Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 16 - Thomas Bay and Petersburg

Weather: Mid 40s up to perhaps mid 50s, with some clouds, but mostly sunny
Steps: Shaun - 11,060 steps, 38 floors climbed; Shannon - 10,816 steps, 34 floors climbed
Critter count: Steller sea lion, 2 bald eagles, 1 rough-backed newt, lots of Bonaparte, Glaucous, and Mew gulls, dragonflies, and a jellyfish

Today began in what we are discovering is an unusual way: with the sound of the alarm. The other days have started with the sound of Cindy's voice waking us up and telling us to get outside so that we can view something cool. So, the chance to actually sleep through to the alarm was magical. The reason for the lack of action early in the morning was that we were already at our destination, Thomas Bay, and the interesting bits were on shore. 

After breakfast, we prepped for a hike up Cascade Creek to view a gorgeous waterfall in the Tongass. Mom and I decided to do the medium hike, which took us up to the falls, then further up some steep stairs to a bridge over the creek. We started out on a combined photo/nature hike, which quickly became only a nature hike as our photo specialist was usurped by another group. We were fine with that, though, because we traveled at a good clip while still learning a lot about the area and taking good photos.

The falls were beautiful, with lots of spray and wind. We were definitely glad we wore our rain pants. The stairs weren't as bad as we expected because we went up them pretty slowly, so at the bridge we were able to fully appreciate the view.

Just past the bridge was what the naturalist called a "newtist beach" (haha get it? Newtist? Nudist? We tittered over that for quite awhile), as in a colony of newts. We were able to see one up close, and it...looked like a newt. It was a rough-backed newt, so its back was dark brown, but it had a lovely red tummy, indicating that it was highly toxic if ingested. We did not try to eat it.

(imagine walking up this path!)

Part of our group decided to go a bit further up the trail to the base of a rock face that was climbed by the group on the "adventure" hike, but that was far enough. We got to see more of the rapids in the river while squelching through ankle-deep mud. So fun! (but thank goodness for knee-high rubber boots)

On the way back, we got stuck behind the slow-moving photo groups, but that was probably a good thing since we were going back down the slippery steps. All around, it was fun, and much more hike-like than the previous day's adventure.

Rich Reid, one of the photo specialists who worked for National Geographic Adventure Magazine before it went defunct, gave a talk about one of his assignments taking photographs while on a week-long cycling trip through Southeast Alaska, then we had lunch. Just after we finished eating, we pulled into the harbor at Petersburg. It was super fun watching them maneuver the ship into what turned out to be a space barely bigger than the ship itself. Another small ship was in port, so we were at the same dock, and we had to pull in between the bow of that ship and the end of the dock. It was more like parallel parking, which would probably be a lot easier if one had thrusters on the side of the car and could just get lined up and go sideways into the space. Still, it was a very impressive maneuver, and interesting as well, because we were able to listen to the captain get reports from the various crew members around the ship and give orders for adjustments.  

Petersburg is a working fishing village that was founded by people of Norwegian descent, so there are a lot of Scandinavian design elements in the village. In port, we were surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells, of fish-related projects. There were fish-processing plants next to the marina area, boats leaving and coming in with their catch, shifts ending, etc. There were also lots of animals hanging out in the area hoping for some cast-offs, including a Steller sea lion, a bald eagle, tons of different kinds of gulls, and a jellyfish.

We started our time in Petersburg by not actually going into town but taking a zodiac to a nearby island and hiking to a muskeg (also known as a peat bog). This was our only opportunity to see this type of ecosystem while on the cruise, so we decided to go. We joined another photo/nature group, which remained that way for the whole trip, so we learned how to shoot in different light conditions, with macros, etc., while also learning about what we were shooting. Here are some of our shots:

The muskeg itself looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, with stunted, twisted trees dotting a boggy expanse. A muskeg results when water cannot soak into the ground and pools. Sphagnum moss grows and, through chemical reactions, makes the water very acidic, which inhibits the growth of many plants. The trees were pines, and there were some very small plants growing, but most of the area is covered in the sphagnum moss. 

What was super cool was the carnivorous plants. They can't get their nutrients from the soil or water, so they lure insects in and eat them. They are super small, but we managed to get some pics of them.  

There were also lots of dragonflies, as well as this very interesting slime mold. Apparently it's made up of single-celled amoeba-like creatures that come together to reproduce. It's a really bold yellow, though, and I guess it comes in a bunch of different colors.

After the hike, we went into the town of Petersburg and walked around. They have a really cool bookstore that we did some damage at (of course), as well as a few gift shops and galleries, but on the whole, it's just a small town where the main industry is fishing. Before dinner on the ship, there was a guest speaker who was a resident and whose family owns a fishing boat. She said that the town has 3,000 residents, which means that their fishing qualifies as subsistence fishing. Each boat uses different gear depending on what type of fish they are going out for at any given time, and in the winter, most of the fishermen trade in their boats for hunting gear. For all their hard work, the speaker affirmed that the fishermen were doing very well, and she said that while estimates had indicated that pink salmon would have a population of about 45 million this year, at the last count, it was above 72 million. There was a rumor that one boat had brought in over 125,000lbs of pink salmon, and the only issue the fishermen are having now is the processors not being able to keep up with the influx. The talk was pretty interesting, and our group had some pretty good questions.

The evening ended with a dinner of dungeness crab purchased in Petersburg, which is where Lindblad buys all of the seafood served on board, along with BBQ pork ribs, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, corn bread, and cole slaw. It was truly decadent. Then we went to room to finish yesterday's blog entry, read awhile, and go to bed because we were exhausted.

Last thing:

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