port, the seasonal shops like Diamond International were still frantically setting up. Luckily, that didn't matter to us. The local shops were ready and waiting, and far more interesting in my opinion. I especially enjoyed Kirmse's (no website unfortunately), an fen craft/art gallery featuring works of Skagway and Alaskan artisans.  I mainly drooled over their jewelry and woven baskets, then spent time speaking with one of their sales associates who was finishing what I think is best termed an apprenticeship in carving fossilized ivory.  Definitely worth a visit!

There's gold dust in that there pan! 

Up next, Juneau was our only port where we'd pre-planned our shore excursion. Joe really wanted to go gold panning, following his grandfather's (and father's) examples. I thought I'd tag along and take pictures. I had a blast!  Our prospector guide picked us up at the cruise dock then gave us a short but fun tour of Juneau as we headed out of town towards Gold Creek.

The day was warm (for Alaska in early May), the scenery beautiful, and their's something rather heady about seeing gold flakes at the bottom of your pan.  After showing us the basics, our guide passed out pre-filled pans.   And sure enough we found gold - in the form of tiny flakes. But even better, he'd brought a shovel so we could scoop dirt from the creek bank itself and keep going. My first solo attempt was a bust, but three bright gold flakes winked at me from the bottom of my next pan. Woo hoo!

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau
And since that finished up mid day, I was able to catch one of the shuttle buses out to the Mendenhall glacier as well.

Having now visited Alaska in both shoulder seasons, I have to say that I think I prefer September. May is fairly early spring, so far north, so wherever I saw deciduous forests they were still quite bare and brown. In September, those same forest blazed gold with fall color. Also, the salmon are running in September, so ther's more wildlife - seals and bears, feasting on the salmon. But as Joe pointed out,  Creek Street (Ketchikan) does smell better in 'May without the dead carcasses os spawned salmon.

View of Ketchikan from the top deck
Our shortest stop was Ketchikan, which is also my personal favorite. I love the look of the town, climbing the steep hillsides rimming its narrow waterfront.

'Our' team at the Lumberjack Show
Last minute we booked tickets for the lumberjack show, which was a hoot. They divided the audience into two teams to root for 'their' lumberjacks. While I vantage say it's out 'thing', we enjoyed the show.  My favorite part was the log rolling. Turns out they host a school for local youth to learn the sport of log rolling, and before the official competition they had two of their students - both looked like they were in their early teens - to compete. And best yet, ours was a lumberjill. And she won!

Treetop Adventure walk at Capilano
On our return to Vancouver, we took a taxi to the trains station and stuffed our bags in one of the rental lockers there.  Then I headed off via sky train (Joe wasn't feeling great so he stayed behind) to explore the city. Ended up taking the free shuttle out to the suspension bridge at Capilano. Definitely worth a visit. The park is beautiful, and the suspension bridge was much longer and higher than expected. Walking across was like being aboard a ship in high seas, except it rolled with your movements instead of you trying to roll with its.
Cedar tree
And last, here are a couple more of my quick sketches from Capilano. Even when they don't turn out well - like the suspension bridge sketch, the sketching and notes help remind me how I felt when I was there, even more so than the pictures. At Capilano, it was windy, sprinkling and just cold enough that I couldn't sketch for long. And everything was so, so green!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tracy Arm vs. Glacier Bay

Crowds gather on deck as we enter Tracy Arm
Both are glacial fjords, but Glacier Bay is after all a National Park with several major tidewater glaciers, including the magnificent Margerie Glacier.  An image search for Glacier Bay turns up incredible photographs.   Meanwhile, Tracy Arm, part of the Tongass National Forest, only has a pair tidewater glaciers - the North and South Sawyer Glaciers.  Heading into this cruise I wasn't quite sure how much to expect from Tracy Arm.

Crew members on their private deck.  Just entered Tracy Arm
I shouldn't have worried!  Tracy Arm was every bit as incredible.  First, for anyone who's never entered a glacial fjord, it's like a trip back into time.  Entering the fjord, majestic spruce forests line the mountains, climbing all but the steepest ridges.  The further into the fjord you go, the smaller the vegetation becomes as you encounter ground more recently covered by glacial ice. 

The textures!
Above us, the mountains show clear signs of glacial scouring - deep groves and ridges carved into the granite of the cliff faces.

Mountain goats ramble along these faces the way we might stroll down a sidewalk.  Don't have any pictures of mountain goats, but we saw several!
Note the changing color of the water!

Around us, the water changes color from a steel grey/dark blue, to a deep, milky green as it's infused with glacial silt.  And ice appears; first solitary floes, then more and more until the water is filled with ice.

I don't have a lot of these pictures, because my camera battery gave up the ghost about this point - I had to run down to the room to charge it.  Luckily, by the time we reached the Sawyer Glacier, it had recharged! 

The snow capped peaks are completely lost in the brightness

And last - a picture I snapped from our stateroom when I ran down to reclaim my camera.

For Disney Cruisers - we had a 6:30 reservation Palo's that night and I have to say the timing couldn't have been more perfect! 

For Lynnie - here are four sketches of Tracy Arm. I only sketch on vacation, really, so don't expect too much!

I'd learned my lesson with the sketchbook and used every other set of pages, so no bleed throughs this time. Just for fun, here's a link to some of my Alaska sketches (including the Margerie glacier) from September.  And I love these little pocket blank books.

I will say that they are a really fun way to take in the scenery, and add little notes about what you saw/heard/felt while you were there. I'm a terribly unsuccessful scrapbooker, but I do enjoy flipping back through my travel sketches.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cruising the Inside Passage with the Disney Wonder

First glimpse of the Disney Wonder in Vancouver
Back home from an amazing week sailing on the inaugural cruise of the Disney Wonder to Alaska. It was an absolutely amazing trip and I would happily recommend it, whether or not you have children.

Leaving out of Vancouver, we sailed north along the outer edge of Vancouver Island heading to Tracy Arm, then Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Last fall we sailed a very similar itinerary on the Carnival Spirit, along with several members of our extended family, so I was curious how they'd compare. Truth is, there was no comparison, at least for us.

Midway through the trip I tried to pinpoint the differences and what made Disney so special to me. Some were easy - the food is better on the Wonder, both the buffets and sit-down meals. And the Wonder was quieter - far fewer PA announcements; just a daily report from the bridge. In fairness, there were some things I liked better on the Spirit - their naturalist was more personable and worked harder to bring what we were seeing to life, and there were more places to sit inside, warm and toasty, to sketch. But many of those places on the Spirit smelled of stale cigarette smoke, even in the nonsmoking areas. (In truth, if you're a heavy smoker, you might not like the Disney Cruise line - designated smoking areas are few & far between.)

Gotta love Goofy!
But if I had to identify the one thing that truly sets Disney apart, it's the pervasive atmosphere that anything is possible, dreams can come true and magic is just around the corner. That sounds a little corny, printed here in black and white. But it feels so real while you're aboard. It's like a massive dose of penicillin (or pixy dust) for the creative spirit. Over the course of the week I found my own dreams growing stronger, less frazzled, more possible. And I found myself excited about going home, not because I was tired of the trip, but because I was looking forward to tackling my projects anew.

Tracy Arm glacier, Alaska
And every person I met on the crew, from deck and dining staff, spa staff, officers to captain, seemed to be truly proud of where they worked. And it showed. At a Castaway Club reception, Captain Thord promised that though it was early in the season we'd go as far into Tracy Arm as possible, saying that we had plenty of time.

We were the second ship into Tracy Arm this season - the Spirit had actually gone in earlier that day, then turned back early due to the ice. Then it was our turn. We sailed deep, deep into the Tracy Arm.  The captain maneuvering the ship around the larger ice flows with all the grace and dexterity of a professional dancer, slow but sure, until we sat what felt like no more than a stone's throw from the glacier.

Over the next couple of days I plan to post additional trip reports about our ports of call and traveling to/from Vancouver.  For a sneak peak, feel free to check out my Flickr stream.   But now I need to go finish up some class proposals.