And then I saw 10 ton animals and learned about fish I was going to eat!

After the thrill of sliding down the mountain in a canvas sling wore off, I swear I was glowing for the rest of the day. Riding this blue marble around for almost three decades by the time this trip happened, at no point had I ever done anything remotely like that activity. As we stood at the railing of the ship and watched Hoonah fade into the misty fog that had developed, I pondered what the next day would bring. Day 1 was so fascinating and exhilarating! The next port day was going to be Juneau, Alaska.  In this port the family decided to go whale watching and have lunch out on this remote little island at a place called Orca Point Lodge. We would be taking the hour or so boat tour out to see Mendenhall Glacier, whales, and then to this lodge for a salmon lunch. 

The view from our whale watching vessel heading out to Orca Point Lodge.

The tour started with the group boarding our double-decker floating whale watching tower. Now I get seasick, and so far on the giant floating hotel I had lived on for a few days by this point I was ok, but the idea of spending any time on a small boat makes my stomach ill.  I’m happy to say the boat was fairly stable (I mean it IS still on the water) and the water was fairly calm, but I kept my fingers crossed it would stay that way for our trip back as well. (If you haven’t discovered by this point I’m slightly Type A and married to someone who is worse than I am! This whole trip was a big expansion of our comfort bubble!)  Happily, the whales were in the area, and we even got to see humpback whales bubble net feeding! I will admit, I am college educated and taken several biology classes thanks to my major, but I had no idea what bubble net feeding was before this adventure. (I highly recommend watching some You Tube videos on this behavior, it is fascinating!).  The birds that live and depended on the water would give away the location of the net before we could see the whales. We could watch them dive bomb the water within a small area and we knew within a few seconds we would see the whales come bursting up through the water, catching krill in their giant extended mouths. Almost ten years later I still remember these moments distinctly! We even got to touch a piece of the filter inside the whale’s mouth that was on our whale watching boat!

Humpback whales coming up to catch krill that were trapped in their bubble net.

On land, we were greeted at the end of the floating dock (because many places in Alaska experience significant tide height changes, so almost everywhere we went had floating docks) with the smell of salmon being cooked on their outside grill. Roasting right next to it was corn on the cob covered in salt and pepper, it was olfactory heaven! The chefs were talking about the island, the fact there are just three or four year round residents. They were giving people salmon cooking tips, explaining what the salmon was marinated in, the differences in the types of salmon native to the area, and the salmon life cycle. Just truly fascinating to learn about this, and a little ironic right before we ate one of them! 

The view of Orca Point Lodge from our whale watching vessel. The views from the island were amazing and wandering the shore line around the Lodge allowed us to see more of the ecosystem that is southeastern Alaska.

During lunch we all sat at a long picnic table and I just had to admire the family. I married into this group, this was my spouse’s family. Up to this point I had not spent a bunch of time with them. My spouse is an active duty service member and we had spent a significant time at our various duty stations. Sea duty makes traveling out of the area harder because his boat was leaving for work ups, hurricane season made evacuations happening randomly, and I was in grad school. The rest of his family lived within about a 30 mile radius of each other, had the same occupations, groups of friends, and got to see other relatives frequently. They routinely got to spend birthdays and holidays together, where it was a rare chance for us to come home for such events. We often felt left out – these were the days before social media and services like video chatting were ‘a thing’. Yet, here we were at Orca Point Lodge. We were laughing and talking at the table as a whole. Recanting whale sightings and what the guides said, everyone was smiling and happy. There was talk of family cookouts with salmon! I didn’t grow up in a big close knit family, so these moments were pure gold for me. Eventually the afternoon wore on and we were about to board the small boat to head back to solid land and back to our floating hotel.  The wind picked up a bit and now my stomach was full of food, but I made it without incident! WIN!

After the tour brought us back to the city, we walked quickly through downtown Juneau collecting our trinkets, unsure if and when we would be back. We were running tight on time so being able to lollygag in the city and really take in the sights wasn’t possible on this trip. The day was already amazing for me. Memories were made I knew I wouldn’t forget at any point in the near future for sure. Almost ten years later I still remember this trip well. I have been back to Orca Point Lodge with my spouse when we took another trip to Alaska, but it wasn’t the same as that initial visit. The lodge itself was the same, the floating dock and the island identical, but it didn’t have the same character it had before. The Lodge has been sold to another entity, a company from what I could tell. It now had a formal gift store, the chef explanation of the fish outside no longer happening, and no one to talk about the island and the facility.  To someone who didn’t have the memories we had, they would not have noticed the differences.  They were not necessarily bad changes, but like many of us, we were trying to relive a fun memory. We wanted all the physical things in place, to try and relive that same experience from so many years before. Yet, even if the Lodge were EXACTLY the same it was all those years before, we were missing six very important things, the members of our family.  While the day was great because we got to see whales and learn about salmon, the real experience I loved the most was time spent with family. To think, up until about two weeks before this trip we didn’t want to go and so far we were having an amazing time!

Sunset in Alaska. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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