Petersburg is different from other Southeast Alaska communities because of its Norwegian heritage. It’s a neat community of about three thousand in population with prim houses that often have many brightly colored flowering hanging baskets. Nicely cared for yards are the norm.
Because of the Norwegian heritage, it’s a fishing village. It’s a three seafood-processing town with the largest halibut fleet in Southeast. At the local museum, a video about the town is titled, “Petersburg—The Town that Fishing Built.”
Petersburg doesn’t have activities planned around tourists. Cruise ships don’t stop here, except for an occasional “exploration” vessel. Therefore main-street doesn’t have curio and T-shirt shops! Main street does have a wonderful hardware and general store along with businesses that serve the canneries and workers.
As our ferry approached the dock after the eleven hour trip from Sitka, those of us standing on the outside decks smelled the fish canneries.
Leaving the ferry terminal, we headed south on the Mitkof Highway. About six miles later we passed the Twin Creeks RV campground where I’d made reservations. Because I hadn’t given our credit-card to hold the reservation, we drove right on by. It wasn’t attractive in the least bit!
Three miles further south, a total of about nine miles from down-town, we set-up in the Trees RV Park & General Store. It’s a nice campground with a dozen sites. The name describes it’s setting, “in the trees.” A few minutes later Larry and Jeanne pulled in.
It was a gorgeous sixty-seven degree late afternoon. Jeanne had asked the campground manager about things to see and do in the area.
We all got into our car and drove further “out” to an area called the rapids on Blind River. A boardwalk took us down to the river. The rapids on the river are near the end of a bay. There were three people salmon fishing. Two of them had already caught silver’s. They told us that a few minutes earlier there’d been a large black bear about a hundred yards down-stream on our side of the river. It had gone into the woods.
However, across the river was a black bear. It was a couple hundred yards away, meandering down-stream towards the bay. It was looking for salmon when it crossed the river. Then it too went into the woods.
That area was about half a mile from the end of the bay. We were there at low-tide. At high-tide the area where we stood would be under water. So would the rapids. The tidal surge pushes the salmon over the rapids. That’s where other bears look for salmon to eat! We didn’t see any bears up-river.
From there we drove back into Petersburg. First we located the harbor and dock where we’d go the following morning to board the MV Juno for an all-day whale watching trip.
Close by was the Hammer Slough, lined by stilt houses. The water was perfectly still and it was near sunset. Our cameras took some really nice photos!
Driving along Petersburg’s main street, Nordic Drive, we saw a large number of young men. Many were wearing Tuf boots. Not only are these boots necessary wear for those in the fishing industry, they also seem to be a fashion statement in Southeast Alaska. Mary Anne and Jeanne tried to get pictures from the car of guys wearing these.
The next day Captain Don of the MV Juno told us that this year’s unexpectedly high salmon run had brought more cannery workers into town than normally. He said they were mainly from eastern European countries and housed in tents erected inside portable round top garage-type structures.
Captain Don also told me that he’d been walking down-town the night before and saw our slow-moving car with the windows open and Mary Anne and Jeanne in the back-seat, trying to take pictures! When you’re in a small town where everyone knows everyone, it’s apparently easy to keep track of who arrives on the Alaska ferry.
That evening, and again the next morning on the whale expedition boat, Devil’s Thumb was clearly visible across the Wrangell Narrows. This distinctive 9,077' spire was written about by John Krakauer in two of his books, Eiger Dreams and Into the Wild. It’s described in Wikipedia, too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devils_Thumb
By 7:30 AM the next day we were boarding Captain Don Holmes’ MV Juno for an all-day humpback whale watching quest. Don has been a Petersburg resident for nearly twenty years. He retired this year after many years of teaching in the two-hundred student high-school. He was knowledgeable, informative, and entertaining.
Don’s boat cruised along at 10-12 knots, depending on tidal flow and wind. Three and a half hours later we’d crossed Frederick Sound. We’d come down that Sound on the ferry the day before and hadn’t seen any whales. Even though Capt. Don assured us we’d see whales, we weren’t so sure. Until we did!
For nearly three hours we saw three different pods of humpback whales! Each of the pods had 7-12 whales.
Regulations required that the boat be about a hundred yards away. With the motor shut-off, we could hear clearly hear the many sounds made by the surfacing whales. Not only did we hear and see the explosive “venting” when the whales surfaced, we also heard barking-like sounds, some screaming sounds and even bellowing sounds.
The first pod was feeding on herring, swimming in a circle about half to a mile in diameter. Often the whales would surface very near to the boat. There were several times when the diving whales were so close to the boat that the tail-fluke completely filled my camera’s view-finder.
We saw one whale breach. But none of us got a picture of that. We heard over the boat radio that another whale-watching boat had observed at least one “bubblenet feeding” by one of the pods. None of the pods that we saw favored us with that activity, however.
Often it was difficult deciding where to point the cameras. Mary Anne had difficulty with her “point & shoot” LED-only camera. She switched to my camera with a view-finder. I concentrated on using our video camera. I promise to edit-out some of my descriptive frustrations. Then again, maybe not! When I get the video finished, I think it’ll be really good because I not only filmed the whales in motion, the camera clearly picked up many of the whales’ sounds.
What a wonderful day it was! We hadn’t planned to do anything like this, since we’d had a really good whale-watching trip out of Juneau two years ago. If interested, go to: http://www.mytripjournal.com/travel-471231. But Jeanne had set this trip up for Larry and herself. She enthusiastically talked about it, so we decided to go along. We were so glad that she had and that we did that eleventh hour trip.
Here’s the web-site for Capt. Don and his boat: http://www.mvjuno.com/
When I up-loaded our still-pictures onto the lap-top that evening, Mary Anne and I each had taken about two hundred fifty pictures. Both of us had dozens of pictures of the water, the sky, backs of others’ heads, ripples and splashes of where the whales had been, to say nothing of out-of-focus shots! There were a lot of pictures deleted!
By seven o’clock the following morning, Larry and Jeanne were back at the ferry terminal with their RV, headed for Wrangell. We really enjoyed spending the previous week with them, and look forward to future meetings.
One afternoon, a couple of days later, we had lunch near the harbors in town. Then we circumvented most of the island, driving on one-lane gravel road. Top speed was about 25 mph. On the east side of the island we could see the water leading to the Wrangell Narrows. It was a beautiful drive, especially with the low-hanging clouds and occasional light showers.
Mary Anne’s job was to be on the look-out for bears. She kept her camera at the ready, hoping that would contribute to bear sightings. Finally, we saw a mama bear with a young cub crossing the road. They were a couple of hundred feet down the road. The mama bear looked our direction. She then quickly lead her cub into the woods. This happened so quickly that we couldn’t get our camera’s turned on and pictures taken. But we saw black bears!
The day before we left Petersburg, we saw several Sitka black-tail deer grazing along the highway near the RV Park. These deer are rather tiny, compared to Pacific NW white-tail deer.