For the longest time, I’ve always wanted to visit the islands of Alaska and certainly Juneau. One of the very first books I read was by Jack London and the first movie I ever watched in a theater was “White Fang”.
I’ve always had a love for the vast mountains, cabins, rivers, streams and high alpine country. Most of that is because I grew up on the Navajo Reservation. A land sacred to us and a government who thought was inhospitable.
Just a few days ago, my wife and I returned from our very first cruise. We celebrated her grandmother’s 80th birthday and they took all of us on this wonderful trip.
We started our plans at Thanksgiving and half of the family wanted to go somewhere in the Caribbean and the other half was rooting for Alaska. Obviously we were too!
All the votes were submitted and it all depended on Grandpa Kitchen. He did well and decided to go with Alaska!
We flew from Salt Lake City to Oakland and then on over to Seattle. The coolest thing was landing in Oakland and some random dude comes up and asks me: “Yaateh, shi kis. Are you Dine?”
We talked for a little bit and back in the 80’s and 90’s, C.L. Young lived in Page, Arizona and knew many of the local Navajo families. I couldn’t help but take a photo with him.
From there, we boarded the ship in Seattle. I was planning on meeting with Art Wolfe but the weather was wild in the desert Southwest so he was photographing in Southern Utah and Arizona. I was happy to hear he was out in the field (like he is often!).
We took a Norwegian Cruise and our ship was the Pearl.
We all had a wonderful time from the get go. Especially trying to round all 35 or so of us. Some drove to Seattle by way of Montana and luckily, no one missed their flight or had any delays!
Our trip took us to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria B.C and back to Seattle. Fortunately, we opted to get a large balcony view. I couldn’t consider missing the wildlife or islands with my telephoto lens.
If you are wondering, I had the following gear and all went well. Except the Fuji 617. I didn’t use it since we were always on the go or on a boat! And the lens on it is insanely sharp at f/32. With ISO 100 film, gotta have at least a few seconds!!!
In my Clik Elite Luminous 40, I packed:
* Nikon D810
* 2 Batteries
* Goal Zero Sherpa 100
* Goal Zero Nomad 20 solar panel
* Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens
* Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens
* Nikon 70-200 f/4 lens
* Nikon 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 (By the way, if you ever see these numbers on a lens and don’t know what they mean…. it’s pretty easy. At 80mm, you can use f/4.5 BUT at 400mm, you can’t. You can only use f/5.6 or greater like f/8, f/11, f/22 etc….) I rented this lens from Pictureline instead of packing the massive 200-400 f/4! It was a great choice because the 80-400mm was nearly the same weight and size as the 70-200 f/2.8! AND I was able to use my Singh-Ray Filters!
* Singh-Ray Filters: About 8 of them! From a 2 and 3 stop graduated in both soft and hard stops, circular polarizer, Mor-Slo 10 stop, LB Color Combo and the Hi-Lux.
* 67mm to 77mm filter adapter. (My 70-200 f/4 uses 67mm filters and all other lenses except the 14-24mm use the 77mm thread.)
* Filter Holder – Z model from Singh-Ray Filters.
In my Clik Elite Escape, I packed:
* Fuji 617 Panoramic Camera
* 2 rolls of 120 Fujichrome Velvia 50
* 2 rolls of 120 Ilford Delta 100
* Cable Release
* Pentax 1 degree analog spot meter
All camera’s had the Manfrotto RC4 plate to fit on my Manfrotto head. Model 468MGRC4. I packed my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod. Model GT4542LS.
In Seattle, I filmed a review (above image) of what I had in my Clik Elite packs and the two video’s will be on YouTube shortly. Subscribe here.
Stop 1: Juneau, Alaska!
We were able to see quite a few humpback whales, glaciers and chunks of floating ice! I’m still processing some images of the whales and seals. But for now, here’s a wonderful image of some floating ice:
The haze in the horizon line isn’t from anything on the lens. It was actually that warm in Alaska!!! The recent few weeks in Alaska had higher than normal temps and that was what I wanted to document. I used the Pictureline rental, the Nikon 80-400mm for this image. I’ve always enjoyed seeing chunks of ice in monochrome and not only that, photographing “white” and maintaining “white” can sometimes be a challenge. Each chunk of ice only lasts about 2-3 days at sea before it all melts away.
We also went to the Mendenhal Glacier and back in the day….. this glacier used to be a lot larger! I mean A LOT larger!!! It has decreased in size with much climate change! While there, we ate some ice worms. Just kidding. But ice worms do exist so don’t eat the ice!
The cool thing about the glaciers and our time here, Colton asked one of Anita’s cousins to marry him! The scene was pretty awesome and I’ll be honest, a really rad place. Emily said yes and that was one way to kick off the cruise!
We then moved on over to the next stop and the entire trip, we could see beautiful islands, glaciers, wildlife, seals, whales, killer whales and a lot of land….
Just looking out our balcony, this was about what we saw. EVERYWHERE!
Stop 2 (day 3, I think….) was all about Skagway and Canada:
Downtown Skagway early in the morning with no tourist in town but me:
Skagway is a really cool mini town! In the winter, there are about 900 residents and in the summer, it doubles. We couldn’t rent a car because they were all booked so we went to a local restaurant and read about what to do….
I went to AVIS and they were sold out and everyone picked up their car. Then I went to good ol’ Sourdough Rentals and they too said the same thing…. One of our family members rented from them and got their car.
Well, as I was getting ready to leave with JJ, the rustic guy with a cigarette in his hand said, “Well….. I just bought this new car (it had 156,000 miles on it…) and the passenger door won’t even open.” I told him that between JJ and I, we could get it open. IMMEDIATELY after I said that, he said “well, if you can, I’ll let you rent it for half off.” BOOM!
JJ and I were on it! And within 5 minutes, we had it opened and he was screamin’ and hollerin!!! He kept his word and I got to rent the green dragon, a Kia, for $50! The only problem was, we couldn’t lock the door or else it would get jammed again.
My wife (Anita) and I had our passports and we blazed out of there into Canada. We headed for Emerald Lake which seemed to be a local gem. Honestly, we got there, and I was a little let down. I took 3 photo’s and we took off. BUT the best part of it was the drive into Canada.
All sorts of buses, van’s and big group vehicles were in line, along with the train, at the border. Luckily I had my D810 handy and the 70-200 ready to go. I took a photo of the signs and one read “Passengers, Cars and Motorcycles”.
We were in the wrong line for 2 minutes but a waaaaaaaaaaays away from getting into Canada. I was antsy and got out of the long lane, pulled up to the Border guy, showed him our 2 passports and just like that, we were long gone! AFTER our move, other cars were doing the same thing.
While in line, we unbuckled and took the famous photo then we cut a lot of people off because we were in the green dragon, the Kia.
We drove by many monuments, rivers, lakes, mountains and more mountains. Then we got to Carcross, Yukon Territory Canada. One really cool building by the lake was this little guy:
My wife took the photo handheld using the 70-200 f/4. A plug for this lens. It’s one of my all-time favorite lens! I don’t need f/2.8 plus I saved just over $1000 and with the $10 67-77mm filter adapter, I could use all the filters from Singh-Ray! The lens is insanely sharp and incredibly light! Plus it has VR. If you have questions about this or a Canon version, contact the crew at Pictureline. They’ll help ya. (If you want to see how clear the image is, click on the one above and then hit back to continue reading.)
After Emerald Lake, Carcross and a few other places, we drove back to Skagway and spent the rest of the time eating some monster crab legs! Tasty stuff! The weather by this time had started to sprinkle and that was the worst the weather got the entire trip! It was beautiful!
We then got back on the Pearl and we were off to the next stop.
Stop #3 was at sea. Glacier Bay National Park. We didn’t get off the boat but we were able to see so many beautiful glaciers and the many that were melting and falling into the sea.
Stop #4 (day 5…. I think….) was in Ketchikan.
Ketchikan was a pretty cool stop. We got to see the Lumberjack show and Anita had a lot of fun. I took some photo’s of these dudes throwing axes, climbing huge log poles, running on logs in the water and a few other competitive games. All in all, we had a great time at the show.
After this, we went for a walk and it was good to stretch out the toes and feet! We went to the Totem Pole park and also had a chance to visit a museum. Seeing these Totem Poles that were hundreds of years old was a powerful thing for me!!!
They were carved by a beautiful people and the stories were great to read!
We bought a lot of art from local artists and made sure to know their meanings and stories. Through art and photography, we’ve been able to teach Denali (and others) quite a bit about the planet and we continue to plan these many trips for them.
Aside from the beautiful Totem Poles and local art, one of the coolest things I saw was this plaque. It reminded me much of Grandpa King Fowler who was a Navajo Code Talker, my uncles and cousins who served in the military.
(By the way, if you want to read some great short stories about Native American’s in the military, click here. It’s an awesome quick read!)
After Ketchikan, we were off to the next stop – Victoria, B.C.
Stop 5 Victoria, B.C. – Canada, killer whales, private boat:
This was probably one of my most favorite stops. I wish we would have spent more time here than we had in Skagway.
We were able to hire a private boat for our small group of 9. Grandpa Kitchen also hung out with us and we saw a ton of Orca’s!!! A ton! These killer whales were something to see. For me, it was one of the highlights of the trip!
Having just spent a lot of time in Ketchikan about the Totem Poles and killer whales, this was the time to see them! And that we did.
I took hundreds of great photo’s using the 70-200 and the 80-400 rental. Both worked wonderful and I was able to use polarizers too! I also used the 2 stop graduated neutral density filters. (If you don’t know what that is, check out my quick video here….These are very helpful tools! Very helpful!)
This is one of my LUCKY images I did by guessing! We had been surrounded by a few killer whales and so we did the obvious, turned off the motor.
Within a few minutes of drifting about, one orca came up right in front of the boat. At that time, I was seeing how close to the water I could get just in case one were to come up AND at that moment one did!
Luckily, I had my focus in the right area, 3D tracking and f/8 with ISO 800! And voila, the lucky one! Be sure to click on the photo then magnify the image again. The water came out crisp!
To the Tlingit and the First Nation People, these killer whales have a significant role in spirituality. If you haven’t seen “The Whale”, do so. It’s on Netflix. It’s a great view on an Orca named Luna. Watch it and you’ll be happy you did
As the cruise came to an end, we had a dynamite sunset that sent us back to the Pearl.
As we were pulling in, we got to see how large this ship really was. This sucker was a monster! A huge boat. I’ve always wondered how on earth these things and jumbo planes are made to do what they do. Engineering is incredible!
As we got back, we had to take a quick selfie with Pearl.
All in all, we had a wonderful time on our very first cruise. Now it’ll be about visiting different locations on our own and spending more time there. The only downer was not having more time in each place. Especially Juneau and Victoria.
But anytime we spend together as family, is the best time. We had a great week away without the kiddo’s and enjoyed photographing a few things that have been on both of our things to see and things to do list.
The Super Kitchens and out pet dolphin.
We dominated basketball, tennis, shuffle board, bowling and even karaoke. I’m sure I had Johnny Cash and Elvis rolling in their graves when I destroyed their good music! CCR? I was way off tune with “Travelling Band”. Then I found Hank Williams Jr but decided to hang up the mic.
PS: I took this sunset photo in Victoria. My mom always told me that “when a sun set’s on one adventure, it only rises for another”. Up next? Southern California and either New Zealand or Iceland. (I’m thinking New Zealand!!!)