Bidding Alaska a Fond Farewell

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As we sat on the runway at Anchorage International Airport, Sultana (Denali’s Wife, Mount Foraker) (clearly visible, center left) and Denali (just right of the plane’s tail) wished us a safe journey home.

Saturday morning, September 5 marked the beginning of the end of our time in Alaska. At noon, the ferry LeConte would depart Gustavus, and on it our two-say journey home would commence.

But first, we had some last-minute things to do at Glacier Bay National Park.

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At breakfast, our server Stefania asked if we’d seen the Northern Lights last night. Arrgh, no. Because it had been overcast, it was the one night we were at Glacier Bay that I didn’t wake up and try to see them. Apparently, the sky had cleared around 11pm and the Aurora Borealis had put on a magnificent show for a couple of hours.

Ah well. Next time.

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Red Baneberry

After breakfast, we walked down to the small Ranger Station near the dock to buy a poster version of the USGS map of Glacier Bay National Park, which will hang in our guest bedroom/map room. It will join the USGS map of Isle Royale National Park and a map of Wind Cave already hanging on our walls.

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Beartrack Mountains

Map acquired, we packed our things and went to the lounge in the Lodge to wait with the other guests, virtually all of them, who were departing on the ferry that day. This was the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, and come Monday the Lodge would close for the season.

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Sitka Spruce

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While I was taking one last photo (above) of the view of Bartlett Cove from the Lodge deck, Sean walked up to Joseph/Not Joseph at the front desk and asked him if he’d been wearing the name tag of Brandon from Missouri. Joseph/Not Joseph looked startled for a moment, and then a big smile spread across his face.

Satisfied, Sean boarded the bus.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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When we arrived, the LeConte was already at the dock, but the crew was performing an emergency drill, so we had to wait to board.

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As we waited, we gazed out at the tidal plain and beach of Gustavus.

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Bald Eagles

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Icy Strait

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Icy Strait

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Hermit Thrush

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Icy Strait

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Then an Arctic Tern flew into view and began hunting just offshore in front of us.

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Arctic Tern

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Arctic Tern

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Arctic Tern

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Arctic Tern

Soon this Arctic Tern would begin its unbelievable migration from Alaska to Antarctica, the longest migration of any bird species.

Not long after the tern put on its show and flew off with its fish, it was time to board.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Aboard the LeConte, this dog thought he was people and sat at the table with the family. As it happened, this dog would be on same flight we were on to Anchorage the next day. Sean chatted with the family. They had worked for the season in Gustavus and now were headed home.

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On the ferry ride back to Juneau, we chatted a bit more with the British couple and the charming Southerners we had befriended during our hike on the Forest Trail three days earlier.

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Humpback Whales

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Humpback Whale

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Humpback Whale

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Humpback Whale

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Auke Bay

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Mendenhall Glacier

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Sean listens to the music he downloaded using the Denali National Park Visitor Center wifi.

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Somewhat bafflingly, there weren’t any taxis waiting at the Juneau ferry terminal when we arrived around 4pm. You’d think there’d be at least a few to meet an incoming ferry. Oh well. We called for one and waited.

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A gift from Alaska

Eventually, we shared a cab with a twenty-something fellow and his dad. They’d been on the same ferry as we were to and from Gustavus. His name was Alexander and he was headed back home to San Francisco the next morning. Our cab dropped them off at a hotel near the airport. Then it continued on to downtown Juneau and deposited us in front of the Silverbow Inn.

For our final night in Alaska, we’d gotten the nicest room at the Silverbow, with hardwood floors and a king-sized bed. It was delightful to be back at our favorite accommodation of our trip.

After we dropped our things off, we quickly packed up our final boxes of souvenirs, grabbed the tube with the Glacier Bay National Park map, and literally ran down the street to Kindred Post to mail them out. As we dashed by, we saw the Brits in front of their hotel, but didn’t have time to stop and chat because Kindred Post was about to close. They called good luck to us as we ran by.

After successfully mailing our packages, we cashed in our free glass of wine coupons at the Silverbow’s wine bar. While we were sipping, the woman who served us (who also doubled as the front desk clerk that evening) told us about impending changes at the Silverbow. They were selling off the bakery portion of the operation to focus on the inn part. The bakery space was going to be taken over by the team that owned The Rookery and become an Italian restaurant. While that sounded nice, we were certainly glad that we’d had the chance to stay at the Silverbow while it was an inn above a bakery with a wine bar.

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A toast to our last night in Alaska

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Our celebratory dinner at The Rookery Cafe was grand. Now we understood what the folks we’d met who loved the place were talking about.

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Next morning, Sunday, September 6, we had breakfast at the Silverbow Inn one last time before running our final errands in Juneau. I was still looking for the perfect Alaska flag baseball cap, and we needed to get the stuffed animal that would represent Glacier Bay National Park (to go with the Sea Otter from Kenai Fjords and the Caribou from Denali). Sean had spotted a lapel pin back on Tuesday evening at a shop that was closed, and he wanted to go and get it.

Outside the shop, we ran into the female half of the charming Southerners, who joined us in the shop. Later that afternoon, they’d be setting sail for a private cruise down the Inside Passage for another week before heading home to North Carolina and Tennessee.

The shop was Wm. Spear Design, which had apparently created pins for all sorts of companies (like Disney) and events (like the Olympic Games).  The pin that had caught Sean’s eye was a small blue and gold one that said, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” He wanted it because it was a saying that his mother had often repeated.

Unfortunately, it was discontinued and the one in the window was just for show and had no backing. Although disappointed, Sean got several other pins.

I came up short also in my quest also.

We said farewell to the charming Southerners and wished them well. Then we returned to the Silverbow to check out and take a cab to the airport.

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Mendenhall Glacier

As we took off on our 1:45pm flight from Juneau to Anchorage, we had a great view of the Mendenhall Valley and its namesake glacier.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

We were seated on the right hand side of the plane, facing inland as our flight path hugged the arch of the southern Alaska coastline. Both of our other flights had given us a view of the Gulf of Alaska, but this time we were offered a view of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest in the United States. It was a tantalizing preview for a future trip to Alaska.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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The Alaska Range

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Cook Inlet

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Sean encounters a huge Halibut at the Anchorage airport.

We arrived in Anchorage at 3pm, but our flight to Dallas-Fort Worth didn’t depart until 8:40pm, so we left our big backpacks at the baggage storage and took a cab to the Anchorage Museum.

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After we’d visited the museum the previous weekend, we knew that we wanted to spend our final afternoon in Alaska visiting it a second time. It is that impressive a place.

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We spent the bulk of our time in the hands-on Discovery Center section of the museum, which we had not had time to visit on our first trip.

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Ochre Sea Stars

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Snapping Turtle

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A tsunami simulator. Look out, coastal village!

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Sean surrounded by a column of bubble, which you can see if you look at the reflection at his face

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And we spent more time in the truly remarkable Alaska Native Cultures exhibition.

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Interesting, and somewhat unexpected…

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In a display of political buttons from Alaska, we encountered the one in the image above. It’s somewhat baffling. Vote for her?

In the museum gift shop, I found our stuffed animal for Glacier Bay National Park, a Humpback Whale. Happily, we had acquired all three animals in Alaska.

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Anchorage Museum grounds

After the museum, it was time to head back to the airport. Our cab driver was a Native Alaskan who looked for all the world like an older version of Yvonne Elliman from Jesus Christ Superstar. We chatted with her about our trip, and she recommended that next time we visit Homer and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. She had grown up north of the Brooks Range (and therefore well north of the Arctic Circle), and she enjoyed traveling and loved Chicago. She said one of the things she liked best about cities in the lower forty-eight was the architecture, which Anchorage sorely lacked. She also said that she liked that in the lower forty-eight there was birdsong all year. In the midst of an Anchorage winter, the short days were silent because the birds had gone south.

Back at the airport, Sean was pulled aside again for a “random” hand search. By the same agent. Come on, pulling the brown guy out of line for the second time in a week, officer? Hmm.

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A taxidermied Moose at the Anchorage airport.

We got dinner at an airport bar, Humpy’s, before our flight. Many of the flights to the lower forty-eight departed much later than ours (around 11:30pm or midnight). We were glad that our left before 9pm.

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Next morning, very early, we waited at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for our connecting flight to Chicago. DFW is being completely remodeled, so I was pleased to capture a lonely image of the terminal as I remember it from many childhood flights to visit Aunt Judy in California.

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The sun rises over Texas on Labor Day.

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Morning mist hangs over the north side of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

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Our flight from Dallas landed at Chicago O’Hare just before 10am, Central Daylight Time, on Monday, September 7. We were exhausted, but we stopped to pick up some breakfast (and a morning margarita) at Frontera Tortas before picking up our backpacks at baggage claim.

Soon we were taking a cab home to see Elsa, a full twenty-one days after we had departed for our Alaska honeymoon.

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And Elsa was pleased to see us.

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2 thoughts on “Bidding Alaska a Fond Farewell

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