Alaska Road Trip: Day 22

This post has taken a long time because the first version was accidentally deleted. It left me never wanting to share my computer with my kids again. . . 

We docked in Juneau at five in the morning. I stayed onboard with the sleeping kids, while Steve disembarked to check things out. He also went down to the car deck to rummage through our car boxes  to retrieve two more quilts. Rummage isn't quite the right word; our tightly packed car boxes made the process very complicated. But since I had put on just about every layer of warm clothing in my bag and Steve had spent the night going back and forth inside the boat to warm up, the two quilts were critical to surviving our journey. 

Almost immediately after Steve came back with the quilts, my name was called over the loudspeaker to  report to the purser station. A four-berth cabin was available, but the cost for the cabin from Juneau to Bellingham (three nights) was over $500. It seemed kind of pricey, since we no longer felt desperate for a cabin. Once we were set up in the solarium, it felt like the apex of our Alaska adventure. I remember telling Steve I felt like our entire trip had prepared us for this experience. . . possibly, our entire lives. Plus, we had just made it through the coldest night; it would only get warmer as we traveled south towards Washington. 

The lady gave me a key to check out the room, and then I ran upstairs to discuss with the family. The kids, unanimously, voted to stay in the solarium. Steve was fine either way, although he was a little nervous what would happen if something went wrong (sick kid, terrible storm, night with no sleep, etc.) I, of course, wanted to save the money. I went back to the purser station and told them we were going to pass on this room, but requested to be kept at the top of the list. 

And just to clarify, there is plenty of information online about traveling by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway. We went into our trip so blindly because it wasn't part of our plan, and we just didn't have adequate internet or phone access. Since returning home, we have found lots of great information providing answers to almost all of our pre-ferry questions. This site is excellent. 

Even under normal circumstances (without road closures), passengers choose to sleep in the public areas of the ship to save money or to enhance the adventure. People are permitted to sleep in the covered solarium, in a tent on the decks, or in one of the four public lounges. Passengers who slept in the public areas of the boat are required to move their belongings during the day. To us, that looked more like squatting than camping. 

There were plenty of gawkers and mockers who looked down on our form of "camping" in the solarium. I clearly remember one man who opened the big metal door, with his fancy wife and two refined teenage children. He took one look at all of the people with their sleeping bags laid out across the plastic recliners, loudly proclaimed, "Well, this is interesting." Then he turned right back around and left. 

One of the questions we were unable to get an answer for before taking the ferry was about tents. My cousin's recommendation was that if we had to ride the ferry with kids and without a cabin, that we should definitely get a tent. We wanted to know if you could leave your tent up all day, or if you had to take it down each morning. The people we asked looked at us and responded, "Tents? Hmmmm. I don't remember seeing tents on the ferry." We seriously considered buying one, but since nobody seemed to know much about the rules. . . and since we have four tents in our garage and didn't need an excuse to buy a new one. . . we didn't. 

We absolutely loved our view from the solarium; I did not love the feeling of being watched. I suppose everyone traveling on the ferry without a cabin is fairly visible. But traveling with four kids definitely put us on display. And four days is a long time to feel like you are being watched, twenty-four hours a day. There were a few times that I really wished we had a cabin. It would have been nice to be able to leave the kids in our room for a few minutes and go for a walk out on the deck without them. But not enough that I wanted to spend $500. 

Adam was actually pretty good about following our rules on the solarium. There were yellow lines on the green turf carpet, and he clearly understood what was allowed and what was disallowed. Kaleigh was the one we had to watch closely. She was more of a challenge because she likes to talk to people (and ask them for treats). Since there were a few creepy people on the boat, we kept her within arm's reach. More on the creepy people later.  

This photo shows our side of the solarium. Look at the middle of the picture and you can see someone sitting wearing a red hat. She is one of two elderly ladies who slept right there, tucked away into that corner. You can see the second lady, still laying down in her sleeping bag. They were at least eighty years old. I am not exaggerating. And they both had iPhones.

We spent most of the morning exploring the boat. Part of the goal was to take the kids away so Steve could nap, but it didn't work out too well. He said that as soon as we left, everyone from the solarium swarmed around him and started asking questions: Why we were on the ferry with four kids, where we were from, where we had been traveling, etc. Throughout the next few days, I had lots of people ask me what our occupations were in Utah. I never knew it was so funny that we owned a Mexican restaurant. But anyway, back to my tour of the boat. This was the small toddler play area. It had a different name, which I found odd, but I can't remember what it was. 

There was a room adjacent to the gift shop with four arcade games:

And there were some other kids on board. Adam quickly became friends with all of them: 

We spent a decent amount of time in the "theater room". It had nice, comfortable recliner chairs, which also made it a popular place to sleep. Sometimes people neglected the rules and left their bedding in the theater room. That was a bit strange. Movies were shown two or three times a day on two large flat panel televisions at the front of the room. They let Rachel and Lucy pick all of the movies.

A couple hours before we docked in Sitka, we met two cute sisters who were just older than Rachel and Lucy. They were traveling with their dad, having just returned from a Costco run in Juneau to get supplies for their family-run jam business. It was crazy to realize there were people who lived in these island towns, completely dependent upon the Alaska Marine Highway for transportation.

By the time we docked in Sitka, we were all very eager to get off the boat. Steve took Adam to get something from the car, and I disembarked with the girls. We were planning to get on a tour bus to ride into Sitka together. I told Steve there wasn't time to go to the car deck, but he didn't believe me. We waited and waited for Steve and Adam, but they were nowhere to be seen. We stood in the rain next to the very last bus, which was waiting for us with the door open. The bus driver finally told me they had to leave. I hesitantly jumped on with the girls, paid my $12 fee (no charge for kids), leaving Steve and Adam on the ferry. It turns out that Adam had run away on the car deck. Steve looked up and down the rows of cars, but couldn't find him anywhere. He finally stood still and listened until he heard Adam's voice from the Upper Deck, "Do you know where my dad is?" 

I actually learned a lot about Sitka from the tour bus driver. Sitka is the 15th largest seafood exporter in the nation, second in Alaska after the Aleutian Islands. It is the only town in Southeast Alaska that is located on the outer edge, facing the open Pacific Ocean. With a population of 9,000 people and only one street light, Sitka is the fourth most populated city in Alaska. (Except for Anchorage, the cities in Alaska are so much smaller than you would imagine. Small and spread apart.) Sitka was the site where Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867; the ceremony is reinacted every year on October 18 for Alaska Day. 

The Tongass Rainforest, located just outside of Sitka, is the largest temperate rainforest in the world. They receive 98 inches of rain, annually. (That's eight feet of rain!) Ketchikan, by comparison, receives 16-17 feet of rain!

All of that rain makes for some pretty tulips. They were humongous. 

Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano, can be seen in the background of this picture. In 1974, a local prankster flew in and ignited 100 tires on the crater, convincing residents that the volcano was erupting.

Each summer, 250,000 cruise ship passengers come through Sitka. I'm sure they all appreciated, as much as me, that the entire downtown area has free wi-fi internet. 

Rachel was able to relax once we put Kaleigh in a lifejacket. 

And just to explain, Kaleigh's hair was completely out of control because we ran out of her hair product. Her scalp was irritated, so I didn't try to do much with it. 

Rachel and Lucy are so unsettled on floating docks. But they finally loosened up enough to walk to the edge so they could see these cool sunflower sea stars and other marine life:

We walked over to the Sitka Sound Science Center, as suggested by the woman in the historical museum. It didn't look like much from the outside. I actually wondered if we were at the right place, since it certainly didn't look like an aquarium.

The girls were delighted with the large tank in the lobby, which was stocked with awesome fish and sea anemone:

But the main attraction of the science center is the three touch tanks. Here is Rachel touching a sea cucumber

The college-aged workers did a fantastic job of telling us all about the different sea anemone:

The skeleton of a killer whale hangs from the ceiling: 

There were lots of sea stars: 

Sea stars use the suction cups on the tips of its tube feet to grasp onto their prey and pry the shells apart: 

It really was fascinating, and I felt badly that Adam wasn't with us. 

Sunflower sea stars are the largest sea stars in the world. They usually have 16 to 24 limbs which can grow up to one meter long. 

A large sunflower sea star has some 15,000 tube feet on the undersides of their bodies:

The Sitka Sound Science Center is less of a flashy aquarium catering to kids and more of a research laboratory for scientists. We led ourselves on a self-guided tour of the outside facilities and saw the Sheldon Jackson Hatchery.  

Then we quickly walked 1.5 miles over to the Sitka National Historical Park:

The park is very small (113 acres) and is dominated by the coastal temperate rainforest featuring a forest canopy of Sitka spruce/western hemlocks:

There were also lots of pretty flowers:

But the real attraction is the totem poles: 

Sitka National Historical Park is Alaska's oldest federally designated park and was established in 1890. It became a national monument in 1910 to commemorate the 1804 Battle of Sitka fought between the Tlignits and the Russians. The collection of totem poles was donated by Native leaders from villages in southeast Alaska in 1905. Many of the poles that can be seen along the park's two miles of wooded pathways are replicas of the original poles.

Lucy and Rachel can't stop themselves from posing like the characters on the totem poles:

But not all of them are appropriate:

We really had to hustle to get back to the historical museum in time to catch the tour bus. Which was exhausting. Carrying Kaleigh and my bag (with computer, camera, water, snacks, jackets) is heavy. 

As we got off the bus and went to get back onto the ferry, I realized that Steve was the one who had taken the boarding passes. I had just overheard a lady in front of us get a firm scolding for not having hers. "Would you try to get onto an airplane without a ticket? How are we supposed to know you are a passenger?" I was a little concerned. I walked up to the purser and said, "I'm sorry, I think I'm going to be in trouble. I don't have my boarding passes with me." He looked at me and, chuckling, said, "Get on there. We know who you are."

We were happy to be reunited with Steve and Adam back on the ferry. And since we were starving, we were also very happy to eat dinner. 

Here is another view of the solarium:  

Kaleigh still asks me everyday, "We go to the ferry tomorrow?" Only she actually says, "We go to the ferry a-morrow?"

These are two of my favorite pictures from the trip. I want to print one to have framed, but I can't decide which one I like better. 

P.S. I'd like to think that my first version of this post was less scattered. But it probably wasn't. It is difficult to put all of this into words.


Rachael said...

I am totally fascinated by this trip of yours!

Kayli said...

I just said on a recent post that when you have lots of kids (for an area, not generally in Utah), you sometimes feel like everyone's eyes are on you. However, I wasn't on a boat for several days-- I can only imagine!

I also love the last two pictures, maybe the first a bit better, but it's close.

I was so excited for another Alaska Trip post. I'll be really sad when they end for good.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Sitka and it's interesting to see someone else's point of view. I love your pictures! But FYI, the mountain in your picture is not Edgcumbe, but in fact Mount Verstovia.