Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alaska Cruise: Day 4 – Sitka

Day 4 of our cruise saw us docking in Sitka Harbor, where again Holland America Cruise Line offered around twenty land tours to those so inclined.  These ranged from whale watch tours to tours that explore the clash of the Russian and Tlingit cultures in the early 1800s.
 Our ship, the MS Westerdam at anchor in Sitka harbor
This port was somewhat different from the one in Juneau where our ship pulled right up to a wharf and we just walked down the gangplank.  In Sitka there was no handy dandy gangplank.  The shore was reached via ship’s tender (small boats that took passengers from the cruise ship to the wharf). 
 One of the tender boats ferrying passengers from ship to shore
While many of our shipboard companions had decided to avail themselves of the many tours that were offered, we had decided that we would like to just wander and explore this small town on foot and eventually work our way to the Sitka National Historic Park.   

We began poking in and out of the quaint little shops along Sitka’s main street.  Unlike Juneau, which had quite a few large “touristy” type souvenir shops, many of the shops in Sitka seemed to have a better selection of locally handcrafted merchandise.  One of our favorites was the Sitka Rose Gallery, which featured handcrafted art and other quality merchandise housed in a quaint little historic building.
 This quaint little historic building houses the Sitka Rose Gallery
Another favorite was a shop that specialized in colorful kites and other unusual items.
This shop carried the most marvelous selection of kites, as well as other unusual items
As the day wore on and our stomachs began to tell us that it was time for lunch we discovered an outdoor sidewalk café whose specialty was Alaskan King Crab Legs.  Unfortunately, we didn’t discover this place until every table was full and the waiting line for tables was long.  We debated going somewhere else for lunch, but decided that there was just something wrong about not having Alaskan King Crab Legs in Alaska.  However, we didn’t want to spend our limited time in Sitka standing in line, so we decided to have our crab legs in their indoor restaurant.  Were we ever glad we made this decision.  These had to be the best crab legs we’ve ever had!
After our crab legs feast we decided to walk on to find the Sitka National Historic Park.  Along the way we passed the local salmon hatchery and of course my husband, a fanatic fisherman, had to take the hatchery tour. 
Hatchery activity
While he was absorbed in salmon eggs, fingerlings, and hatchery techniques I wandered up the road and bought some home made jellies and jams from two local teenage girls, and took some photos of Mt. Edgecumb—a volcano that looms in the background of many photos of Sitka.  A volcano exploration by raft and 4X4 was one of the tours offered here and in retrospect it probably would have been well worth taking—but you can’t do everything in just one day. 
Mt. Edgecumb--a dormant volcano that is an ever present reminder that this is a land of fire and ice
After the hatchery tour ended we continued on our way toward the park.  As we rounded a bend we noted that the tide was out and that there were a number of tide pools along the shore.  Now we had a dilemma—did we have the time to explore the tide pools and still make it to the park in time to tour its museum before our rendezvous with the last tender to the ship?  Alas, we decided to forego the tide pools and trek on to the park museum—so many things to see and so little time! 
Low tide affords the opportunity to explore the many tidepools left behind
Upon reaching our destination we spent quite some time exploring the museum’s exhibits, which explore the native Tlingit culture and the Russian-Tlingit conflict in the early19th century.  The Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, housed in this building, featured native artisans demonstrating their crafts such as wood carving, basket making, weaving, silversmithing, etc.  The artisans were eager to answer any questions. 
The walking path took us past colorful totem poles such as this one
A one mile walking path behind the building took us through a forest and along the shore of Sitka Sound, past beautifully carved  native totem poles.  From the footbridge over Indian River we had a good view of spawning salmon as we wound our way back to the dock area.  There we rested our tired feet and waited for our Tender back to the ship while resting next to a huge native whaling canoe.
Can you imagine harpooning a whale out of a vessel such as this canoe?
We would have liked to have had more time to investigate this picturesque little town—maybe next time.

For more information about this year’s WBS Alaska Cruise Click Here.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

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