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Archive of our Alaska Trip - Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan 

We arrived in Alaska on June 17th.  As of July 21st, here's where we've been:


Sitka must be perfectly located.  It is a long standing native town in a very scenic setting with a lot of history.  It was selected by the Russians as their North American capital (called New Archangel).  It was the site of several battles between the native Tlingit and the Russian (and their coerced Athabaskans).  Somehow the British got in there as well and laid claim to it, though we can't remember how.  It was also the site of the ceremonial turnover of Alaska to the United States.  Now it is a sleepy little town, although it get some cruise ship traffic.  There is no dock for the really big ships, so they have to anchor and use their lifeboats to shuttle people to shore. 

Russian Orthodox church in Sitka

The kids at yet another National Park

Yannis and Anika (our two "mosquito magnets") standing in front of a Mosquito Totem.  The following is a synopsis of the mosquito legend as told in John Swanton's Tlingit Myths and Texts:

An unusual child was born to a chief's daughter, not exactly human in form, for he had sharp arrow points on his head. One day, the mother angered him, and he killed her by driving the arrow points into her breasts. Afterward, he fled into the woods, where he continued to kill other villagers out hunting or collecting wood.  One of the village men, the boy's uncle, set a trap for the boy and succeeded in wounding him with a poison arrow. His uncle tracked him by following his blood stains and eventually found him. The boy protested and pleaded for his life, but his uncle killed him for having destroyed so many villagers. The boy's body was burned, leaving only ashes. These ashes were driven about by the wind and became the mosquitoes that still torment people today.

For you totem connoisseurs: the totem is Haida in design.  It is topped by the Village Watchman.  The 2nd figure from the top is a Tlingit figure, Gooteekhl,  which is associated with the creature from which mosquitoes originated. Below the mosquito is a bear, while the bottom figure is probably devilfish or octopus (it has suction cups for eyebrows).

Bald Eagles are like pigeons in the Southeast of Alaska - they're everywhere.  But one day while we were walking, Anika spotted a bird that we hadn't seen in Alaska that looked rather pretty (it does, actually, if you forget how they are in Chicago).

Anika's pretty bird.

Islands around Sitka




We added Wrangell to our itinerary because we heard it was a quaint town, had a story around some precious stones, and had some old petroglyphs.  So, off we went to Wrangell on one of the few cloudy days we've had since leaving Chicago.  In 2 years of flying IFR, Yannis has never had to actually do a "missed approach" in normal flying (a missed approach is where you go around due to weather being so low that you never see the airport when coming in).  Wrangell gave Yannis an opportunity to do his second one of the trip!  Weather in Wrangell was ok when we started down, but the clouds thickened and lowered so we went around and hung out at 7000' for 20 minutes or so to let those clouds move on.  We shot another approach and got in to not-so-sunny Wrangell.

On the ramp at Wrangell.

Wrangell has three interesting things going for it, if you don't fish, which despite carrying Joel's fishing pole clear across Alaska we still don't do.  They have garnet mines which were left by their stake holder to the children of Wrangell.  The children are the only ones allowed to mine the stones and sell them which apparently they do when the cruise ships come in.  Unfortunately, they do not stake out the airport when small private planes come it, so we had to buy three at the museum, for $8. 

They have a fully restored Potlatch house on an island near our hotel.  It is completely surrounded by the commercial fishing operations of Wrangell, but interesting nonetheless. 

  Shakes Island

And they have petroglyphs.  These are rocks found on the beach just north of town.  Believed to be quite old, they are engravings carved into large rocks.  They lie strewn about on the beach, and are very hard to find, perhaps because many of them have recently been taken to the newly opened museum.  At any rate, they had artists make copies of some of them so tourists could make rubbings, which we dutifully did.  Unfortunately, the original artists did not take today's paper sizes into consideration... Still a fun outing. 

Petroglyph rubbing

Wrangell is also the town where Tasha finally got to climb to the highest peak of a nearby mountain - Dewey Peak, 650 ft.  Compared to our hike in Juneau, this was a "Sunday stroll."

Wrangell to Ketchikan

Well, no adventure to Alaska would be complete without using the Alaska Marine Highway System.  Given that major cities in Alaska are not reachable by road, the Marine Highway System was setup a long time ago to provide access to most of the southeast Alaska area.  Newenka and the kids wanted to take a trip, and the Wrangell-Ketchikan leg made the most sense.  So, at 7:45AM, we arrived at the ferry terminal and checked everyone in for the 8:45AM departure.

The kids enjoyed the trip immensely and it went by very quickly (it was only a 5.5 hr trip after all).  In addition to exploring the ship and having a meal, they had a ranger on board, who provided commentary and offered a Junior Ranger program, that the kids, of course, completed.  We learned such interesting things as that fresh water and salt water do not readily mix.  The fresh water floats on top.  This means that the water in the Passage looks really brown around Wrangell because of the glacial silt in the water.  There is a distinct brown line in the Passage where the glacial water ends and the beautiful blue salt water begins.  It is so distinct that when Rachel, our ranger, warned us to brace ourselves for the bump coming up, we did!  Best of all the Forest Service still provides patches to their junior rangers, and they are free!  (The Park Service still offers the junior ranger program, but has eliminated the patches that we used to buy for the kids when they completed the program.) 

Anika and Tasha on the Columbia

Meanwhile, back in Wrangell, Yannis walked back 2 miles to the hotel (no hurry, and the walk was nice), had another cup of coffee, did some flight planning, got a ride to the airport, loaded up the luggage, chatted with some local airport guys while waiting for fuel (the fuel truck was not kept at the airport), watched an Alaska jet taking off into the murky Wrangell weather, and finally got into 58K for the short flight to Ketchikan (45 minutes). 

waving goodbye to  Wrangell as 58K heads into "the soup."

Along the way, the weather started to improve - through a hole in the overcast, he noticed that he was passing the Columbia and the rest of the family.  How's that for cool timing?!

Yes, this is the Columbia but it is a little hard to tell.  Yannis needs to work on improving that aerial photography :-)

After landing in Ketchikan, Yannis got the crew car, got us a hotel, checked us in and dropped off the luggage, had a sandwich and came to the ferry terminal to pick up the girls.  One of the families that we had met in Wrangell that took the ferry was a little perplexed...."wasn't he in Wrangell waving goodbye this morning?"

The girls disembarking the Columbia after their relaxing and enjoyable trip to Ketchikan.




After our experience in Juneau with a big cruise ship destination, we were tempted to give Ketchikan a skip.  But it does make a good jumping off point for the trip down to Seattle.  Well, we were very pleasantly surprised to find Ketchikan much more interesting and tolerable then Juneau...  Probably because Yannis found us an excellent hotel with a room along the historic Creek Street (all the buildings are built on pillars jutting over the creek - it's very cute).

The NY Hotel

It was hot in Ketchikan.  We have 5 weeks in Alaska and just plain aren't used to this high 80s stuff.  A swim in this little bay was much called for!  The ferry boat tourists who signed up for the snorkeling tour had full wet suits - they were probably fine in the water, but I would not have wanted to be them on land!!! 

Well, Ketchikan is our last stop in Alaska.  After 5 wonderful weeks of wandering around this magnificent state, it is time to start heading back to the lower 48. 

Next stops: Orcas Island (part of the San Juan Islands by Seattle) to visit family, Seattle to visit family and friends, Olympia (capital), Boise (capital) and Utah (you guessed it - to visit family, and help with THE MOVE and THE WEDDING). 


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Last modified: December 14, 2009