More of Kenai Fjords National Park

Viewfinder 5The rain that began on the afternoon of our last cruise intensified and continued for two more days. During those days, we moved from our inland campground to the water. The ocean is my favorite place in the whole world and with a view framed by snow-capped mountains, it is beautiful rain or shine. And we extended our stay in Seward so we could see more of Kenai Fjords National Park.Viewfinder 7

We stayed in the Resurrection South RV Parking section of the Waterfront Campground (City of Seward). Read my review of the campground here.Viewfinder 4Viewfinder 6

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In Search of Wildlife

NW Fjord 98One of the reasons we are here in Alaska is because we love animals, and we especially love seeing them in the wild. We feel a special connection to and are often in search of wildlife.  And our second cruise to the Kenai Fjords was an extra special one.NW Fjord 83

There is something about the whales that especially captivates us, perhaps their intelligence, the way they form social structures, the sounds they make to communicate, or maybe all of those things and others that we just cannot put into words.NW Fjord 78

So each summer when we have been by the northern seas on our walkabout, we have devoted quality time to whale watching. Going out looking for the whales in kayaks, zodiacs, and small to large motorboats. And we have seen lots of whales; blue, fin, humpback, minke, beluga, gray, pilot and orcas (although technically pilot whales and orcas are part of the dolphin family).

NW Fjord 109Our goal in Seward was to go on several wildlife cruises. We were interested in some of the longer cruises, but not sure we would be able to go because of Angel. But we found a pet-sitter to walk Angel during the day. So after our six-hour cruise earlier in the week, we booked two other full day wildlife/glacier cruises, one with each of the two major companies in town.

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Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound006Ice-capped mountains towering over the sea, picturesque fishing boats, sea otters, orcas, humpback whales, sea caves, sea lions, puffins, harbor seals, icebergs and a glacier. Our day on Prince William Sound was simply amazing.Prince William Sound001

We love being on the water, we love marine wildlife and anytime we have opportunities to combine the two, we are on it!Prince William Sound002

Two companies run glacier wildlife cruises out of Valdez. We chose the Lu-Lu Belle. First of all, how could we possibly resist that name?  And we got a wonderful report about this cruise at the Tok Visitor Center from two people who had just been on it.

The 75′ Lu-Lu Belle was custom built by Captain Fred in 1979 and has served as both his and his wife’s summer business as a tour boat and as their home in the winter.  Not your typical tour boat this one, she is a beauty.

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Prince William Sound009Captain Fred has a unique approach, he describes it as a 5 ½ to 7 hour cruise, depending on what is seen along the way. His wife told us that “he comes in when the wildlife lets him”. He is willing to stay put to watch the wildlife – and we really loved that approach.

So we booked Thursday’s cruise the night before, when we arrived in Valdez. As it turned out, the place where their office is located also houses a tiny RV park, Little Lu-Lu, in their parking lot. It accommodates up to eight spots, although those are also their parking spots. And somehow, we lucked out and got a rate of about $15-$20 less than others who offer full hookup.

Prince William Sound004Prince William Sound105Prince William Sound106When Hector and I discussed coming to Valdez, the first thing that came to my mind was the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, at the time, the largest oil spill in U.S. waters. I remember the images of the birds covered in oil. It was a defining moment in my life, and I never looked at the environment in the same way after that.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, consisting of three state and three federal trustees, has issued reports every 3-4 years since the spill that provide the recovery status of 28 species, four human services and several archaeological resources.

Recovery is based upon “pre-oil spill levels”. The 2014 report states that 15 of the 24 species studied over this time are “recovered”, 4 “very likely recovered”, 4 “recovering”, 4 “not recovering”, and 1 “unknown”. It is telling that 25 years later, the impacts of the spill are still being felt. But we were going to see how the wildlife recovered for ourselves.Prince William Sound005

The morning of our cruise was quite hazy in spite of a weather report that it was going to be sunny and clear. Megan, Captain Fred’s wife who works the office said that some of the haze might be due to some of the wildfires around.

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The Northern Residents

Northen residents  021 Northen residents  002Northen residents  003It seemed as if our chances of encountering whales on a one-day kayak trip were not very good. And the kayak tours are kind of pricey. So we opted for a whale watching tour on a regular boat to go look for the Northern Residents.

Since we try to avoid big groups on tours, we chose a 5:30 p.m. departure with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Apparently, that time slot never gets full. Which is surprising since it’s a beautiful time of day to go out on the water.

That afternoon, which was pretty cloudy, there were 14 people on a boat that accommodates up to 49 people.  Very nice.Northen residents  005Northen residents  004Northen residents  006

As our Captain, Geoff and the young naturalist, Sofia, were giving their introductory and safety talks, someone looked up and pointed to a bear that was walking by the marina just across the water from us.  Right in front of our campground!  A good omen.

Northen residents  054Northen residents  008So off we went once again to Johnstone Strait, this time powered by motor.  Some of the Northern Residents had been spotted earlier and the captain went in search of them.Northen residents  024 Continue reading

Kayaking in Johnstone Strait

Telegraph Cove Kayak  003Telegraph Cove Kayak  002Telegraph Cove offers a number of different tours for kayaking in Johnstone Strait with opportunities to see all sorts of wildlife.   And for those that want to see orcas, or killer whales, the best time of year to do so is during the months of July and August.

chinook2That is when the chinook salmon are running and a group of orcas called the Northern Residents arrive to feast on the tasty fish.   Johnstone Strait is the body of water between the northeast of Vancouver Island and the Broughton Archipelago.Orca-Sea-Kayaking-Map

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to see some of the Southern Residents, the group of salmon eating orcas who frequent the waters around the San Juan Islands in Washington.orca range

The Northern Residents arrived in Johnstone Strait a few days before we got there. Some said that they were a bit late, but the timing varies according to the salmon run.

whale_labeledTelegraph Cove Kayak  004Our plan was to sign up with a kayak outfitter to look for the whales.   We wanted to go out with someone who knew the waters, as the tidal currents in the area can be quite complicated. Also, the kayak companies keep in communication with other boaters and get updates if whales are spotted. Continue reading

North to Telegraph Cove

Duncan Telegraph Cove  023vancouverislandWe got an early start for what we anticipated to be a long drive to the North of 290 mile long Vancouver Island. Allowing for a couple of stops along the way. Our route north to Telegraph Cove entered into a much more remote area of the island.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  002Duncan, about an hour north of Victoria and nicknamed the City of Totems, was our first stop. The town, located in the Cowichan Velley, borders the Cowichan Tribe’s Reservation, and the two communities work closely together on local issues.

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The Wild Olympic Coast

Olympic Coast  009Olympic Coast  011Our first glimpse of the wild Olympic coast was at Ruby Beach, a popular beach with sea stacks and pink sands.  As with most beaches around here, giant driftwood logs were everywhere.

It was foggy, which we were about to discover was a common occurrence around these parts.Olympic Coast  010

 

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The San Juan Islands and the Beautiful Orcas

San Juan Islands  031San Juan Islands  038One of the things I most looked forward to in the San Juan Islands was kayaking with the whales. When I was in my twenties I saw a photo of a kayaker looking over at a whale breaching and have wanted to do it since.  So in search of the beautiful orcas we went.San Juan Islands  003

San Juan Islands  002Our plan was to visit a couple of the islands, and, especially, the area where the orcas are prevalent.

Our campground was located between the towns of La Conner and Anacortes, the boarding point for ferries going to the San Juan Islands, so it all seemed fairly easy. San Juan Islands  045San Juan Islands  046 Continue reading

The Woods and the Coast

north redwoods  001north redwoods  003north redwoods  013We headed directly up the coast of California with plans continue north; to stop in Oregon, in Washington and then to cross the border by ferry to Vancouver Island, British Columbia and cross by ferry again to mainland Canada.

But first, we stopped at another National Park. Redwood National and State Parks are actually four parks, one National and three State Parks, managed cooperatively. These parks “protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and nearly forty miles of pristine coastline, including the majestic coast redwoods”.

north redwoods  043Coast redwoods are related to the giant sequoias that we visited earlier in the spring but they only grow in a narrow strip along the Pacific coast of California and southwestern Oregon. Although the giant sequoias’ trunks are wider, the coast redwoods can grow much taller, to nearly 380 feet. In fact, somewhere in these parks stands the world’s tallest tree, a coast redwood.

Our drive from Noyo Harbor was long, California is just so darn long! But not as challenging as our last drive, and part of the way was through coast redwood forests.

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The Pacific Coast Highway

Big Sur  005Big Sur  030The Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey climbs towards Big Sur,  yet another very cool place along the coast.  This section of the coastal drive is stunning.  And this is the same drive we took many, many years ago on one of our very first “big” trips as a married couple. Big Sur  010Big Sur  003Big Sur  007

That long ago trip began in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles.  With a memorable stop in Big Sur.Big Sur  001 Continue reading