Saturday, July 23, 2016

Misty Fjords National Monument

We really wished we could’ve of done this excursion first, rather than on our last day in Alaska. To be honest, after seeing all of the incredibly stunning beauty over the last few days, we felt that Misty Fjords National Monument was somewhat anticlimactic. Although it was still a nice excursion, we likely would’ve have enjoyed it much more had we visited here at the front end of our trip.

Our excursion began from Ketchikan. Just getting to Ketchikan that morning was a bit of an adventure itself. Two weeks before our trip a Celebrity cruise ship crashed into one of the docks and put it out of commission for an indefinite amount of time. Instead of docking right next to town, our ship had to anchor in the bay, which meant we had to take a tender over to the shore. The tenders we used were the lifeboats for our ship. I can’t even imagine being cramped in one of those for days waiting for a rescue!

From Ketchikan harbor our catamaran sped south through Revillagigedo Channel before making a sharp turn towards the north and into the Behm Canal.

Established in 1978, Misty Fjords National Monument encompasses almost 2.3 million acres within the Tongass National Forest. The vast majority of the wilderness lies between Behm Canal and Portland Canal. In this part of Alaska, fjords, or glacially-carved valleys filled with sea water, are known as "canals". The near-vertical walls that form these canals rise to as much as 3000 feet above the sea, and drop at least 2000 feet below the surface of the water. At one point, while we were floating less than 100 yards off the shore, our interpreter noted that we were in 700 feet of water. At more than 100 miles in length, the Behm Canal is the longest waterway within the national monument. The canal is also home to the U.S. Navy’s Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, which strives to make submarines as quiet as possible.

Misty Fjords is just one part of a vast rain forest that stretches along the Pacific coast, from the Gulf of Alaska to Northern California. Western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western red cedar dominate the forests within the monument. Visitors may also see a wide variety of wildlife, including both brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose, wolves, wolverines, otters, sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, and Dall porpoises. During our visit we saw a few pigeon guillemots, sea ducks, and at least two dozen bald eagles.

Although we didn’t see any rain during our visit, we did experience overcast skies throughout much of the day. That was fine by us. Ketchikan is the 4th wettest place on Earth! On average it receives roughly 160 inches of rain per year, with much of it arriving during the fall.

Just before reaching Rudyerd Bay and Punchbowl Cove, our ultimate destinations on this trip, we passed by New Eddystone Rock. Discovered by Captain George Vancouver in 1793, New Eddystone Rock is a 237-foot high pillar of basalt rock, which was originally formed by a volcanic vent that allowed magma to rise to the earth‘s surface. There were several harbor seals resting on the tiny island as we passed by.

Rudyerd Bay and Punchbowl Cove are recognized as being the one of the most scenic areas in Misty Fjords. During our visit we also saw dozens of nesting seabirds along the steep cliffs of the cove.

Just after leaving Rudyerd Bay we stopped to check out a Tlingit pictograph painted just above the water line on a very interesting and picturesque rock. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t discern the ancient artwork from the natural rock, but certainly enjoyed the beauty of the rock itself.

As we made our way back to Ketchikan our guides brought out some snacks and beverages. They provided us with fresh smoked salmon, soup, a variety of locally made jams and relishes, as well as pickled kelp. At first this didn’t sound all that appetizing, but after trying the seaweed, I was hooked. It has a very unique and somewhat tangy flavor. Of course they sold all of these products onboard, so we took home some fresh smoked salmon and a couple jars of kelp.

As mentioned above, just two weeks before our visit, the Celebrity Infinity, a 965-foot, 91,000-ton cruise ship, crashed into one of the docks in Ketchikan. The crash caused one of the gangways to break off and puncture the ship’s hull. Ketchikan’s Port and Harbors Director estimated that the crash caused $2-3 million in damages to the dock. It sounds like wind was the culprit in this accident, as gusts were clocked at around 45 MPH.

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