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halibut

Alaska, American Bald Eagle Foundation, brown bears, Chilkat, Chilkoot, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Haines, Haines Brewery, harbor seals, Heather Lende, Holland America, Merlin, salmon spawning, totems

Day 7: On Land in Haines

The little bit of prep and research I did for this trip left me excited about Haines. While most cruise ships dock in neighboring Skagway, just a 45-minute ferry ride away, I felt fortunate to be docking in the so say less-touristy town of Haines.

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The welcome sign on Haines’ pier.

We dock around 9:30, but by the time we’ve had breakfast, got ourselves together and bundled up in our rain gear, it’s close to 11:30 before we leave the boat. The weather is still gloomy and gray, and we’re told if we want to stand out as tourists, carry an umbrella, so we opt for rain jackets and hats. Fortunately, while it looks like it’s raining, it’s really only a light mist that seems to hang in the air instead of soaking us.

With no scheduled tours, we’re on our own agenda today, and we stop at a little information booth at the end of the pier. A lovely big teddy bear of a man from Molokai, Hawaii is working the booth and tells us a little bit about what to see and do in Haines. Within minutes, we’ve planned the afternoon.

First on the agenda is to take the town shuttle around its loop. This won’t even take 15 minutes – so we’re told not to blink. We wait a few minutes for the shuttle, which is an old, painted school bus, and Tara picks us up and welcomes us in her bright, bubbly way. She tells us a little about Haines – a town that relies on tourism in the summer and commercial fishing in the winter. The population is 2,500 in the summertime, but drops to 2,000 in the winter. She says only those worth their weight in gold are allowed to stay. You get the sense that because of its size, Haines is a tight knit community.

Tara isn’t your typical bus driver. She’s probably in her late 30s, and besides from driving the shuttle, she escorts ambassadors and other political figures visiting Haines, chaperones the local soccer team on their away games (think Ketchikan and other far-flung Alaskan cities) and also heads up the Animal Rescue Center. She points out the things to see – the American Bald Eagle Foundation, The Hammer Museum, the brewery, the best place for fish and chips and the one grocery store in town.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re back at the info booth, and we have five minutes left before Viva of Anytime Taxi & Tours picks us up for our 2-hour tour to Chilkoot River. Bear and moose sightings are possible, and after Viva loads the eight of us in to the minivan taxi, she tells us we’re headed straight to the river to see Speedy, a brown bear, and her two cubs who were feeding there earlier in the morning.  I’d be lying if I said I wanted to see any more of Haines. What I’m dying to see is a brown bear, up close and in its own environment. We drive for about 30 minutes out of town, and all I can think is how there’s a pretty foul stench in the van. Maybe someone isn’t feeling well, but when Viva stops and opens the sliding door to let us all out, I realize the smell is on the outside.

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Speedy and one of her cubs at the Chilkoot River.

Viva explains that it’s the end of spawning season for the pink, or ‘humpy,’ salmon and the riverbeds are covered with dead fish. The next to spawn are silver, or coho, salmon, and near the riverbank, you can see schools of these salmon swimming upstream.

Not too far off in the distance are Speedy and her two cubs, working their way up the riverbank. Speedy is in the river most of the time catching fish for her two cubs that stay nearby. Viva explains how particular Speedy is, pointing out how she picks up a couple of fish with her paws and pads at them making sure the fish is not too mushy. If it is, Speedy might eat the eggs or the head and toss the body back, looking for a firmer fish body for her cubs. They work their way upriver, away from the bridge we’re standing on. Downriver are five or six harbor seals who are also making their way upstream.

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Chilkat Lake.

We jump back in the van and head further away from Haines to Chilkat Lake. Again, we see ripples as salmon enter the lake from the river and propel themselves out of the water. A couple of fisherman cast out into the lake, and a thick fog hangs in the air.

We stay for a few minutes to take in the view. Behind us is a campground and a couple of people are taking kayaks out of the lake and calling it a day due to the weather.

Viva takes us back down towards Haines, stopping to show us an eagle’s nest and a totem pole carved by a local artisan. She also points out the remnants of a landslide in the distance. This natural disaster occurred in 1902 and levled the old village. It was then moved to present-day Haines.

Viva makes one more stop on the way back into town to show us the view of Haines from across the harbor. Up above, a bald eagle circles, which she explains is good luck.

Back in town, Viva drops us near the ATM so we can pay her for the tour and points out the fish & chip shop across the road. We head there for lunch and split one portion of halibut fish and chips, complete with smiley face french fries. The food fills us and warms us and we set out to see a few of the attractions in the town.

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We walk to the American Bald Eagle Foundation which functions as a museum and a live raptor center, so not only are we able to see two captive bald eagles, a merlin (falcon) and a Eurasian eagle owl, we’re also able to see a collection of indigenous animals that have been preserved and put on display within the museum- bears, moose, elk, owls, and falcons to name a few. We learn that the foundation functions as a preserve for bald eagles, and it’s appropriate that they are situated here – after all, Haines has the largest concentration of wild bald eagles in the world.

From the museum, we’re a bit limited on time, so we opt for a trip to the local brewery instead of the hammer museum. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do like a brewery and find it’s a place where you can often catch locals hanging out and mingling.

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Haines Brewery.

The brewery opened in 1999, but they have just opened the new location, and they’re literally still moving in and decorating when we arrive. We have time to sample a few of the local brews. Our favorites: Eldred Rock Red, Lookout Stout and Spruce Tip Ale.

From here, we head back to the boat on foot, making a quick pit stop in the bookshop, Babbling Book, to pick up local Haines author Heather Lende’s latest book, Find The Good. Lende has published two other novels, but this book is a collection of the life lessons she learned while working as the obituary writer in Haines. We pick up a signed copy and make our way back to the Zaandam.

We walk with the water on our left and spot a Bald Eagle perched on a pier post. Twenty minutes later when we arrive at the pier to board the cruise ship, he’s still sitting there, perched and observing. IMG_2001

Haines has been our first stop since boarding the boat two days ago. It’s been nice to be on land, to explore and to see so much of what makes up Alaska, all rolled into such a small town, with little more than 2,000 people. We’ve seen here what many people spend weeks in Alaska seeking to see, and we’ve only spent six hours. It seems like life is simple here… alright, the winters might be long and brutal, but it seems like the people of Haines have figured something out… they have the ability to find the good.

Useful Links:

Anytime Taxi & Tours with Viva & David Landry: anytimetaxi247@gmail.com

American Bald Eagle Foundation:  http://baldeagles.org/home

Haines Brewery: http://www.hainesbrewing.com/

Babbling Book Bookshop: http://www.haines.ak.us/node/210

Heather Lende: http://www.heatherlende.com/find-good

The Bamboo Room: http://www.bamboopioneer.net/