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May 29, 2006

INSIDE PASSAGE

A large part, perhaps the best part of cruising the Inside Passage or cruising along some of Southeast Alaska’s other pristine coastline like the Kenai Peninsula, or Prince William Sound, is the natural beauty of the area as soon from the ship. The unique vantage point in otherwise inaccessible.

Of course, the weather must cooperate in order for you to go outside on deck, but even if it does not, select a window seat from your cruise ship, and watch for the true Northwestern treasure that will appear only to those who are very patient.

Nature works in rather random order, but those who wait may be treated to a sight-ing of an American Bald Eagle, a Brown (Grizzly) Bear, a Black Bear, a magnificent Humpback Whale or perhaps a distinctive black and white orca. Humpbacks are pretty easy to spot. They attain a length of 40 or 50 feet and weigh about 40 or 50 tons. Rare sightings can sometimes be made of wolves, moose or some other thousands species that inhabit this area.

The wide cove to the south at mile 264 is Robson Bight, an ecological preserve where orcas come to rob themselves against smooth rocks along the shore in the summer, for reasons not fully understood.

The so-called killer les (actually, all they’re doing is feeding, like the rest of us) are frequently seen in this area. Before 1964, when the first killer whale was captured near Saturna Island by accident, they had been trying to kill one to use as a sculptor’s model, killer whales were thought to be aggressive and dangerous. In captivity, however, the whale they named Moby Doll showed himself to be tame and docile. Since then many orcas have been captured and mammals changed our perception of their manner and intelligence. As a result, Puget Sound has become a sanctuary for orcas, and in British Columbia capturing them has been severely restricted.

Carved by glaciers and blanketed with majestic hemlock and spruce trees, Alaska’s Inside Passage is a region of pristine water, snow capped mountains, deep fjords and forested islands. With its mild, maritime climate, this area is prime habitat for bald eagles, sea lions, porpoise and whales. Much of the southern panhandle is part of the Tongass National Forest, a 16.8 million acre rainforest.

Glacier Bay National Park has 16 active tidewater glaciers and Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan has 3,000 foot cliffs rising directly from pristine ocean channels. The picturesque coastal communities are rich in history. Russian influence is well preserved in churches and other historical structures. The Gold Rush era comes to life throughout the Inside Passage and offers fascinating opportunities to learn and explore the past.

The Native cultures of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians dominate this area. Ancient totem poles are abundant in many communities and the art of totem carving is preserved along with traditional dance and music.

Before scheduled steamer service came to the coast, many of these settlers routinely rowed for days if they needed to get to town. In December of 1895, for instance, rancher Ernest Halliday rowed his pregnant wife from their Kingcome Inlet homestead to Comox, south of Seymour Narrows, almost 120 miles away. He couldn’t leave their two small children behind, so they piled in too, along with family dog. The trip took 14 days, part of it being spent in Indian villages, waiting out storms. The baby was fine but Mrs. Halliday had them at home after that.

The Inside Passage is a collection of channels and passages that allow even very small craft to travel from Puget Sound, Washington to Alaska in safety, if not comfort. TO a mariner, “inside” means protected, and when the Pleistocene glaciers scoured out of the fjords and canyons of the northwest coast a million years ago, they created protected waters and a boat’s paradise.

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Posted by Denise at May 29, 2006 02:48 PM

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