Photo Safari by Land & Sea
Juneau Travel Blog› entry 7 of 9 › view all entries
We decided to change up our routine today by going downtown to the famous Silverbow Inn for Bagels and coffee before setting off on our first scheduled tour of the trip. The Inn first opened its doors in 1898 when Austrian born Gus Messerschmidts made his way Alaska's capital. In 1914 a three story concrete building was added to the site featuring 11 second floor apartments, with the kitchen doubling as a Bakery and a restaurant.
The unique story of the Siverbow Inn includes what some would say a "haunting presence" by Messerschmidts, who lived in one of the apartments before his death in 1938. Some say that he still can be felt in the kitchen early in the morning startling guests who (maybe had too much coffee, or had inhabited the Red Dog Saloon) try to get a head start on the day.
After our bagel (and drying off from the rain) we met the tour bus in front of the Tram office, all the guides carry brightly colored signs telling what tour is where (so the exodus of people don't get lost). After we found our tour and boarded the bus headed for the 20 minute drive back to the Mendanhall Glacier, our photo expert Brandon gave us a brief run down on what we should expect, along with making sure we sign a release if anything should happen (what have we gotten ourselves in too!!!!!!!!).
During the trip to the glacier, Brandon held our attention (all 18 of us) by showing us slides of what we could expect to see on the tour, along with pictures that he had taken from previous vacation spots. He also went over the camera settings that were needed to capture each and every picture taken, assuring us that if we needed individual help in getting our settings just right he would be there (don't think he knew what he was in for).
The bus was loaded down with everything we needed for the day, with combination walking sticks/monopods stored overhead, to the bright orange rain ponchos (glad bears are color blind) stacked in a box in the front seat. They even had bottled water and granola bars for us (if we knew that we wouldn't have had the bagel). After leaving the bus we met up at one of the many small creeks that surrounded the glacier to take pictures of the king salmon that typically turn the streams red just by the sheer volume of fish making their way upstream. (The salmon were later this year, and just started to trickle in. (LUCKY US!).
We finally made our way down to the water soaked beach trying to get a pristine up-close picture of the massive glacier, along with the many small icebergs that filled the channel. Brandon even took the time to wade out trying to get a small chuck of ice so that we could get a better photo comparison between the small piece of ice and the glacier. Brandon spared no expense (in his job description) to make everyone happy, risking live and limb (slipping on a rock, providing the attentive photographer a rare action shot) to get us the best photo op possible.
After what seemed like forever (in the rain) at the beach, still seeing no sign of bears (even though we stood out to them) we piled back into the bus after checking our raincoats at the door. With everyone comfortably inside and in their seats we spotted our first bear (a cub crossing the street coming out of the forest) so everyone hurriedly left the bus (like a fire alarm just went off) and made there way toward the crossing. (Imagine 16 people with camera's running toward a bear), that was worth the trip alone.
With the bear long gone everyone boarded the bus again (everyone clamoring about their exploits) and headed off to Auk Bay for the Sea part of our tour.
We clamed aboard the 32 foot "Navigator" for a five hour tour (was visualizing Gilligan's Island all over again) up the channel to Skagway on the look out for Whales, Sea Lions, and hopefully some dolphins (how far is Miami anyway). Brandon acted like a flight attendant pointing out the exits, and fire extinguishers (there are those thoughts again!!!) and not to mention life vests JUST IN CASE.
Come to find out that during our trip my friend Rone' was old friends with Captain Steve, (would have jumped overboard myself if he resembled Alan Hale) which in my mind was a good sign because now he was really concentrating on getting us back safe. Another assurance came later on when I found out (eavesdropping) that he has been a preacher for some time, and is now converting (get it) to become a Catholic priest (no priest aboard the Minnow) and taking a Parrish in Anchorage.
After passing the time and getting more comfortable with the surroundings I had my very first whale sighting just 100 yards over the bow. I saw what looked like a guiser (not an OLD reference, believe me) like spray of water rising up out of the water, and that told me that was the first sign of whale activity, so I open the small door that led out to the bow (with my camera around my neck) braving the waves that were crashing in my face (yep, it's salt water all right) from other boats in the area, and the rain droplets landing on the camera lens, and covering my glasses making it almost impossible to see (pardon the pun), but never the less just like the post-man I snapped off several shots of the massive yet graceful Orca and her cub before they decided to fade back into the choppy depths of the channel.