The Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik have traditionally occupied northwestern Alaska – a vast area to the north of a roughly diagonal line from the northeast corner of Alaska to to the center west, north of Norton Sound. In addition, these people live in the northern border of Canada all the way east to Greenland. Their society is based on subsistence hunting of sea mammals and land animals, as well as gathering the resources from land and sea. They are a people of the sea, rivers, and mountains.
The Arctic climate in that region is extremely harsh. People need ingenuity, skill and ability to make use of the resources available. People worked in cooperative groups to hunt animals such as whales and caribou, and to gather. Their living groups were based on kinship and marriage. Each household consisted of three or four generations, headed by a senior hunter and his wife, who were responsible for distributing the food their crew had obtained.
The fourth group in the exhibit were the Yup’ik and Cup’ik people, who occupy southwestern Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands. Their territory extends north to Norton Sound.
When boys were old enough to leave their mothers, they would go to live in the qasgiq, where the older males would teach them how to be Yup’ik or Cup’ik men. Women would bring food to the men, and in the evening joined them for singing, dancing and festive events. The architecture of both the men’s and the women’s houses were the same – a wooden post and beam structure made of driftwood and covered with sod. Seal or walrus intestines were used for a removable window on the roof.
The the spring, communities moved closer to the coast for the availability of sea mammals. Meanwhile, those communities farther inland would wait for the salmon runs by hunting geese and ducks. Those who lived near the mountains went up to hunt squirrels and headed back down after the ice broke up. In the summer, they moved to camps at the head of rivers, where they would catch, smoke and dry the salmon. In the winter, people gathered to repair equipment, share stories and perform ceremonies.
The cultural group from Denali and Fairbanks are the Athabascans. “Denali” is in fact an Athabascan word that means “Great One.” It is the name they had given the highest mountain in North America, which is sacred to them, and finally last year it became the official name by executive order of Pres. Obama, changed from Mt. McKinley.
Athabascan territory covers the largest area and consists of eleven language groups. In addition, the Athabascan language is related to the languages of some native groups in the American Southwest.
The Athabascans were traditionally migratory, traveling in small groups to hunt, fish and trap. Today they live along the main waterways of central and south central Alaska. They adapted their culture and traditions to their nomadic way of life.
The pictures below appear to indicate a more settled way of life, which may be a representation of how they live today.
KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera
We did manage to see all the outside exhibits but didn’t linger at any of them too long – usually they are supposed to have representatives of the tribes explain the artifacts and demonstrate one of their cultural traditions, but those people were not there. Perhaps that was a good thing because that would have slowed us down and we’d never get through all the exhibits.
As it was, I rushed into the exhibit room inside, hoping to be able to see some of it. There were native people there, who greeted me; they were selling things. I smiled and greeted them back but didn’t stop to talk to them or look at their merchandise.
KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera
I didn’t see much before Dale was calling me again – it was 2:25, time to go to the bus. Even after we boarded, we had to wait for a couple who had lingered longer, and were late. There were only 17 people on the tour.
At about 3:30 we were dropped off at our hotel, where we checked in and went to our 12th floor room, and found our luggage waiting for us there.
The room had a balcony and I took a few pictures of the view from there. We then went back downstairs and walked around part of downtown Anchorage. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and the temperature was about 75°F! We found Kaladi and got coffee there.
There was an outdoor to-scale exhibit of the solar system. On the left is the sun, and spread throughout the city are each of the planets, placed relative to their distance from the sun. The sign on the right explains the exhibit.
When it was close to dinnertime, we ran into our dinner table mates from the cruise ship. I told them we were just about to go somewhere for dinner and if they wanted to join us. But they had another agenda – a theater across the street from the hotel was showing a short documentary about the aurora borealis. The guide they had on their train car that morning had said there was going to be a “major event” tomorrow night. I thought about what our bus driver, Tom, had said: that the aurora borealis rarely made an appearance and when it did, it was usually grayish in color, hardly distinguishable from clouds. This comment had been a disappointment to me, so I was encouraged by this news from our cruise mates. Since the show was playing every hour on the hour until 9 pm, we decided to go later.
Earlier we’d passed by Humpy’s, a restaurant across the street from our hotel and some people coming out of it had great things to say about it, so we decided to go there for dinner. It’s sort of a sports bar, but they have tables outside in the back where it would be quieter.
We shared a table with an American Catholic couple from Michigan who were here on some business with their church but also a vacation. We enjoyed talking to them.
The food was great too: I had a fish taco with chips and salsa; Dale ordered a halibut burger with fries. We both had a glass of white Zinfandel wine.
After dinner there was still an hour of daylight left so we killed time until it was time for the 8 pm showing of the film. It was $11 each with a coupon and a senior discount! We were slightly late, so the movie had already started when we went in. The beginning had the scientific explanation of the aurora borealis. After that were a series of “scenes” of the Northern Lights taken by a professional photographer, with music accompaniment.
The movie was nice, but not great – not what I thought it would be. Was it worth spending $22?
Finally we returned to the Westmark Hotel. It was twilight and all the lights were coming on in downtown Anchorage. I took a few pictures from the balcony.
Holland America Line is very organized for departures and moving people around. Those of us scheduled to take the Cruise Train from the port of Seward to Anchorage were to meet in the Vista Lounge at 6:05 am. Lido was open early so we had breakfast at 5:15 and talked to a couple from Belgium, the first people we’d met on the cruise from continental Europe. Dale asked them what they thought of our candidates for president this year. The wife said she doesn’t like Clinton because she doesn’t like “dynasties.” Both were horrified at the thought of Trump being elected, however!
We had received a packet of information and materials for departure, which Toni had explained the day before. We had our luggage outside our stateroom before we went to bed, with the appropriate luggage tags attached. There were a few things I had forgotten to put in, so we had to carry these things as an additional carry-on, in reusable bags, including my cosmetic kit, bag of pills, toothpaste, etc., and my flipflops. I stuffed my jacket on top of all that stuff in the larger of the two bags. We had a specific bus to get on when we exited the ship, and a specific rail car to be on. We had assigned seats on the train and found ourselves at a table sitting across from Karen S. (the woman on the Misty Fjords tour who had asked about totem poles) and her husband. All carry ons had to be stored under the table, so there wasn’t much room to move our legs.
I took the following pictures on route, from the moving train.
Even before we got to Anchorage, we already got a view of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) in the distance. This is a rare treat! Only 30% of visitors to Alaska ever see Denali because it is usually shrouded in clouds.
The following two pictures show a dead forest of Sitka spruce trees. A forest fire? No, their demise was caused by a large tsunami that followed the huge earthquake in 1964, even though it was at least 40 miles inland. The earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter Scale, larger than the earthquake in Japan in 2011.
Denali shares the distant view with two other snowy mountains. On the left is mt. Foraker, at 17,400 ft. In the middle is Mt. Hunter, the smallest of the trio at 14,573 ft. On the right is, of course, Denali, the highest mountain in North America, at a majestic 20,320 ft.!
Our guide on the train told us about Anchorage: started as a tent city for railroad workers, it has grown to a metropolis of 300,000 – about 40% of Alaska’s total population of 700,000!
The train ride was about 4 hours. Upon arrival in Anchorage, we had a tour booked immediately. As we neared our destination, our train guide called off the table numbers, or couples’ names and told us what bus we were to get on upon arrival. In our car, only one other couple was assigned to the same bus as we were. In all, about 17 people boarded the bus that would take us on our tour.
Before we went on our tour to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, our bus driver/guide, Tom, drove us around on a tour of Anchorage. He took us to a park where you could get a view of Denali. However, we’d already seen it from the cruise train!
Another thing he showed us was the airport and another, smaller airport.
There was a FedEx cargo plane there. The story behind it was that it originally had landed at the wrong airport by mistake. However, it could not take off from there because that airport didn’t have a long enough runway! So now it continues to sit there and is used for pilot training.
Several private citizens have small planes or float planes, which they “park” in their backyards! A law was passed to prevent this, but either these airplane owners were grandfathered in or they simply disobey the law, which clearly is not strictly enforced. Tom told us the three things Alaskan don’t like: rules, regulations, and taxes.
We found out about a local coffee roaster – they have their own shop, called Kaladi. It’s right behind our hotel, the Westmark.
At the ANHC, there is a visitors’ center and a museum, and an outdoor path where each of the five cultural groups is represented with some kind of structure and artifacts. Our guide, Tom, gave us 1 ½ hours to spend there. I was at first happy that we were going to have plenty of time to see the place, but Dale was hungry and wanted lunch immediately.
It was 1:00 and we had until 2:30 here, when Tom would return to pick us up. I looked at the menu less than enthusiastically. Dale ordered caribou stew so I ordered the same. It took a long time to get our food, and although it was interesting that they served the stew in a bread bowl, my entire helping of stew had only two pieces of meat in it!
By the time we finished eating, it was 1:45 and we only had 45 minutes to see everything! I hurried toward the outside exhibits. There are five native cultural groups in Alaska, classified by region and language groups. The first one was the southeastern peoples – Haida, Tlingit, Eyak and Tsimshian. They were the totem pole makers and the model house looked much like the one we had seen in Haines, where they had performed songs and dances for us, with a central recessed area in which there is a fire pit in the middle.
These four cultures live between the forest and the sea and for ages found in both what they needed to sustain them.
The cultures from southern Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands, were the Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) people. They were maritime societies, making their living from the sea. Men hunted large marine animals, including whales, using sophisticated kayaks and poison-tipped harpoons. Women made waterproof clothing and gathered beach grass to make baskets. They were also knowledgeable about human anatomy: practitioners successfully performed brain surgery and amputations. The Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) were the only Alaskan natives to practice human mummification. Their climate was temperate compared to the rest of Alaska, but it was always windy.
Today was our second and final “sea day.” It was a day to prepare to leave the ship early the next morning.
At 10 am, we met many others in the Ocean Bar on Deck 3 of the Noordam for Holland America Line’s traditional “On Deck for a Cause.” They do this event on every sailing, on the last sea day. It costs $20 to register which gets you a wrist band and T-shirt. Proceeds benefit several research organizations around the world. Jude told us the history of it when we were all convened, wearing our T-shirts over or under another warmer shirt.
Jude told us nine laps = 3 miles and throw in one extra lap just to make sure, which was the same as on the Eurodam. The ships seem to be about the same size, certainly the same configuration.
I started out walking with Dale, but he left to go to the bathroom and I kept going. So most of the way I walked alone. After the 9th lap I was tired and stopped to get some pineapple and water, and the very last chocolate chip cookie. I decided to wait for Dale to come around; he eventually appeared and we walked the 10th lap together.
Later that day, both of our Fitbits buzzed – the 4th time for me this week!
Today we cruised Glacier Bay National Park. At the park’s visitors center, we picked up two rangers, one of whom provided commentary from the Crow’s Nest (Deck 10), while the other answered questions and sold NPS merchandise.
There is really no other way to see this park except by boat or by air. There is a small airport a few miles from the park entrance, but other than a road linking the airport with the visitors center, there are no roads in the park, which is due west of Skagway and Haines. While cruising, we saw a total of three boats – two ferry-sized and one cruise ship. Every cabin had received a map in our mailboxes and many people tried to locate where we were on their maps.
We decided to go to the Bow – outside at the front of Deck 4. Of course, when we arrived, there were already tons of people along the railing and we had to worm our way in. I was wearing a gray fleece sweater with my windbreaker over it, plus a hat and gloves.
I forgot our map, so I made due looking over a woman’s shoulder who was willing to share with me. She had a GPS on her phone that actually functioned in this remote place, so she could locate our position on the map. We identified a glacier we passed on the starboard side as Carroll Glacier and another, smaller one as Rendu Glacier.
Although we could hear the ranger’s commentary from the Bow, we often could not understand it because the speaker wasn’t working well, and his voice would break up. Someone said it sounded more like he was speaking Klingon than English! So we missed of what he was saying, but persevered because of the panoramic view, unimpeded by windows which reflected whatever was in the room.
It was extremely windy and the floor was wet. I was warm enough in my fleece and windbreaker, gloves and hat, but finally went back, because of all the things I had hanging on me – I wanted to get rid of the camera case, at least – and got the map.
While we were chatting with another couple, stewards brought trays of split pea soup. The wind made it a challenge to hold the tray, especially when it was nearly empty! It wasn’t much – a snack really, at 10:30 in the morning – but it was warm and good.
The steward holds on tight to the tray of soup.
The wind shifted and first we got a blast of warm air, but soon afterward it turned cold again and blew even stronger. The ranger said were going to head toward Margerie Glacier and stay there for about an hour. The wind by this time was making me uncomfortable and there seemed to be even more people crowding at the railings, so I suggested to Dale that we go up to the Crow’s Nest on Deck 10.
It was crowded there, too, but I took advantage of a temporarily empty chair to take some pictures. Soon the woman who had been occupying it came back so I had to get up.
Getting close to Margerie Glacier allowed us to really look at it in detail. I had expected a solid block of ice looming alongside us but it wasn’t like that at all. After Mendenhall, I knew glaciers could be blue in places but Margerie displayed a variety of colors: stripes of brown (soil & dirt it picked up along the way) alternated with dirty white and there was even a section on the far right that was black. Margerie is 250 ft. above the water.
It’s about a mile wide and 28 miles long. We could see it winding its way down the mountain from its origin high above.
The top and sides were very jagged, as if the pieces of ice had been jammed together haphazardly. There was one flat piece that slanted off the front of a larger chunk and I was sure that every time I looked at it, it was leaning farther and farther, and that it would calve (break off) at any minute! So I stared at it if willing it to fall with my mind. There were a couple of very small calvings, which disintegrated as they fell and hit the water with a splash. Apparently these are typical calvings but I was hoping for something bigger, more colossal! The inlet in front of Margerie became studded with small hunks of ice that floated outward with the current. These calvings and meltings fed the inlets and the streams that began high in the glacier-covered mountains. Glaciers are made of fresh water but they also carry a lot of silt with them that turns the water a grayish-brown. The fresh water mingles with the salt water, so the salinity in these inlets is lower than in the open sea.
The ranger told me that the brown lines visible across the bottom left of the glacier were layers of dirt, rock and silt. These layers cannot be dated as can layers of rock, but the number of lines tells us how many times avalanches have occurred in the life of the glacier. As the glacier moves along, carving the landscape and shearing off pieces of rock, the rocky hillside destabilizes, causing these avalanches. This is the reason the sea bottom drops off so precipitously – no sloping hillsides here! – and the sea level here is 800 ft. deep. What we see of Margerie above the water line is literally only the tip of the iceberg!
Looking at the black part of the glacier it’s hard to believe its main component is ice!
When we left Tarr Inlet, the ship headed back toward Lamplugh Glacier and into Johns Hopkins inlet, which could be seen on the port side, so instead of returning to our room, we sat on the port side of Lido Pool to watch the dramatic landscape unfold, even though the captain had assured us that the starboard side would get a chance to see it on the way out.
As the ship approached the inlet, we watched with anticipation as the cliff blocking our view slid back slowly, to reveal a landscape of high peaks and several glaciers winding their way down toward the shore. Immediately in front of us was Johns Hopkins Glacier. I thought we would get closer to it, but although the ship paused long enough for everyone to get a good look (as well as plenty of photos!) , we didn’t sail into the inlet and consequently also didn’t see glaciers marked on the map that were hidden from view.
We could take a thousand pictures of this dramatic landscape. Every view seemed more awe-inspiring than the last – and of course, I wanted close ups of the high glacier-covered peaks.
Gradually, as we traveled back toward the entrance to the park, the landscape became less dramatic and even the streams that trickled down the mountainsides and ended in waterfalls no longer held excitement. A pilot boat approached and took on the rangers, then headed back to the tiny town of Gustavus, the official address of Glacier National Park.
Ketchikan, Alaska is a quirky and charming town in southeastern Alaska. I had time to explore some of it. Waterways are vital for getting around and many people have boats. Stairways are common, too, because the town is built on a hillside. Diaz Cafe is a Philippine restaurant along a main thoroughfare. Creek Street is a boardwalk with restaurants and shops for tourists.