Through the Inside Passage


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The day and a half we had sailing the beginning of the Inside Passage was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Alaska. Ok, the entire trip was pretty much my favorite part of the trip (hah!) but what was pleasant about this time was that we didn’t have to be doing anything. We could lounge in the room, sit on the deck watching the water, sit inside the Garden Cafe (aka: the buffet) and watch the water while eating a dessert or sipping coffee. So, that’s just what we did.

Leaving port during those early evening hours we got glimpses of Canadian islands from the Inside Passage with remote camps and lodges tucked away in coves. I spied several that I could easily make as my own secluded outpost. The following day we cruised through Queen Charlotte Sound before passing Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands. This was a pretty great wildlife day with several humpback whale sightings as well as as several mola mola (ocean sunfish) sightings.

There’s not much to say other than it was peaceful and so very scenic.

Life Lately | October 2019


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Sabine National Forest, October 2010

Thinking:
My friend Patrice posted her monthly “Currently” post and I remembered I hadn’t done one since August, so here I am!

What am I thinking? I don’t really know.

Gardening:
Mustering up the energy and interest to garden once again. All of the work in the edible garden this summer really took a lot out of me and I really needed September to not do anything. I did do some minor cleanup in the flower garden and have done some light weeding in the edible beds but mostly it has been hands off. I managed to sow some fall edible seeds earlier this week and will need to continue that in the coming weeks. I need a break so I’m glad things are on the downslope of growing right now.

Loving:

I created an Autumn 2019 playlist on Spotify and I think I love it. I’m especially fond of The Comedian by Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner (John Pedigo) which I heard on 91.7 KXT sometime over the last two months. The rest of his catalog is really good as well and if you are into local folk music then it will be right up your alley. I’m also enjoying the The Highwomen, too.

Reading:
I’m currently trying to finish two books, Gators, Guts, & Glory: Adventures Along the Florida Trail by Lauralee Bliss and Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America’s Richest Forest by Bill Finch, Beth Maynor Young, Rhett Johnson. I recently finished Bossypants by Tina Fey. Yes, I’m several years behind on getting onto the bandwagon with it but I enjoyed it. I have Yes, Please! by Amy Poheler on deck to read soon. Both were library book sale books, so super cheap!

Making:
All the crochet of course!
I’m also trying my hand at Inktober by picking up the blind contours I started back for the 100 Day Project but abandoned sometime after the first 30 days.

Watching & Listening:
The Downton Abbey movie—so good! Left me wanting more! I could go for a follow-up to this movie and then a movie set in like 1939 and the the Abbey getting ready for WWII. Or, maybe just another series in WWII. I had been watching my DVR recorded DAs from PBS but on a whim I looked it up on Amazon and the entire series is on there so I may start from the beginning while I crochet all winter.

I don’t think I ever wrote about Fleabag here when I watched it early in the summer, but it was one of the best shows I’ve watched this year. I was skeptical at first because there’s a lot of dead-pan British humour but I kept watching and fell in love as did everyone else on the internet who has watched it. It took me a while to figure out where The Priest was from but it finally came to me—he plays Moriarty in Sherlock. So, I found it fascinating how he can plays this very evil person and then he’s in his Hot Priest role for Fleabag. If you’ve got Amazon you should check the show out. I really wish I could wear the jumpsuit that everyone is gaga over but I am too short and a little chubby for the fit to work out right. Short girl problems.

Big Love is also on Amazon now so I’m going to rewatch that series. I watched a good half of it at our rental house in FL because for some reason the place came wired with HBO along with a handful of basic cable channels–and then we had to have some internet work done and boom, HBO disappeared. Booooo…so I never got to finish the series out. And last night I found a series called Britannia about the Roman invasion of England/Britannia at the end of the Iron Age. I don’t know a whole lot about this time period but my Wikipedia-ing has already taken me down rabbit holes.

Looking Forward:
I’m adding in this new section to talk about things I’m uh, looking forward to!

First off, my parents are coming down this weekend for a random last minute visit. They had a free weekend for once and thought it would be nice to come down and hang out for a long weekend (for them) so we’re excited for that. Also this weekend is the Pollinator Festival at Mercer Botanic Gardens so I think we’ll be heading over there for a few hours.

In a few weekends I’m having a weekend trip with two of my friends. Last year we made a trip to Temple and got a hotel room for a night after plans to go to Waco and visit the Magnolia shops got thwarted due to a Baylor football game. This year those same plans were thwarted when Magnolia decided to have some sort of celebration over that weekend and hotel prices shot through the roof. Considering everyone’s drive and locations we ended up finding a cabin at a state park. My friends will be ‘roughing it’ but to me this is going to be a luxury at a state park! I’m looking forward to a cool down and some porch sitting and chatting!

I’ve also been doing a lot of coordinating and planning for future guests/episodes on my two podcasts that I’m excited about!

We may try to go out and try to find the Bartonia texana again this month as we did last year.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Halloween with Forest this year. We picked out his costume early and by chance when we went to Michaels in early September. He’s going to be a dinosaur (not a surprise) and while he was kind of into it more last year, he’s going to be even more into all of it this year!

What’s up with you?

Horned Passalus Beetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus) | Wildlife Wednesday


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Last week I was out watering the plants on the potting bench when I spotted a beetle coming out of the compost pile. I had a hunch it was a horned passalus beetle and so I took a few photos and threw it into iNaturalist just to verify—I was right! I’d come across one at Lake Livingston State Park a year or two ago so I was already familiar with the insect, which gave me my initial hunch. Horned passalus beetles feed on decaying wood so I suspect this one was actually ingesting the pieces of wood that used to form the perimeter of the compost bins. Those perimeter pieces are now 7 years old and in serious need of replacement! The compost bins still function, though, and I have recently been replenishing both sides with grass and green debris from garden cleanup as well some bagged leaves we had from last winter. It’s time to start looking for bagged leaves again on folks’ driveways so we can start our browns stash again!

Happy Wednesday!

Amma Granny Square Top — Completed!


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I finished up the top early Sunday morning as Forest and I were chilling in the west end Best Western in Galveston while Chris was out getting some fishing done at San Luis Pass. I’d worked on some of the finishing touches a few days before but only had to finish the sleeves and bottom edging. Yesterday I washed it out in the sink with some special yarn soap I’ve had for years and out came a lot of dirt and dingyness from being stored for eons—this was my grandmother’s yarn. I’d washed out a lot of the yarn in containers when I got them after she moved into the nursing home but I knew some of them weren’t going to get clean (read: not smell—she sprayed all sorts of chemicals in her apartment because of ‘bugs’. There were no bugs.) until after I’d crocheted the yarn together and washed the final product.

So, it feels nice to have completed another crochet project once again. Forest asked me to make him a blanket and I groaned at that. I’ve mostly left my afghan making days behind and the kid has a million and one blankets from gifts people made for him as a baby and we only ever use one or two. He doesn’t need blankets—but he asked for a specific colorway and so, I’m going to make it for him. Between that and the next garment I’m planning on crocheting, I’ll be busy the rest of the autumn!

Vancouver and Boarding the Ship


As I mentioned in the wrap-up post we made it to Vancouver, and I had started feeling better but not well enough to be traipsing about Vancouver and cramming in all of the sight-seeing as possible. We weren’t in the country long when Chris mentioned that he still wanted to try to eat at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the Gastown portion of Vancouver. There is a trolley in the middle of the building and Chris thought Forest would enjoy sitting in it, so I gave the restaurant a call to see about reserving a table for dinner, which they did. My stomach wasn’t in the mood for much else besides Sprite and ice cubes in water so I didn’t know if I would eat.

Our hotel was a Days Inn near the airport, nothing fancy, but it was a much nicer upgrade to the Motel 6 we’d stayed in the night before in Seattle. Honestly, I could have slept the late afternoon and evening away and not gone anywhere but I managed to muster up some energy to drive into Vancouver.

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Before dinner we had enough time to drive through Stanley Park. Initially I thought I’d have enough energy to get out and walk but it became clear that all I wanted to do was sit. So, we drove the perimeter road around the park and then stopped at the Hollow Tree for a few photos before piling back into the car. The park itself was very busy with so many people out enjoying the late summer air.

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We ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory where I sipped a few bits of minestrone soup while Chris and Forest went the more traditional Italian food route. I so wish I had been feeling better to have enjoyed that restaurant more. Afterwards we dipped into a tourist shop to get a few souvenirs of our brief stay in Canada and then walked down to the steam clock to check it out. Forest was having some meltdowns because he just wanted to go back to the hotel and chill (as did I) but I was also enticed by the opportunities for street photography in Vancouver. However, I was not up for street photography at all. Chris had thought we might try to do the suspension bridge in North Vancouver after dinner but there was no way I was going to be able to stay awake for that, so we called it an early evening and went back to the hotel to rest.

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The next morning we packed up and needed to do a few errands before we returned our rental car and caught the shuttle at the airport to the cruise terminal. One of my requirements when in Vancouver was to go by a Tim Hortons to at least get a coffee. We managed to make it our breakfast destination and I somehow had an appetite to eat a doughnut and parts of a bagel. Having spent a lot of time getting to know some Canadian friends online over the last almost 20 years, I knew Tim Hortons was one of those places I just had to visit. It’s nothing spectacular, basically a fancier Dunkin’ Doughnuts/Starbucks combination, but it was a Very Canadian Thing and I wanted to visit!

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After breakfast we found a Walmart where we wanted to procure a few snacks for the ship for Forest in addition to some t-shirts for him after we decided we might not have packed enough. I’d packed more long sleeved tees but the weather was nice in Vancouver, surely he would want more t-shirts! Haha, he didn’t wear any that we bought because the temps changed as we moved north! But the snacks we did need, as we weren’t sure how much Forest would eat on the ship, being a picky eater and all. So, we found a Walmart in North Richmond and it turned out to be a triple decker–a parking garage on the bottom, and then a first and second floors once you went up the escalator. Very urban! I also saw the most giant tub of Cheez Whiz I’ve ever seen there! It was out in the middle of the main aisle, you know where they try to promote sales and such, so I wondered if this was a ‘thing’ in Canada. I can’t remember the last time I even ate Cheez Whiz on purpose—the 80s?

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Then we drove over to the airport and returned the car. After we walked into one of the terminals, we kind of looked around lost until we saw an employee and asked them where we needed to go to check in with the cruise agency. He led us through a glass door and into the area where people are normally exiting from the terminals and then to a series of cruise desks. This was one more nerve wracking thing–hoping that the cruise company had everything in order and we were on their list. Of course we were, but after the hoops and changes we’d gone through the previous days, everything was worrying. She took our checked bags and they were going to be sent separately from us and we’d find them in our rooms later that afternoon. With our carry-ons we went outside to wait for the tour bus to pick us up.

Once the bus arrived we settled in for another stop along the way to get guests in the domestic side of the airport and then we were off through the streets of Vancouver once again. The bus operator was nice enough to point out sights and give a bit of a tour along the way. Since I had started feeling better that morning and because of the tidbits of information, I was feeling nostalgic for leaving Vancouver so soon! We would have to come back here at some point in the future.

After 30-45 minutes we finally arrived at the cruise terminal where we followed a series of signs and lots of terminal personnel guiding guests to their ships. We were boarding the Norwegian Jewel but there was also a Disney boat in port, too, and Forest was hoping that was our boat! We had looked at Disney cruises but they are significantly more expensive!

Finally we arrived in a giant reception room with various lines cordoned off depending on what your state room class and other such items. One personnel worker saw Forest with us and shimmied us into a very short line that I think was labeled for guests with special needs. Our tickets weren’t labeled for any such thing but she had the insight to know that the winding line we were about to get into with our soon to be 5 year old was not going to be a good line to get into. We were very thankful for her or we’d have been standing in the other line for, I dunno, 30-45 minutes at least.

There were a few brief moments of “OMG the damn birth certificate” again as we checked in. The attendant helping us disappeared for a bit, I think to get secondary verification of the birth certificate and comparing our passports to the birth certificate and such, but finally we were on our way to the next line to stand in.

This time it was to clear US Customs. The line was shorter because we’d basically jumped ahead of everyone else after checking in with the cruise agents. The border agent there even joked about making it difficult for him with the birth certificate because he couldn’t just scan all three passports and had to actually review things a bit more, but it went fairly easily and then we were ‘back in the US’ for all intents and purposes. I had wondered how they were going to handle this, if we were going to have to go through customs in Ketchikan, but this way it made it easy on everyone once we’d arrived in Alaska.

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Once on the ship we were greeted by crew to sanitize our hands with hand sanitizer. This was a near constant thing, with automatic dispensers at every restaurant and actual crew saying “Washy, washy!” at the entrance to the buffet, and personally squirting sanitizer into your hands! They didn’t want any chances of a virus breaking out on the ship!

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We had time before the boat left port and before our rooms were ready so we went up to the buffet to eat lunch and relax a bit. The best parts about a buffet are the desserts of course!

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We toured the ship, peaking into the bridge to see where the captain and crew would be steering the ship…

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and up to the outside decks to check out the play spaces for Forest. We even signed him up for the kid’s club so that he could go there and play with other kids but when it came down to actually getting him to go, he wasn’t having it!

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Looking towards Stanley Park.

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North Vancouver

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Forest only ended up swimming one time on the ship, the day we left port. It ended up getting too chilly otherwise.

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Finally, we departed port!

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As we left, the sky cleared up on the horizon and this giant mountain made an appearance.

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I zoomed and cropped so you could see closer—it turns out this is Mt. Baker which is in the US in the northern Cascades. I think it may be about the same distance as Seattle is to Rainier or maybe a little bit further–I’m just eyeballing on a map–if you want some perspective on how far away this is.

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Forest found a new game to play, his version of shuffleboard!

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A sulphur pile—it made Chris and I reminisce about the sulphur pile that is across from our college campus in Galveston!

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Saying goodbye to Vancouver.

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And another glimpse of Stanley Park.

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I didn’t realize when I took this photo that Mt. Baker is beaming there in the background!

And then we were off, headed for the Inside Passage!

Sunday Things


Amma Granny Square Top beginnings

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For the first time in two years I’m crocheting again. The last time I crocheted I was attempting to make a cardigan type thing but it ended up going south about halfway through. Someday I’ll frog all of that yarn. After that I lost interest in crochet. But with the change in seasons I’m becoming interested in one of my favorite hobbies once again. This time I dug into my grandmother’s yarn stash and dug out some crochet thread to make the Amma Granny Square Top. I’ve since finished one granny square and almost halfway through the second. After that it should be fairly easy in joining and finishing with the sleeves and trim, then washing and blocking before I share it here. Maybe by the end of the week I’ll have a FO (finished object).

I just finished watching The Spanish Princess on Starz after doing a Downton Abbey binge ahead of the movie (which was so good!), so I’m in need of some series to binge while I crochet…do share!

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Forest has been using the Alaska trip as some artistic influence lately—these are mola mola! He’s also drawn bears and moose!

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Some cast track prints Chris made in Alaska finally arrived about a week after we returned. He was able to cast a bear, moose, probably wolves (after measuring, they appear to be) and some bird tracks for our friend Eliana.

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Forest turned 5 which meant getting a library card! I still primarily pick out all of his books, though he does go through and find some he likes, but mostly he makes a beeline for the toys at the back corner. I do need to start making space for daytime reading as we tend to relegate it to bedtime.

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And this summarizes forest at 5: a dinosaur addict! We finally got around to taking our annual photos in Sam Houston NF this weekend and after some cajoling and bribing he managed to wear his dino shirt my parents got him (he’s not a fan of non-cozy shirts–he would live in t-shirts and underwear– but after he put it on he said it was “itchy and cozy!” which seem to contradict each other but *I dunno*! He’s an itchy kid in general so I don’t think they had anything to do with each other…) we spent about twenty minutes taking photos and I managed to snap a few with his dinos. He also loves when the beautyberries are fruiting because they are “alligator food”. This translates back to the years in which he managed to be carried in his backpack carrier and would grab handfuls of them as we walked along to throw into the creeks we hiked by!

That’s the bit of creative life going on around here at the moment!

Echinacea purpurea | Flower Friday


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Every time I see coneflowers I am drawn to them. They are one of the long-standing bloomers in a garden and are tough plants and yet I cannot grow them at home unless they are inside our edible garden. You see, the deer love them, too. When we moved in to the house my mom divided some of hers to give to me and now those plants are long gone. I think we may have tried once or twice more before finally giving up on our chances of growing coneflowers out in the open. I am finally growing some inside the edible garden and they delight me every time I go in there.

These particular flowers were growing in the pollinator garden at Pedernales Falls State Park, between the two bird blinds. The garden is one of those quintessential Hill Country type gardens, with raised beds perimetered with stone. Inside the beds are plantings of a variety of tough, drought tolerant native perennials. Sometimes you’ll find well-behaved and climate adapted non-natives in one of these pollinator gardens.

Happy Friday, friends!

Bird Blind Happenings at Pedernales Falls State Park


Over the 4th of July weekend we headed for the Hill Country and did some swimming in the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. After a few hours of that in the morning we opted to drive over to the bird blind and sit there while we ate our lunch.

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Black-chinned hummingbirds, Archilochus alexandri, zipped from feeder to feeder and then to the small tree and shrub branches to rest. Luckily the glass in the bird blind was fairly clean so it allowed for some fairly clear photos of the birds.

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Then a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Dryobates scalaris, made an appearance and it took me a few tries to get a photo because after it appeared Forest decided he was restless and wanted to wander the pollinator garden between the two bird blinds.

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A leaf footed bug, I think Acanthocephala terminalis, but don’t hold me to it.

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White-winged Doves, Zenaida asiatica

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House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus

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A few butterflies were flying, including this Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus. One of the bird blinds had a butterfly poster of the Hill Country and mentioned an oak hairstreak, Satyrium favonius. I’d hoped that’s what this was when I took the photo but nope. I have a couple of other hairstreak photos, too, that I somehow missed when editing so I’ll have to check those out to be sure.

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So, I’m not sure if this is just a black-crested titmouse that hasn’t developed a crest yet or a stray tufted titmouse just outside of its range. iNaturalist has the tufted pretty much ending in the city area of Austin, so it is feasible this could be a stray. The black-crested’s starts in the Austin area and goes west, so there’s some range overlap. I’m really leaning towards it being a black-crested though, but any wise birder who wants to ‘chirp’ in is more than welcome to!

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And I’ll close out with a few more shots of the black-chinned hummingbirds!

Pearl Milkweed Vine, Matelea reticulata | (Wild)Flower Friday


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I’ve come to really appreciate the milkweed vine species, particularly the more common one in my area, anglepod, aka: Gonolobus suberosus. It grows freely in our yard and in the garden and even gets colonized by oleander aphids like other milkweed species do.

Out in the Texas Hill Country, the pearl milkvine, Matelea reticulata, is more common and a delight to see when hiking in the limestone hills. Endemic to Texas and Mexico, you won’t find this species too far east of I-35, though the USDA Plants Database has one county in east Texas listed that the species is supposedly found–who knows!? iNaturalist only shows central and west Texas and Mexico sightings.

While it is in the milkweed family, theorhetically the milkweed butterflies could use this as a host plant. Some comments on a few blogs I read while trying to do some research (not a ton of info is out there about this species) for this post suggest there is anecdotal evidence of queens and milkweed tussock moth caterpillars using the plant. I’ve never seen them use my anglepod vine but I suspect if it was that or nothing else, they’d go for it!

Nature Watch Austin has a post showing a variety of milkweed vines in the Hill Country area.

My photos are from Pedernales Falls State Park back over the July 4th weekend.

Beluga Whales | Wildlife Wednesday


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Beluga whales—something that was definitely not on my agenda of things I anticipated seeing while in Alaska. Humpback whales, porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, seals, possibly orcas—those were all things that were on our radar and for the most part we came across all of them. The orcas were the only things in that list we didn’t see.

When we disembarked our ship in Seward we opted to take the scenic Alaska Rail to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. Instead of taking the highway between Seward and Anchorage via buses, the railway would be more scenic and offer up chances to sip coffee and have breakfast while scouting for wildlife. And that will be a separate post eventually, it was a fantastic trip and I’d do it again!

When we finally emerged from the forest and began our journey paralleling the Turnagain Arm, a branch of the north end of the Cook Inlet, it had been an overcast morning and then sun was finally poking through the sky. I happened to be looking out at the Arm and saw something white and bobbing in the water. We’d just seen a bunch of small icebergs the day before as we’d cruised by the Hubbard Glacier and I had that on my mind. But that ‘ice’ went under the water and surfaced again and I thought my tired eyes (we had gotten up at 5:00 that morning) were seeing things. I casually mentioned to Chris that I had seen something white in the water and when I saw it again I pointed it out to him.

After he saw it he exclaimed “Beluga!” After it sunk in I peered closer and we started noticing several belugas in the inlet as we chugged along the tracks. I had my 75-300mm lens on already for wildlife back in the forested areas so I did my best to shakily take a few “OMG! THOSE ARE BELUGAS!” photos, which are obviously nothing to write home about but OMG I SAW BELUGAS!

I knew belugas were an arctic species and had no clue they would be this far south, and after looking into their range, this is really the furthest south they go and the Cook Inlet area is both in their summer and winter range area. What a total surprise and bonus species to see on this trip!

After we pointed the beluga out to our server/guide in our train car, he noted that yes belugas were in the Turnagain Arm but were usually further towards the mouth of the inlet and not this far back. And come to find out later there’s an area called Beluga Point where you can go and watch them.

We went back the last day we were in Alaska but unfortunately during the morning the tide was out and most of the Arm was a mud flat (Turnagain Arm has some extreme tides, come to find out) and after we tried looking again when the tide came back in after lunch we didn’t have any luck finding belugas. *sigh*

Being a marine biology major, most of my friends in college had their favorite marine mammal species. My friend Stephanie has always loved belugas and so I texted her after I saw them to let her know. It’s one of those funny things that you associate with someone and it is kind of hard not to associate belugas with her because she uses them in her email handles.

Someday I’d love to see them again and be able to watch them for a few hours. What an amazing and unexpected experience we had to get a few glimpses on our way to Anchorage!

*Note*: The other day I mentioned WordPress’ horrible ‘block’ writing system. There’s a plug-in to revert it back to Classic Editor: here. I used the first option and it has worked perfectly!

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