Glaciers, fjords, eagles: A glorious peek at Alaska

Camille Bounds

Starting in Sitka, “The Historic America Bus Tour” visits all of the historical highlights of this former “Russian Capitol.”
A folk dance performance of the New Archangel Dancers is a delightful addition where  the male characters are danced by women. The reason? When they began the group as a social activity many years ago they asked the men to join them and were flatly refused. Now that they are requested to perform worldwide, there are many male offers to join, but to no avail. They are doing just fine, thank you.
An outstanding part of this tour is the visit to the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center where medical treatment is given to injured wildlife; the majority treated are bald eagles. The goal is to treat, cure, rehabilitate and release the wildlife back into their natural habitat. You can get up close and personal with a bald eagle and the experience is humbling. These birds that were almost driven to extinction are making a comeback because of this center’s care and research.
Volunteers are more than welcome to come to Sitka to live and learn how to care and treat these wonderful creatures. Eagles dominate, but everything from injured ravens, kingfishers to fur seals and mountain goats have been cared for at this marvelous sanctuary.
The Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest Tour takes three hours aboard a jet propelled marine vessel with experienced naturalists orating what you are viewing. Otters, whales, eagles, sea lions, seals, deer and various birds are sighted on this delightful adventure. (Binoculars are supplied).
The three-hour Sitka Highlights and Nature Walk guides you through historical sites including Russian Cathedral, Bishop’s House, Castle Hill and Russian Cemetery.
In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Pilots Choice Flight is not to be missed. Here is an extraordinary journey over the famous Mendenhall Glacier and the helicopter lands on the surface of the glacier.  The most dramatic features of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau ice field is laid out before you. The beauty is stunning and a little eerie at the same time. Insulated glacier boots are supplied. Temperatures are sometimes 10 degrees cooler on the glacier, so layered clothing is suggested. A camera, sunglasses and sunblock are a must.
After working up an appetite tramping (very carefully) on top of the glaciers, take The Wilderness Lodge Adventure (my favorite tour). A floatplane soars above the glaciers for a different view of the deep blue crevasses. You touch down on the Taku River and are welcomed to the charming Taku Glacier Lodge, which is accessible only by air or small boat at high tide.
A delicious salmon luncheon is served. (This is a fresh salmon taste not as we know it). The gastronomic experience is superb. The view of the edge of a glacier outside the window at your table is breathtaking. When I was there, Scarface (a bear that had been shot by a hunter as a cub, survived and grew into a huge brown bear) showed up to the barbecue to forage around for leftovers. We stood less than 10 feet away and snapped pictures of this magnificent giant enjoying his treat. (An employee stood by to see that we stayed calm and quiet and kept our distance. He was also there to be sure that the bear did not decide to wander into the crowd. They say they have never lost a guest!) I don’t know if he is still visiting, but if he is, believe me, it’s an experience not to be forgotten.
There is a six-hour Juneau fly-fishing junket offered for the angler aficionados, with some of the world’s best fly-fishing in Southeast Alaska. The adventure includes a flight to a remote location for catch and release fishing of Alaskan salmon, Dolly, Varden and cutthroat trout. This is a unique experience for both the experienced and novice fisherman alike. Fly-fishing poses the challenge of paying close attention to the form and art of casting a fly. Equipment and instruction is provided by experienced, patient and good natured guides.
You can also book a half- or full-day of Juneau sport fishing. (This tour is wheelchair accessible.) You will need a fishing license and King Salmon Stamp.
For river rafters there is a three-hour Mendenhall River Float Trip. Wet suits and life jackets are supplied. This is an exciting yet gentle introduction to rafting.
Ketchikan offers a 75-minute flight over The Misty Fjords National Monument. A sightseeing tour of the city’s most outstanding landmarks follows with a visit to the local totem pole park where totem poles are created before your eyes. A fascinating tour of the historic George Inlet Cannery rounds out a most enjoyable tour.
A Ketchikan Rainforest Mountain Bike Adventure includes an incredible biking adventure through some of Southeast Alaska’s most inspiring territory. Here you can view waterfalls and learn of the area’s natural and cultural history. Rain jackets, gloves and helmets are provided.
Kayaking is offered, and stable, two-person kayaks are supplied with life jackets for a special view of Ketchikan.
The Ketchikan Sport Fishing Tour takes five-and-a-half hours. Again, you will have to buy a fishing license and a King Salmon Stamp. This is considered one of the finest places to fish for King Salmon.

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