First I must apologize, I have obviously fallen well behind on posting as I have not done so for a couple months. Part of this because I was so busy at work and on my off time I was in port taking photographs. Part of it was I did not spend time on shore writing a posting again because I was out taking photographs. And partly because the internet on the ship was not working much of the time and when it was it was not working very well… So again, I apologize and will try to do better in the future…
In order to get up to date as I am now on vacation and traveling in Cambodia and Thailand. I have decided the best way to do so is to post from more of a photojournalistic point of view and let the photographs speak for themselves.
A quick note on My Khe Beach also known as China Beach during the Vietnam War. China Beach is where an large American airbase was located. The 20 mile beach was used for R and R (Rest and Rehabilitation) for soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors. The base is not in use and closed today due to toxic levels of dioxin. Dioxin or as it was known during the Vietnam War “Agent Orange” was stored in vast amounts at the airbase in Da Nang.
Everyone knows or should know the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it ended World War II’s war in the Pacific and advanced the surrender of Japan. One of the most relevant shore tours available is going to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which contains a museum, monuments constructed to the memory of those that lost their lives in the nuclear attack and what is left of buildings that were destroyed by the detonation of the atomic bomb.
During World War II my grandfather fought in the Pacific and instead of going to the Peace Park I opted to go to Miyajima Island which is a short twenty minute taxi ride from the port and an even shorter ferry ride to the island itself.
As you approach the island the Otori Gate welcomes you as the massive structure during high tide sits just offshore. On the day and time that I arrived the Otori Gate could be reached by walking to it on the sandbar revealed during low tide.
Once onshore one of the environmental problems becomes quite evident and even more so as you walk through the town. The island has a large population of nihonjika deer. The island is overrun with them and they are everywhere including the small town itself.
I have lived in Yosemite, the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains and I know what healthy deer look like and these deer are not healthy. There have been numerous articles written in numerous magazines and websites about the “starving deer” of Miyajima. They lay in the shade during the heat of the day their heads hanging low, they approach the tourists begging for food, it is truly sad.
On a lighter note the small town that greets you as you debark the ferry has many small shops for you to explore. There are also many restaurants which traditional noodle dishes and fresh seafood. If you run out of yen there are also places that you can exchange your currency.
The island of Miyajima is strewn with numerous monuments and shrines. It would take a day or two if not more to see all but unfortunately I only had a few hours. My first stop after having an enjoyable sushi lunch, those that know me know that I am a “sushiholic” I visited some of the many stores lining the streets before heading to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Otori Gate.
The Itsukushima Shrine is a large complex and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is best known feature is the Otori “floating” Gate mentioned above. The Otori Gate is believed to have been erected in the 6thcentury. It has been destroyed many times in the past and the present form was erected in the mid-16thcentury and thought to follow a design from the 12thcentury.
After walking around taking photographs of different pagodas and shrines I started to climb a flight of stairs. About one third of the way up I spotted a trail leading off to the side. Being an avid backpacker one thing that I discovered over the years if there is a side trail there is probably a reason to follow it. In this case as most I am very happy I followed my intuitions.
As soon as I rounded the first bend I was greeted with a handful of stone monks. As the trailed continued a handful turn into dozens and then hundreds. After I got back to the ship and researched them online it stated that there are approximately 500 of these 18 inch wonders.
Each monk seemed to have a different look or air about him. Each was donned in a robe and all of their heads were covered by brightly colored knit hats resembling berets.
They were clustered in groups…
They lined the path…
And some surrounded a deity…
Some had a stainless steel mess bowl that was meant for coins after rendering a prayer.
I could have spent an entire day photographing the stone monks. Everywhere I looked, each angle I peered at through the lens I saw something different.
I was excited about what I saw and the images I was capturing. But at the same time I was overwhelmed with a sense of serenity.
When in Hiroshima I would highly recommend visiting Miyajima Island, in fact I would suggest staying there for a night or two if it is possible with your itinerary.
The Alaska summer cruise season is over for my ship a little earlier then normal. The season ended early because we have crossed the Pacific and we are in Asia headed to the South Pacific then a stop in Hawaii on our way back to Los Angeles. I had seen 75 countries before Asia. I have not seen much of Asia which is the reason I had requested the Coral Princess.
Our first stop was to be Osaka, Japan but due to a typhon we were not able to go to that port. This made Yokohama our first port of call in Japan. On my next contract starting February 2, 2019 Yokohama will be my “home port” and I will travel the majority of the islands of Japan with 6 stops in South Korea and two in Russia.
On my first day in Yokohama and I escorted a shore excursion to Mt. Fuji. It is a very long ride from the port and we spent less than an hour to enjoy the view of this iconic mountain. We also passed through Tokyo along the way although we did not make a stop.
One of the guests on the tour had said that he had tried 14 previous times to see Mt. Fuji and this was the first time it was not covered by clouds.
I had always assumed that Mt. Fuji was covered by snow year round as every photograph I had ever seen showed it crowned with snow. Well that is just not the case. When I return in the spring on my next ship I will again make the long journey to see Mt. Fuji how I had always seen it in photos, cover with snow.
Due to fuel issues we actually spent two days in Yokohama. I got up early to beat the crowds and took a taxi to the Sankeien Gardens. The gardens were once the private home of a wealthy silk merchant Tomitaro “Sankei” Hara. He donated the gardens to the city of Yokohama and it was opened to the public in 1906.
I prefer to take photographs without anyone in them which at times can be a challenge. Arriving before any of the tour buses gives me the best chance before it became too crowded making it impossible. Once the crowds arrive getting the photograph I want becomes like two of my other favorite pass times… poker and fishing, they are also a game of patience.
I was lucky enough to have a couple arrive when I was photographing and elderly woman sketching in her note pad. It was a very tranquil scene as she sat at the foot of a foot bridge with a pagoda in the background.
The couple were dressed in traditional clothing and celebrating their recent wedding. They crossed the foot bridge stopping half way. I was able to capture on of my favorite photographs that day with the couple starting their life together and the old woman at the foot of the bridge.
Sankeien Gardens is a place I will highly recommend you seeing while in Yokohama. I spent three hours exploring the grounds. There are a number of trails to follow leading to different pagodas, temples and shrines.
There are a number of ponds to stop and feed the numerous koi or you can relax at the water’s edge and enjoy the tranquil scene.
You can climb one of the trails up a hill to the Tomyoji Temple a three tier pagoda and take another trail down past statue of buddha and different deities.
Another trail leads to another temple nestled within a grove of trees
Yet another area of the grounds led to Rinshunkaku villa that once stood on the banks of the Kinokawa River. It was originally built in 1649 and moved and rebuilt in the Sankeien Gardens from 1915-1917.
My current home the Coral Princess left Alaska a few weeks ago and we are now on a sixty day cruise that is headed to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam Hawaii and back to our port of original Los Angeles.
After spending six summers in Alaska on various cruise ships in Alaska it is time to say goodbye, at least for now. I have already confirmed my next ship the Diamond Princess for next summer that will home port in Yokohama. Instead of my usual summer in Alaska I will be enjoying Japan, South Korea and Russia.
I want to take the time to give a special thanks to some special friends that I have made over the years while in Alaska…
I’d first like to thank the owner/captain David Lethin, his wife “the Commodore”, Shauna Lee the Chief Operation Officer and the crew for the many trips taken on the Aleutian Ballad. Also for the privilege of providing many of the photographs for their book and the cover photograph.
I would also like to thank Paul and Amy of the Mountain Flying Service in Skagway for the handful of flights that I was able to take over the summers. Being able to soar over mountains, glaciers and Glacier Bay National Park was truly remarkable and something I will never forget.
I’d like to say thank you to Kathy Shen who took a special interest in my book for her store Broadway Jewelry in Skagway and for inviting me to also supply her with not only my book but also photographs for next summer. I’d also like to congratulate her on her new store and location in Skagway next year.
Another thanks to Ken Decker and his wife Monica the owners of Crazy Wolf Studio in Ketchikan for carrying my book in their store, for their friendship and for the unique gift of a salmon leather wallet.
In closing I’d like to say a very special thank you to my good friend Rich Lee the owner/operator of Aurora Birds and Bears Tours of Ketchikan. I have become very close to Rich over the years, taken many tours to photograph bears and sat in his van shooting the breeze and enjoying his friendship. Rich has welcomed me into his family and I will miss him the most.
I am sure that I will someday go back to the mountains and streams of Alaska as it just gets in your blood. My son once told me when he was young “dad you are a mountain man not a beach boy”.
With that said let’s take a quick look back at a few of my favorite photographs of Alaska…
and my favorite shots of Alaska… my grandson Basil
I have heard about this shore excursion for some time but had never decided to see it for myself until now. My grandson Basil Pannell was joining me on my ship to cruise Alaska and the Inside Passage for two weeks and I wanted him to have a very unique vacation.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see something new and to give Basil a chance to experience flying in a seaplane. And not only fly in a seaplane but to fly over a number of glaciers and land at a remote lodge.
Being in Juneau on my ship, the Coral Princess, affords me the opportunity to stop at the office of Wings Airway on the dock downtown Juneau. The staff was very friendly and helpful and there were a couple of different options. Between the 5 Glacier Seaplane Exploration and the Taku Lodge Feast and 5 Glacier Discovery I chose the later.
The tour totaled 3 hours of which you flew over 5 glaciers you also enjoyed 2 hours at the Taku Glacier Lodge located in the backcountry at the foot of the Taku Glacier.
Basil and I arrived at the Wings Airway office joining others taking the tour for a short safety talk before boarding the seaplane. The DeHavilland Otter is known as an Alaskan workhorse and a very reliable aircraft.
Once onboard the pilot turns the plane, pushes the throttle forward increasing speed as we race down the Gastineau Channel with Douglas Island on one side and the town of Juneau on the other lined with a number of cruise ships visiting for the day. Gently the seaplane lifts free of the water and you are airborne.
The flight itself was nothing short of spectacular. Every seat is afforded a large window as you climb high above the mountains and the channel below. After a couple minutes the pilot banks the plane and we are flying up the Taku Inlet. The Throughfare Mountains in the near distance and directly below are the Annez Lakes that are nestled within the valleys and snow covered peaks.
Then before you know it the North Branch of the Norris Glacier appears cutting its way through the mountains, a frozen river ice on its way to the sea. You feel as if you can reach out and touch the glaciers as they pass underneath the plane they are so close.
The glaciers twist and turn carrying dirt, rubble and boulders as they travel. This leaves the glacier streaked with shades of white to gray to black resembling racing stripes mixed with the various shades of blue ice that we have come to expect.
The different variations of blue are due to thousand of years of compression and how the ice crystals themselves bend the light. There are areas of light blue to very deep blue and every shade in between.
Flying over the glacier you see this color variation as you look into the crags in the crust of the glacier itself. It is also apparent at the edge of the glacier where it has calved exposing the ice within.
As you around yet another mountain at the edge of a glacial river across from the Taku Glacier sits the Taku Glacier Lodge where you will spend the next 2 hours. Here you can explore the surrounding woods on a number of hiking trails, visit the gift shop or just sit and relax on a porch swing as the cook prepares you meal of fresh salmon being cooked on an outdoor grill.
Basil and I decided to hike through the dense forest along one of the trails only to be recalled by the sound of the clang of a iron triangle best known in western movies and on ranches.
The lunch consisted of fresh Alaskan salmon, fresh coleslaw, baked beans, sourdough bread matched with fruit compote, herb biscuits and ginger cookies for desert.
After lunch Basil and I once again decided to take a hike down another trail this time in the opposite direction. It is so peaceful in the backcountry with the sounds of the various birds calling to one another or the wind rustling through the trees.
After about 30 minutes we returned to the grounds at the lodge and settled in on one of the comfortable chairs to enjoy a view of the Taku Glacier just across the river.
We were then surprised by one of the many black bears that a frequent the lodge and its ground. The bear know as Lucy appeared from the woods and made a beeline behind the buildings headed for what she knew was to be something special.
You see it too heard the sound of the iron triangle and also with a keen sense of smell knew that fresh salmon was on the menu. As soon as it reached the large stone and iron grill it climbed on top and began to lick the remains of any salmon left behind. Once she had her fill and everything was licked clean she climbed down and once again headed back into the woods no doubt to take a long nap after her lunch.
Our time at the lodge had expired and we once again boarded the seaplane. Along the way we continued to fly over mountains and glaciers with our eyes fixed out the windows. We had excellent views of the Taku Glacier, Hole-On-The-Wall Glacier, West Twin Glacier and the East Twin Glacier as we made our way back to Juneau.
Upon reaching Juneau our pilot set the plane down gently on the waterway and taxied to the pier where we had began our journey.
I cannot express what a wonderful shore excursion this is and I will impress on you when In Juneau you should seriously considered taking a flight over the glaciers and to the Taku Glacier Lodge on the 5 Glacier Seaplane Exploration tour from Wings Airway.
For more information visit the website wingsairway.com and contact Wings Airway by calling 907-586-6275 or email info@wingsairwayscom
Lets face it one on the major reasons people to take a cruise to Alaska is for spectacular views of glaciers that you are afforded from the deck of a ship. Even flying over them which I have done in a small plane several times does not compare to being right upfront and personal with a glacier only a few hundred yards away. It is nothing short of magnificent!
This is my sixth summer in Alaska I have seen my fair share of glaciers. From the Sawyer Glacier in the Tracy Arm Fjord in the south to the Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay in the north I never get tired of seeing them.
This is the fourth time I have started to write this post with a couple of different takes on glaciers. I’ve tried to portray what it is like to cruise deep into a fjord filled with waterfalls and cascades overflowing with water or what it is like to paddle up a glacial river to the face of a glacier. My thoughts of cruising into large bays like College Fjord and Glacier Bay that holds a number glaciers as they carve through the mountains like rivers of ice until they reach their final destination, the bay itself.
Each time I have begun writing within a couple paragraphs I come to the same realization… it is impossible to express in words the grandeur of a glacier. You realize how insignificant we are as humans and the power and beauty of nature in its purest form.
With that said lets take another break from the storyline and text of a travel guide and enjoy the photographs of several of the glaciers you will see while in Alaska. After all as the old saying goes… “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
One of my absolute favorite Alaskan adventures and another Bucket List item was to board a small plane and fly over the mountains, valleys, fjords and the glaciers of Alaska. I’ve wanted this for years and when in Skagway, Alaska I got my chance by contacting Mountain Flying Service.
I placed a call Amy Swanstrom and booked a flight for the next available flight when I would be back in Skagway. I am fortunate that working on a cruise ship enables me to be at the same ports every week. I suggest that you call as soon as you know the dates that you will be there because flights are limited and book well in advance.
Your pilot Paul, Amy’s husband, like all Alaskan bush pilots is a special breed of professional. Since 1992 he has been flying over the Chilkat Mountains, St. Elias Range, Glacier Bay National Park and has logged the more airtime then any bush pilot in the area. For years he has given has clients up close and personal views of Mt. Fairweather that reaches 15,325 feet into the clear blue skies and the surrounding mountains and glaciers and fjords below.
The DHC-2 Beaver is one of the world’s premiere bush planes. Every person on the plane is afforded great views as the Beaver has windows that are four to five times larger then other bush planes. You are given a set of Bose stereo headphones that allow you to hear the excellent narration from Paul as he highlights the terrain and gives notice of any wildlife coming into view.
Once airborne Paul directs the plane towards the mountaintops, many still covered with snow as you fly high above the fjord leaving Skagway behind. Depending on the flight and the weather Paul will determine your ultimate route as he winds through the mountain passes and over the glaciers below.
There are three different flights available and I have enjoyed the first two. First I choose “Flight #1 Glacier Bay to the East Arm”. The flight is approximately sixty minutes long and you soar above the Davidson and Rainbow Glaciers as well as the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. If you are lucky you might even see one of the glaciers calve. Keep an eye out for wildlife as I have seen mountain goats and brown bear during my flights.
Even though I have taken Flight #1 and really enjoyed it the extra flight time with Flight #2 is well worth the cost. With the flight lasting approximately 1.3 hours you not only enjoy the flight over the Glacier Bay East Arm of Flight #1 but also in addition you will explorer the Glacier Bay West Arm.
The extra time also allows you to discover Mount Fairweather as it towers 15,320 feet above sea level and Mount Crillion at 12,700 feet. You will enjoy views of the Pacific and Marjorie Glacier in the Tarr Inlet and the John Hopkins, Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers.
What makes this flight even more special is not only do you see these glaciers from above during your flight but you also will enjoy many of these same glaciers while aboard your ship if traveling to Glacier Bay during your cruise. Seeing them from both perspectives is truly amazing.
I have taken both Flight #1 and Flight #2 a handful of times. If you are a little more adventurous and depending on the time of year for a small added fee, that basically cover the extra fuel needed for a second take off you can land either on a glacier or as I did later in the season on a remote beach.
The one flight I have yet to take is Flight #3 The Grand Flight, which I hope to do this summer. This remarkable two hour flight affords you an eagle’s eye view of the mountains of Southeast Alaska. You will soar over Glacier National Park, fly past Mount Fairweather and Mount Crillion and out into the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska.
In addition to the myriad of the other glaciers you marvel at along the way will also enjoy views of the La Perouse Glacier, which is the only glacier in Alaska that calves directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Flights range from $200 to $350 person depending on which incredible adventure you decide is for you. Having taken both Flight #1 and Flight #2 I am going to highly recommend Flight #2 for the extra couple dollars. I’m sure once I take Flight #3 I will be recommending it instead of Flight #2.
This maybe your one and only chance to see such spectacular views in a private charter plane in Alaska. After all how often do you get to Alaska? The one thing I will guarantee you whatever flight you decide it will be something you never forget.
To book your flight contact Amy directly at Mountain Flying Service at (907) 766 – 3007 or visit the website mountainflyingservice.com