To enjoy cruising with my friends means to enjoy a lot of great food too. Which also means needing to do a lot of walking to keep up with my culinary intake. So… to help me with my walkies goal, this day’s shore excursion of choice took my cabin mate and me on a hike through a small part of the largest national forest in the United States: Tongass.
Encompassing a big chunk of the Pacific temperate rain forests, this gorgeously green place is home to five species of salmon—and their prey—as well as old growth trees, countless critters and floral varieties galore. And for a day, me—and our eager group of hikers…
Cause and care
Seeing an eagle in flight is a pretty cool thing—hunting, soaring or resting for just a moment on a tree branch, this beautiful raptor creates excitement for spectators with every glimpse. But when these feathered flying machines run into trouble—into cars, wires or other human obstacles—life becomes an instant struggle. Our first stop for the morning? A place that helps rehabilitate such birds of prey: the Alaska Raptor Center.
This wonderful nonprofit facility aids all injured raptors (and non-raptor birds too) with rescue, rehabilitation and rerelease into the wild, and has done so since 1980. Entering the building, our group was brought up to speed on the history of the organization, as well as raptor characteristics. But… how does one treat a bird of prey without compromising its chances of returning home? With a very sophisticated routine. And a pretty cool physical therapy room…
Entering the observation area of the raptors’ PT building meant we had to mind our manners. Not that the birds could see us, thanks to the one way mirror and camouflage netting. Recovering eagles (and other birds, like owls) receive their food—primarily salmon—twice daily, but no actual interaction with humans.
In an effort to reacclimate the birds to their natural environment, openings near the ceiling allow outside air and weather elements to enter the room. Perches and ropes of varying heights serve as PT equipment. The higher a bird can go, the readier it is to go home. But what about those who can no longer make the climb?
Outside the building, just behind the PT room, we observed the raptors’ “retirement” facility. These retirees have rooms and netted areas open to the sky. They also receive quit a bit of human interaction, participating in educational events like field trips—even traveling on airplanes and making guest appearances in the lower 48!
Canopy and culture
Leaving the Raptor Center, we continued our journey on foot, heading for the next leg of our adventure: the Sitka National Historical Park. Honoring both the native Tlingit tribe and the Russian settlers of Sitka, this park features beautiful wide trails, lots of totem poles, historical and wildlife placards—and TONS of salmon.
While I expected to see our fishy friends swimming upstream, I did not expect to see them—so many of them—just chillin. From our trail’s footbridge, it was easy to spot Pink and Chum salmon in the shallow water, resting. Preparing. It was as if they were waiting for a starting gun to fire…
Walking along under this incredible canopy of trees, our guide Dana talked about the salmon, fish-loving bears and eagles, and the forest itself: the trees, plants and flowers, and the importance of the rainforest’s existence that keeps it all in balance.
Exiting the forest, we came to the park’s visitor center. And gift shop! I picked up two pairs of earrings featuring both the eagle and the raven—birds that symbolize a key balance in the representation and harmony of the Tlingit people.
Colony and church
Continuing our on-foot adventure, we followed the Sitka Sea Walk along the marina toward the city’s center. We stopped at a few points of interest along the way, one in particular that claims space on the National Register of Historic Places: St. Peters-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.
Completed in 1899, this rustically attractive place of Christian worship features a Star of David at the center of its gorgeous rose window. Truth be told, it wasn’t the religious symbol the Episcopalians requested on the order form. A slight mix-up at the factory.
But… given the craftsmanship and time put into this beautiful stained glass feature—and the distance it had to travel from the East Coast to Sitka (no Panama Canal back then), they decided to keep it. Respectfully, they came to honor the window’s symboled Star as a reminder of their own faith’s very beginnings.
Do you know that Russia’s presence in Sitka lasted over 100 years? Initially drawn to this area for fur trading, Russian settlers planted roots in this coastal Alaskan town, establishing a colony and creating their own home in the New World. We found out a little more as we approached the city’s center…
Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, established 1837 and now a national historic landmark, houses several pieces of very old Russian-American art. Under the beautiful green domes, a fire in 1966 claimed most of the original structure, but not before many of the priceless artifacts were rescued by some very daring souls.
Chips and coffee
Having worked up an appetite—specifically for fish & chips—my friend and I asked our tour guide for a recommendation. Her choice? The Sitka Hotel Restaurant and Lounge.
Not too far from the cathedral, we located its wooden façade and walked in. Clever driftwood art decorated the walls, with Mason jar lights illuminating the seating area. We found our table, placed our order and enjoyed some of the best fish & chips I’ve ever had!
To round out my Sitka mealtime, I topped off my tank with a latte from A Little Something espresso. A colorful place that serves an excellent cup of joe.
Our walkies adventure over, we made our way to the shuttle stop and awaited our ride back to the ship. Reflecting on our day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clear stream, teeming with salmon, waiting for the next—possibility last—leg of their journey, just to complete their circle of life.
Except for a few bear and eagle interrupting their trip, I hope these fishy friends of the Tongass will always have that chance. J 🌲