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Alaska’s Inside Passage Cruise

An adventure well worth the time

June 18, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

ALASKA is a long way from Iowa. Going to Alaska has been on our 'bucket list' for a long time. We made it happen and are not sorry we did. It was a fantastic trip. This is a highly recommended thing to do. For a photo buff like me, image possibilities were unlimited.I made good use of my camera.

Southeast Alaska is rainforest country where Pacific Ocean waters meet abrupt mountain ranges. The weather is predictable: It is getting ready to rain, is raining or just finished raining. Juneau for instance gets about 300 rainy days each year and 65 days of just cloudy or partly sunny.

So did we have rain? Yes, but really not that much. In fact, the first day as we sailed into Tracy Arm, we were putting on sunscreen to avoid sunburn! How about that? Tracy Arm is a narrow pathway between abrupt steep walled granite face of mountains. The water was 2,000 feet deep under us. The tops of the snow capped peaks were another 6 to 10,000 feet above us.The cruise ship went absolutely as far into this narrow passage as it could until big hunks of floating glacial ice forced us to turn around.

Article Photos

A Bucket List check mark is now in place for our cruise in southeast Alaska. Cruising the inside passage offers spectacular scenery that can best be described as awesome. We were able to observe humpback whales, killer whales, bald eagles, sea lions, brown bears, mountain goats, otters and several kinds of sea birds. Getting up close and personal to active glaciers was a new experience. A float plane ride into Misty Fjords offered even closer views of sheer granite mountain faces. Alaska has called this scribe before. Now I’m glad to have returned to a new corner of its very beautiful and impressive landscape.

We learned a lot about glaciers from an onboard naturalist. She was excellent in her briefings, points of interest, wildlife to expect to see and explanations of how this landscape came to be over eons of geologic time. Our present inter-glacial time frame allows people to live in places where life would have been impossible during the height of glacial maximum advances.

Whales, specifically the Humpbacked Whale were often seen. They had returned from their winter resting area of Hawaii 3,000 miles to the south and southwest. Now in Alaska waters, they are hungry and ready to eat. Distant puffs of exhaled air looked like little smoke plumes noting the presence of this large mammal. Its arched back would then break the surface to be followed by the forked tail flukes lifted into the air before all slipped gently under the surface.

Later, during slide show presentations by the naturalist, we got to see just how big the entire whale was. Using models and on-stage props, the true proportions of the Humpback were made clear with life-sized cutouts representing the tail flukes. The life history of the whales was given with a series of fantastic images collected over time showing the birth, nurturing, feeding behavior and other social interactions of whales with each other and with predators. It was good stuff.

One of the best parts of a vacation and this cruise was the ability to turn off the cell phone, forget about newspapers, forget about politics and just enjoy good people and wild places. But even here, on board a ship over 900 feet long, the cabin television could bring the rest of the world to you.

While the ship made night-time passage to another port, I could opt to turn on the cabin TV and listen to national news. When I did, I learned of record rainfall in Montana and the Dakotas. I found out that the lake behind Montana's Fort Peck dam had a longer shoreline than California! High water went over the dam's emergency spillway for the first time since the dam was built in the 1940s. That water and its impact on each downstream dam through the Dakotas was making itself known in Iowa. Little Hamburg, Iowa made the news with levees under assault by record high flows from the Missouri River and the potential for major flooding of the 10 mile wide floodplain between Nebraska and Iowa. I learned that Interstate 29 south of Council Bluffs was closed.

The cruise ended after one week. The time went fast. The food was excellent. So were all the people we met. Then it was back to reality. Our feet were now on solid ground again as we pointed our vehicle eastward. While one item on the bucket list is marked off, we just found new items to add to the list for future contemplation. Alaska's Inside Passage travel is worth the effort.


A big THANK YOU is in order to Emily and Joe Herring for being my guest writers for this column during the past two weeks. Their stories were informative and fun.I appreciate their efforts to help keep you informed and excited about all things in the outdoors. Good job.


A Mosaic Stepping Stones class will be held Thursday from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. Need a garden highlight or a county fair entry? Create a unique stepping stone using assorted decorative objects such as shells, flat marbles, keys, broken plates or tile, beads, etc. Bring your own decorations or use ours. Cost $5. Pre-register by calling 752-5490. All ages welcome.


The DNR and MCCB staff will band Canada geese on June 27 in the morning hours. Come help us round up birds or just watch at Green Castle Recreation Area located one south of Ferguson. To sign up to help, call 641-752-5490 by Friday.


Advice from a whale: Make a splash; Move with grace and beauty; Explore the depths of your true nature; Think big; Keep a song in our heart; Remember to come up for air; No blubbering.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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