March 27, 2010

Sitka, Alaska

I traveled to Sitka, Alaska in November of 2009.

Let me just say, I could move to Sitka.

Sitka, Alaska is a city located on the west side of Baranof Island, which is located in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean. Like Wrangell, Sitka is located in the Alaska panhandle. With just under 9,000 citizens, Sitka is the fourth largest city by population in the state of Alaska.

Interestingly, Sitka is the second largest incorporated city by area in the United States (4,800 square miles) following only Yakatat, Alaska (9,459 square miles).

Jacksonville, FL is the largest city in area in the lower 48 states (758 square miles).

Sitka was originally settled by the native Tlingit people, but was founded in 1799 by Alexandr Baranov, the governor of Russian America and auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. When Baranov arrived to Sitka, the Tlingit became immediately hostile "understanding that submission to the Russians meant slave labor to the fur trade company." The Tlingit killed almost every Russian and slave (Aleut Natives, whom were captured as slaves from the Aleutian Islands in the 1700s) at Baranov's post, which was just north of present day Sitka.

Baranov returned in 1804. For six days the Tlingit fought the Russians but were eventually outgunned and forced to leave the fort (this battle later became known as the "Battle of Sitka"). The Russians renamed the settlement New Archangel. What later became known as "Castle Hill," Russian Orthodox Church clergy "took up residency and fortress-like structures replaced native clan houses."

In 1808 Baranov designated Sitka as the capitol of Russian America.

Sitka originally grew due to gold mining and fish canning; however, it was not until the Navy built an air base on Japonski Island during WWII that Sitka really flourished. The air base brought approximately 30,000 service people to the area.

Sitka sits on two islands, Baranof Island and Japonski Island, which are connected by the O'Connell Bridge (shown above), the first cable-stayed bridge built in the Western Hemisphere.

Japonski Island (the island to the right in the above picture) is home to Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, the Sitka branch of the University of Alaska Southeast (the main branch is in Juneau), Mt. Edgecumbe High School (a state run boarding school for Alaska Natives), a U.S. Coast Guard air station, and SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). SEARHC is a non-profit tribal health consortium of 18 native communities, serving the health interests of the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Native people of Southeast Alaska. Like other tribal health facilities in Alaska (and many of the health clinics I visit), SEARHC was established in 1975 under the Indian Self-Determination Act. This legislation turned over Indian Health Service (IHS) programs and facilities to tribal management.


While in Sitka, I stayed at Otter's Cove Bed & Breakfast (view from back of house B&B above, courtesy of Otter's Cove B & B). Otter's Cove is a contemporary B & B in the basement of a large home.


I stayed in the "Whale Room."

Otter's Cove is about 3 miles outside of Sitka and has a astonishing view of Mt. Edgecumbe (I took the above picture my first morning in Sitka), a dormant volcano on the southern end of Kruzof Island. At 1,301 ft high, Mt. Edgecumbe can easily be ascended in a day.

Strangely enough, on April Fool's Day in 1974, a local Sitka prankster named Porky Bickar flew into the volcano and ignited 100 old tires in the crater, convincing residents that the volcano was erupting (read more about the joke here:

One of the main streets in Sitka. The building to the right is home to "Old Harbor Books" and "The Backdoor" which is a book store and coffee shop, respectively. Allen and I stopped here for coffee both mornings.

A view of the Sitka harbor (above picture and below picture). How pleasant would it be to pass by this on your way to work every morning?!

March 13, 2010

Wrangell, Alaska, 2009.

May of 2009 was my first time in Wrangell, Alaska. Fortunately it was a beautiful couple of days in South East Alaska.

I also traveled to Wrangell in November of 2009.

The pictures with snow are from that trip (all at the end of the entry).

Wrangell sits on the northern tip of Wrangell Island, an island in the Alaska Panhandle, and is about 155 miles south of Juneau. Roughly 2,300 people live in Wrangell which was incorporated as the "City and Borough of Wrangell" in June 2008. Previously, Wrangell had been a part of the Wrangell-Petersburg Censes Area.

Wrangell is one of the oldest non-native settlements in Alaska and is the primary settlement for the Stikine Tinglit Natives. In 1811 the Russian government began fur trading with the Tinglit. This practice lasted until 1867, when Alaska was purchased by the United States. Ft. Wrangell was built in 1868 as a U.S. military post and remained active until 1877. Gold prospectors continued to settle the area through the late 1800s until the fishing industry began contributing to the city's growth in the early 20th century. In the 1950's logging also became a mainstay of the economy.

In 1877 the first Presbyterian church in Alaska (also the first protestant church of any kind in Alaska) was founded by S. Hall Young, a colleague of Sheldon Jackson. Young also founded the Fort Wrangell Tlingit Industrial School to teach young Tlingit (Alaska Native tribe in the Wrangell area) men various American trades. Parallel to Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, AK, the Industrial School became Wrangell Institute, a boarding school for Alaska Natives.

Wrangell is also home to The Wrangell Sentinel (, which was first printed in 1902 and is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Alaska.

Alaska Island Community Services ( is a comprehensive health care center for the Wrangell. This clinic also holds the grant from the State of Alaska in which I provide technical assistance.

Hence the reason I visited Wrangell...

and was able to stay at the beautiful Roony's Roost ( bed and breakfast nestled in downtown Wrangell.

Second generation operators of Rooney's Roost, Gordon and Becky Roony have renovated and furnished the house to have a feel of 1900s Alaska. Possibly the best "breakfast" I have experienced while staying at bed and breakfasts, Rooney's Roost is the ultimate experience when staying in Wrangell.

This is a picture of Wrangell looking west (toward the water) from Rooney's.

Only accessible by boat or plane, Wrangell sits nestled within the Tongass National Forest, which at 17 million acres is the largest national forest in the United States and the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world.

Looking out at the Zimovia Strait, part of the Inside Passage.

The James and Elsie Nolan Center (

This building has a meeting room, gift shop with Alaska Native art work and crafts, and also a theatre that features one
new-but-not-really movie every week.

Another view of Wrangell.

Wrangell has a number of totem poles in the community due to the rich Tinglit culture. These poles are amazing, often taking many months or even a year to construct.

There are several different types of totem poles. Genealogy poles were usually erected in front of a home to identify the status and clan of the owner. Memorial poles were raised in honor of a deceased clan member, while mortuary poles served the same purpose but included a compartment for the ashes of the deceased. Shame poles were carved to "shame" a person who had wronged the clan or village, but these poles were usually taken down after the offending person had made an appropriate reparation. Other poles were built to depict a myth or legend or to honor an important event taking place in the village.

Interestingly, early missionaries thought totem poles were worshipped as gods and encouraged them to be burned.

Today native carvers along the Northwest coast continue to carve totem poles as an expression of cultural pride and traditions in addition to clan kinship. Though the use of totem poles has changed, they are considered authentic if produced according to traditional rules by a carver who is trained and sanctioned by a Northwest coast tribe and are raised and blessed by elders who are a part of the totem pole tradiation. Poles not carved with these traditions are considered fake.

Above are three poles in Totem Pole Park. The poles depict from left to right, a raven, a one legged fisherman, and a killer whale.

According to an article in Native American/First Nations History colors of totem poles were limited by the availability of natural pigments. Black, the most common, was made by grinding soot, graphite, or charcoal with pulverized salmon eggs. Red, which was used for secondary elements, came from red ochre. Blue-green, used for highlighting, was made from copper sulfite.

Common figures found on totem poles include a raven, a symbol of the creator; an eagle, which represents peace and friendship; a killer whale, a symbol for strength; and a thunderbird; beaver; bear; wolf; and frog, which are all common symbols used in Alaska Native art.

So, essentially the phrase "low man on the totem pole" is incorrectly used since the bottom figure of a totem pole was most often the most important figure...and usually, that bottom figure was NOT a man.

Above is a closer look at the totem pole depicting a killer whale.

A view of the harbor.

I took this picture when I was sitting on the plane waiting for the take off.

Below are the waters of the Inside Passage as we were departing for Petersburg - a 12 minute flight.

Because of "puddle jumper" routes, a flight from Anchorage to Wrangell takes about four and a half hours, with only about two and a half hours of flight time. Typically, the flight will consist of a layover in Juneau and Petersburg before landing in Wrangell. Often times this plane will continue on to Ketchikan, Alaska, and then Seattle, Washington.

After taking off from Petersburg, Alaska, headed for Juneau, Alaska.

The following pictures are from when I visited Wrangell in November of 2009. My second trip to Wrangell was also a great experience, even though I stayed in the same bed and breakfast, drank coffee from the same coffee shop, and ate at the exact same restaurants.

March 10, 2010

i love Juneau.

My third time in second time staying at the Silverbow Inn. If you go to Juneau, stay at the Silverbow Inn. It is a great bed and breakfast ( in the middle of Juneau's historic downtown. Although the building was built in 1914, the rooms are newly reconstructed with European style charm.

If you stay at the inn, you get a ticket for a free breakfast at the bakery, which so happens to be the longest running bakery in the big state of Alaska.

Yes, free...and when you collect $20 in per diem for every meal when traveling, a free breakfast is change in your pocket.

Always a good thing.

However, this bakery is so worth the money. They make their own bagels by boiling and then baking them and also make their own cream cheeses. I had a multigrain bagel with peanut butter. My stomach felt like a rock after, but it was good with more peanut butter slathered on top than I could ever have requested.

Juneau is located on the Gastineau Channel in the panhandle of Alaska. It has been the capitol of Alaska since 1906, when the government of the Alaska Territory was moved from Sitka (also in SE Alaska). The municipality unified in 1970 when Juneau merged with the city of Douglas and the surrounding borough, which is bigger than both Delaware and Rhode Island and almost bigger than the two states combined.

Anyway, downtown Juneau actually sits at sea level and is built into the side of Mount Juneau. The city is beautiful, as you can see below.

The weather was snowy, sunny, windy, cold, balmy, and rainy while I was in Juneau. Literally, weather passes through this town like I have never seen before. Sitting in Yakatat waiting for our plane to take off for Juneau on Sunday, we had an hour lay over due to "two snow storms that moved through the pass." It was crazy.

Above is Bartlett Regional Hospital's "Tobacco Free Campus" sign.

I think it is a very nice sign.

Monday night we attended a presentation by Dr. Richard Hurt, who is the Director of the Nicotine Dependence Center and a Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. A true leader in the field of tobacco, Dr. Hurt actually testified in the multi-state Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement against the largest tobacco companies. Because of his successful testimony, I have a job.

Thank you Dr. Hurt.

One other thing I should mention about Dr. Hurt is that as an undergraduate he played basketball at Murray State in Kentucky. Let's just say he was a bit excited that they had just won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

He was fun to talk with.

So...after the presentation we ate dinner at a fantastic restaurant in Douglas, called The Island Pub ( Jessi (the State of Alaska Cessation grant manager and who was on the site visit with Allen and myself), Allen, and I shared a spanakopita appetizer and the mediterranean chicken pizza, which was a special for the night.

We also enjoyed our choice of an Alaska Brewing Company brew on tap. I chose the IPA.

On Tuesday, after another day of "site visiting" Bartlett Regional Hospital, Allen and I had some time to kill before our plane left for Anchorage.

After visiting the Alaska Brewing Company (more to share about that later), we decided to check out Juneau's famous Mendenhall Glacier.

The most famous of the glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field, Mendenhall Glacier, is named for Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, who served on the Alaska Boundary Commission that surveyed the international boundary between Canada and Alaska.

The Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long and 1-1/2 miles wide where it stretches across the Mendenhall Valley. The glacier's ice can be 400 to 800 feet deep.

Above is just a landscape picture on the opposite side of the glacier. I thought it was pretty.

I mentioned we went to the Alaska Brewing Company ( before viewing the glacier. Above is a picture of a "sample glass" that I picked up at the Alaska Brewing Company. Unfortunately for us the brewery was closed, and the door that said "Alaska Brewing Company Gift Shop" was locked.


the door that said "Alaska Brewing Company Cooperate Offices - Do Not Enter" (or something to that nature) was not locked. So, as Allen walked back to the car, I went in the door.

Upon entering the building, I navigated my way to the gift shop and into a guy that worked at the brewery. Allen finally ventured in behind me and we began a conversation with the man. He was nice and looked like he had enjoyed many beers in his day.

I purchased the sample glass (it was the only glass that had "Juneau, Alaska" on the front) and Allen purchased a 1998 bottle of the Alaskan Smoked Porter. Once at the glacier, I tasted a little bit, which is why my glass has beer inside.

The beer was actually quite good. The limited edition smoked beer (which is known as "rauchbier" in Germany) was first developed in 1988 and is produced in limited "vintages" each year. This beer has been credited as helping to inspire the American revival of smoked beers.


From the time we first saw the glacier to the time we left, the weather had changed from light falling snow to heavy falling snow with fog.

We ate dinner at Chan's Thai Kitchen. The Tom Yum Soup with seafood was so delicious. Upon leaving the restaurant the fog had lifted and the snow had stopped.

Our flight was leaving on time.

After arriving to the airport and returning my rental car, I checked in for my flight. Little did I know that when switching my seat toward the front of the plane, had I chosen to sit in seat E, row five instead of seat E, row eight, my conversation on the flight home would have been much more interesting.


Coincidently, a very special someone was also flying back to Anchorage...

(sorry for the bad picture)

Joining us on the flight and sitting in COACH was Mr. Sean Parnell, the governor of the State of Alaska (a Republican!).

However, as luck would have it, because I chose seat E, row 8, and not seat E, row 5, I was not able to strike up a discussion with the governor.
Only Allen.

So, I slept.

The whole way home.

March 02, 2010

Running with the Reindeer!

The "Running of the Reindeer" is an event associated with the Fur Rendezvous festivities held annually in Anchorage, Alaska ( Fur "Rondy" is a two week event that precedes the start of the Iditarod when downtown Anchorage becomes "alive with winter sports and native arts and culture."

No one has ever died in the two years of Running with the Reindeer; however, who is to say the third running will not be any different?

Those of us willing to put our lives at risk (and to also get a t-shirt).

The feet of our challengers...

Lining up the reindeer for the "celebrity" run.

My team member/pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church wore a hat that had reindeer humping each other.

This team was ready to run...

and the butterflies were ready to fly...

while the vikings were ready to rumble.

There were four races. The first race was the "celebrity" race (which consisted of persons I have never heard of before), the second was the male division, the third was the female division, and the fourth was the group/couple division.
The reindeer became quite feisty after being dragged back and forth from finish to start...especially by the fourth race. Our race.

Katie was sensing the danger, while Tyler was ready to run.

This is Leah's game face.

This is the reindeer charging after us...

...and a picture of a reindeer that ran past us.

We all made it through the race alive. Katie and myself were both taken out by a few antlers, but we managed to get back to our feet and finish the race.

The post party was serving reindeer nachos and grinders, appropriate, yet a little amusing considering people were eating the same species they had been running from only moments ago. We did not partake.