Friday, February 3, 2017

Day Five...Skagway & River Rafting Outisde Haines

Day Five - we landed in Skagway.  As with most of the land trips, we all went our separate ways.   I left the ship early, to scout around a bit before heading to my destination.

There's a memorial park right near the docks, with this very cool snowplow train on display.

Just check out the working end of this thing!  Now that can handle some serious drifts!

A small family of otters crossed the road and went down the embankment to get to the water.  

I was all excited that these might be sea otters, but they were river otters, even though they went to swim in the salt water.

The day trip I chose was a river rafting excursion on the Chilkat River in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.  To get there, however, we had to board a smaller boat and take a ride to Haines.

The day started off rather cool and slightly drizzly.  Lots of waterfalls to oogle on the way.

And marine life.  There were seals on that rock, and there were lots of birds:  kittiwakes, gulls, scaup...

Haines is a neat little community - I wish we had time to explore.  Sadly, we did not.

We boarded a bus and tally-ho, were on our way.  Partway to our destination, the driver says:  there re a couple moose.  Well, those of you who know me, you can only imagine my reaction.  Firstly, I was on the wrong side of the bus.  I jumped up and grabbed cameras, probably shouting "where?!?!"  

In desperation, I started taking photos.  "Get the window down!  Get the window down!  You don't understand!  This is a life moment for me!"

Sadly, a bus behind us, whose driver either didn't see the moose or didn't care about them, pulled around our bus (which had pulled off to the side), scaring the moose off.  They bolted into the trees.  Still, I finally got to see my moose!

So, our destination:  the river rafting!  We had a wonderful guide (whose name I no longer recall).  We were each decked out in life vests and instructed where to sit on the rim of our inflatable raft.

The scenery was magnificent.

We filled two rafts. 

From the Alaska DNR website:  The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created by the State of Alaska in June of 1982. The preserve was established to protect and perpetuate the world's largest concentration of Bald Eagles and their critical habitat. It also sustains and protects the natural salmon runs and allows for traditional uses; provided such uses do not adversely affect preserve resources. The Preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers. The boundaries were designated to include only areas important to eagle habitation. Virtually every portion of the preserve is used by eagles at some time during the year.

The river "flats" of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway between miles 18 and 24 are the main viewing area for eagle watchers and considered critical habitat in the preserve. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the availability of spawned-out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter.

The natural phenomena responsible for five miles of open water on the Chilkat River during freezing months is called an "alluvial fan reservoir". The Tsirku fan, which is a fan-shaped accumulation of gravel, rock, sand, and glacial debris, at the confluence of the Tsirku, Kleheni, and Chilkat Rivers acts as a large water reservoir.

During the warmer spring, summer and early fall seasons, water from snow and melted glacial ice flows into the alluvial fan. The fan receives water faster than it can flow out, creating a huge reservoir of water. When winter arrives, cold weather sets in and surrounding waters freeze. However, water in this large reservoir remains from 10 to 20 degrees (F) above surrounding water temperatures. This warmer water "percolates" into the Chilkat River and keeps it from freezing.

Five species of salmon spawn in these and other nearby streams and tributaries. The salmon runs begin in the summer and continue on through late fall or early winter. The salmon die shortly after spawning and it is their carcasses which provide large quantities of food for the eagles. This combination of open water and large amounts of food bring large concentrations of eagles into the Chilkat Valley beginning by early October and lasting through February.

SO, here you can see some of that collected gravel, rocks, sand and glacial debris.  Our guide told us that the river bed changes daily, and they never follow the same route twice.  And while the water is shallow, the river is deep - that is not solid footing you see out there.

I never did find out what these yellow flowers were, but there were a lot of them blooming along the shore.

The raft behind us got stuck and had to bounce their way clear.

Bald eagles are their claim to fame, so our guide pointed out the old nests.  We were not there in the busy eagle season, when there will be hundreds of eagles along the river.  But that was okay.  I'd already seen my moose, and the only thing that would've made it even better in my opinion was seeing wolves and bears.  Spoiler alert:  we didn't see any of those.

We did see one eagle, though.

And this arctic tern.

We passed a native village.  They were completing their new village center.

The sun was now out and it was time to leave the river.  We docked our rafts and waited in this roadside park for the bus to pick us up.  We had a quick snack.

And then returned to Haines.

We hopped back on our shuttle boat and returned to Skagway.

The sun was in full blast mode now.  In fact, it got up to about 90 degrees this day!  I was waaaay over dressed for this kind of weather!

With plenty of time until the ship departed, I headed back into town.  This is one of the excursion trains, returning from its trip.

One can almost imagine the "old days" in this town at the start of the gold rush.

Of course, today it is all touristy - lots of jewelers and "Indian crafts" for sale.  All associated with the cruise ship business.   They must be, for every town had the SAME vendors.

Soon we were back on the ship and headed out to sea.

And the sun set on a beautiful day.