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Alaska and the Yukon:
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The 2008 Artpoints Tour of Alaska and the Yukon concludes

We visit Skagway and enjoy a day of cruising in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Ketchikan's historic and contemporary totem poles

saxmans native village
Painted screen in the long house at Saxman's native Village

skagway, smugglers cove Smugglers Coverock textureBeach rocks and shells at Smugglers Cove, Skagway, Alaska

After getting settled in our Skagway hotel, we ventured out for an easy hike to “Smuggler’s Cove”. The next day, we boarded our cruise ship, the Ryndam in the morning and got settled in our cabin. We were very, very glad to be sleeping in the same bed for four nights after the frantic pace of our tour.  After lunch, we disembarked for a hike circling Lower Dewey Lake above town.

skagway

The return half of the loop hike was more challenging than we expected and we barely made it back to the ship in time for the mandatory life jacket safety drill.

A few words here about the Ryndam, our Holland America ship. We had a lovely, compact outside cabin with a large window and a very comfortable bed. We particularly enjoyed room service for breakfast. The staff is mostly Indonesian, reflecting the historic links between the Netherlands and Indonesia. The service in the main dining room was gracious and the meals were well prepared. To our relief, the portions were reasonable, not so large that we had to waste food. The ship never felt crowded, there was always plenty of room on the deck for scenery viewing or in the “Crow’s Nest” the glass observation lounge at the top of the ship.  Jim needed to visit the ship’s medical facility to get a prescription and found them to be friendly and professional.  All in all, it was great to live in such luxury after the rigors of our whirlwind tour of Alaska and the Yukon.

for the cure Jim and Bonnie after "For the Cure"

Our last day on board, we participated in a 5k walk around the deck to benefit the Susan Komen Foundation's campaign to find a cure for breast cancer.

We looked forward to a full day at sea cruising to Glacier Bay.

glacier bay
Entering Glacier Bay, Russell Island on the right

glacier bay
Glacier Bay, the Margerie Glacier
glacier bay
Glacier Bay, the Margerie Glacier

Our day in Glacier Bay was mostly spent out on the deck of the Ryndam. It was a clear warm day. We found it difficult to comprehend the scale of what we were seeing. The booming sound of the calving glacier reached our ears about two seconds after the ice fell, so it must have been around two miles away. In the course of the day, we spotted several grizzly bears on the shore and saw whales, seals, otters and bald eagles in addition to many other waterbirds. Words cannot convey the experience of confronting nature in Alaska. I can only share our pictures and hope that you have the opportunity to see it for yourself.

ketchiken
Creek Street, Ketchikan's former red light district.

Ketchikan was our only port before Vancouver and home. We were now in the temperate coastal zone of Alaska, home to the Tinglit and Haida nations. Here we would see firsthand the artistry of totem pole carvers, woodworkers and traditonal builders.

tlingit long house

tlingit long house
Local children "emerging" from the magnificent painted screen in the long house at Saxman Native Village

We had heard that the weather is usually rainy there and were relieved that it was only overcast and drizzly. The locals say that they measure rain in feet rather than inches. Ketchikan is famous for totem poles carved by the Tlingit people. We took a taxi a few miles out of town to Saxman Native Village where we saw a great collection of historic and contemporary totems.

totem carver
Contemporary Tlingit totem carver with commissioned poles at Saxman Native Village.
totem carver totem pole totem detailWeathered totem detail
Contemporary totem pole with halibut design
totem board
Totem board dated July 4, 1918

totem pole
Contemporary totem pole being cleaned outside the Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska
This pole was erected to commemorate all of the people who worked to establish the Center.

old totem totem
Weathered totem poles from the Totem Heritage Center.

We also walked to the Totem Heritage Center in town, where endangered 19th century totem poles retrieved from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites near Ketchikan are presserved. Those magnificent, original poles are displayed at the Center in conjunction with other totems and Native Alaskan artifacts.

In Conclusion

After 17 days in Alaska and the Yukon Territories, we had much to reflect on. As tourists, we had fleeting impressions of the diverse forces that operate in contemporary Alaska. We saw much reverence for the Native art and cultures of the Arctic and coastal areas, and also run-down trailer parks mostly inhabited by Native peoples. Alaskans love their land, and they must use its resources to survive. Projects like the northern oilfields and the Alyeska Pipeline bring prosperity, but forever change the pristine land, sea and wildlife.

It is difficult to survive through the long, dark, frozen winters. Year-round employment is scarce, so people must scramble to make a year's income during the few months of Summer.

Many Alaskans use those long winters to produce creative work. We saw carvings in ivory and wood, jewelry and other crafts produced with impressive skill and attention to detail. We also were impressed by painting, printmaking, digital media and photography that grappled with the cultural and economic contradictions of this great land.

All of the Alaskans we met were fiercely proud of their state, but not always for the same reasons. Some celebrated the prospectors, outlaws and saloon women of the gold rush. Others worked in the tradition of Sydney Laurence and Thomas Hill, depicting the grandeur of the landscape. First Nations and non-native artists both worked with the themes and materials of traditional subsistence cultures. Hunters, fishermen and the wildlife they pursue are also common themes. Many artists produced work with traditional themes and materials that could have been done 200 years ago. Others worked in modern mediums with contemporary artistic themes. The Alaskan lifestyle has historically focused on creativity.

Before the arrival of Europeans, the First Nations cultures used the long winter months to produce stories, art and hand crafts that are among the richest in the world,and this tradition continues today. A visit to the scores of museums, art schools and gift shops bring the visitor into contact with some of the most beautiful artwork being produced in the world today.

 

 

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