Five years ago my family got together to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in San Miguel de Allende. For 55 we met this year in Ketchikan for a cruise to Juneau. We spent a week on a 100-person ship, well-stocked with toys for outdoor activities. We went sea kayaking most days, and there were also options for forest walks, shore walks, zodiac tours, and stand up paddle boarding. I went to yoga every morning, and some of us even went snorkeling one day — in Alaska, yes!
It was wonderful that we could all kayak together, from age 8 to 79:
A tandem’s always a good way to test a relationship:
The cruise was nature-based, and our guides were knowledgeable. Almost all land around us for the week is in the Tongass National Forest, sometimes with additional protection like Misty Fjords National Monument (where Kevin’s on the paddle board in the photo above) and sometimes even Wilderness — Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness comes to mind. From the guides we learned that 95% of the Tongass, the US’ largest National Forest, has been logged. That’s why the trees are so small, even though it rains here all the time. At one point the average tree diameter in this forest was 12 feet. Now a large tree has a diameter of about two feet.
We learned about dwarf mistletoe, an infection that the trees fight by growing around it. Well, this growth gets so intense that the tree actually explodes spreading the dwarf mistletoe around to nearby trees. That’s the dwarf mistletoe’s propagation strategy. Here’s what the crazy tree growth looks like:
and here’s what they call a nursery log:
It looks like there’s a whole forest growing out of that one downed log. I thought the mushrooms were pretty cool.
At times we were in areas where brown bear and black bear habitat overlap so we had a chance to run across both species. One day we found bear tracks, bear scat, and a half-eaten fish that hadn’t been there when we had walked by the same area 20 minutes earlier.
Bears were around, but we never spotted one. Where do we find these elusive creatures? We did see whales, seals, sea lions, eagles, deer, and salmon. One thing that the guides kept emphasizing was how important salmon are for the health of the forest. They bring nutrients from the sea back into the forest, and these nutrients are spread around the forest by bears and birds and other animals. I found this significance a little hard to believe, but Ferda and I heard the exact same thing from our guides at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary a couple weeks later (spoiler: that’s the place to find the bears).
It was pretty exciting to see the whales’ tails before they dove back down again for more feeding, but perhaps my favorite animals were the jellyfish. These are lion’s mane jellyfish:
One day we found so many moon jellyfish that when you looked in the water all you could see was white.
For the snorkeling I’ll just say it was cold, and the visibility was poor. Most people were not as cold as I was, and everyone (my Dad, me, and about eight others) was glad they did it. This is perhaps the most interesting photo I managed to get:
Of course you can’t go on a cruise without a little cruising:
It was a fantastic week, packed full of activities, amazing food, and wonderful people. Wow, thank you.