Alaska Inner Passage

May 5-12, 1989

On May 5th, thirty-three eager travelers assembled for a 7:30 a.m. departure. Sun and rain played tag as we travelled north through Portland. Fortunately, sunshine prevailed at the Vancouver rest atop and for a leisurely lunch in Olympic Park.

Seattle’s Pier 48 staging area was a “beehive” of activity by our arrival at 4 p.m. Vehicles of all sizes, including semi-trailers, were being lined up for on-loading to the ferry. The 5:30 boarding allowed time for exploring the waterfront area and many chose to take in these sights. By 6:30 all were boarded and settled into their cabins, along with our consultant from Fairbanks, Judy Robertson. At 7:15 lines were cast off and we were underway.

The M.V. Matanuska, a ferry in the Alaska Marine Highway System, is 408 feet in length with capacity of 120 vehicles. Cabin space accommodates about 225 passengers, the reclining lounge about 75, however, there were 437 passengers as we sailed from Seattle. “Tent City” erupted on the solarium deck plus, at night, sleeping bags could be found in the forward lounge and other areas.

Saturday morning seminars began after breakfast. Judy began her discussions of Eskimo culture, their arts and crafts. The afternoon and long evening allowed sightseeing as the ferry travelled through Canadian waters passing between the San Juan and Vancouver Islands. And, little did we know our pilot was Tom for a brief turn at the wheel of the ship.

Sunday morning, 41 hours after sailing, we arrived in Ketchikan, first port of call. RAIN, rain … hardly unexpected when average rainfall is 12 to 16 FEET per year. Ketchikan, sandwiched between the water and mountains, is five miles long, 4 blocks wide and 2 blocks up Deer Mountain. On-shore we visited Saxman Totem Park, Creek Street (location of Dolly’s house) and toured the city. Our second consultant Jim Case, a forest/natural history interpreter from the Forest Service, came aboard.

The Tongass National Forest borders the Inner Passage and covers 90% of S.E. Alaska with 16.7 million acres. For the next 3½ days Jim gave seminars and showed films dealing with forest management, native cultures of the Indians, glacial dynamics, natural history, the Russian influence, eagles and other wildlife and the Dalton Trail. He was also available to dialog points of interest and answer whatever questions you had.

Wrangell, the third oldest city in Alaska, located within walking distance of the ferry terminal, allowed for a walking tour to the Historical Museum. The building was an old school house, built in 1906, and now houses an interesting collection of artifacts of the region.

Early Monday the Mendenhall Glacier came into view as the ferry approached Juneau. On-shore we had a close-up view of the glacier. For those who question … yes, glaciers are blue! Time in port is short and heavy off-loading limited shore time. As a result, we did not get to tour “old town Juneau and see the Red Dog Saloon.”

By 2:45 Monday we reached Haines; here we had our longest in-port time, almost 4 hours. The favorable weather allowed freedom to roam after a very informative film and lecture about the collections at the Sheldon Museum. Fort Seward, first permanent U.S. military installation in Alaska, was built in 1903 and is now designated as a historic site. Buildings have been renovated and are used as private hoes, a hotel, or other businesses. The old hospital is now the home of Alaska Indian Arts; here we observed interesting carvings as well as a carver working on a new totem pole. The Tlingit Tribal House sits on the parade grounds and during the summer native dancers perform in the Cultural Center. Haines is also the first access to the Alaskan Highway, 159 miles north. Many vehicles off-load here to begin their journey to Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Tuesday brought us to Sitka, located on Baranof Island. Here one is aware of the Russian influence, which began in 1799 when they came to deal with the Indians. The two remaining buildings of this era are the Bishop’s House and St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, both located in the center of the town.

The National Historic Park, the smallest in the U.S. park system, has a 2-mile trail of totem poles. The Sheldon-Jackson Museum displays include a century-old Eskimo mask, plus a collection of 1,000 other masks, skins, sleds, tools and utensils. Adjacent to the museum is the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, home for injured eagles before return to the wild. One has a deeper appreciation for these magnificent birds once you look eye to eye with an eagle.

Ports of call are duplicated as the ferry retraces the Inner Passage. Seminars continued &hellip Jim left the ship in Ketchikan, Judy again took over and continued with Eskimo culture, art and crafts. Thursday evening was game/party night for our group and each received their ”Inner Passage“ certificate and all had earned their “Order of the Walrus” card.

The Matanuska returned to Pier 48 and 7 a.m. Friday, May 12th. The motorcoach was waiting, luggage was gathered to load and we started south at 8 a.m. Judy was deposited at Seatac to get her flight for Fairbanks, there was a breakfast stop at Fife and lunch was in Portland at Fuddrucker’s. Arrival in Eugene approached 4:30 p.m. There is little question &hellip we had an excellent trip and the best of traveler groups.

Passenger list included: Betty Jo Allison, Kay Anderson, Lorene and Haze Bressler, Ingrid Carmichael and her grandson, Tom, Bernie Claypool, Amy Clugston, Jane and John Corliss, Lucile Corliss (Yakima, WA), Virginia DeMers, Bill Eaton, Rufus Franz, Louise Gund (Seminole, FL), Lori Harris, Dorothy Hayes, Lillian Johnson, Ainsley Jorgensen, Bea Lefevre, Frances Newsom, Bonnie Rickard, Ardys and Bryce Ringsdorf, Ruth F. Schmidt, Bobbye Sorrels, Dorothy and Mike Stahl, Paula Vehrs, Mildred Weatherby, Ids Williams (Seminole, FL), Lorene Williams, Judy Robertson (Fairbanks, AK) and Jim Case (Ketchikan, AK) consultants and Jan Gund, trip leader.


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