Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Welcome to Haines Alaska, Valley of the Eagles. Haines is located on the shores of America’s longest fjord, the Lynn Canal. We are camped at Oceanside RV, right on the beach with an incredible view of the canal. This is a great campground. During summer they host crab feeds. But now its fall so our host, Joyce did a shrimp boil. It was delicious and so much fun!
Haines is home to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The Preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers. Eagles are attracted to these rivers by the five species of salmon that spawn here. During summer, eagles build huge nests along the rivers. The trees are peppered with eagles perched high up looking for fish to feed their eaglets. Come November and the late salmon run, salmon carcasses will provide lots of food for the eagles. The combination of open water and large amounts of food bring over 3,000 eagles to the Chilkat Valley. Come November (and the Bald Eagle Festival,) birders and photographers will outnumber the eagles!

We took a flat bottom jet boat ride on the Chilkat River. We saw several Bald Eagle nests on the trip. I’ve always known their nests are huge but the actual statistics are really interesting! Nests
can measure 9 feet in diameter, be up to 12 feet tall and weighed over 2 tons. WOW! I guess that makes sense since eagles usually return to the same nest annually. The nest grows larger and heavier during the nesting season and as the years pass.

The flat bottom boat ride was incredible. They feed you lunch, provide you with jackets and blankets to be sure you stay warm and our boat captain, Seagra was so knowledgeable. The weather was good, the scenery beautiful and there were lots of eagles. Perfect!

A couple  of years ago the Haines library was selected for the Best Small Library in America Award. From nearly 150 nominations the Haines library was selected for its tremendous commitment to its community, its services, programs, collections, and growth over the past five years. The library boasts 67,000 visits annually, which is amazing when you consider their  population is only 2,600.

The library provides the most interesting programs. Like Creating Contagious Content; How to Build Your Social Media Audience; Learn to Play the Ukulele; Spanish Fun; Amateur Magicians; Puppeteers; Summer Canoe Project;  Read to a Dog; Chess Club; Music in the Stacks. No wonder they won the award!

We also visited the Sheldon Museum while we were here. The museum’s collection was started by Steve Sheldon at the age of 8 (in 1893) when he purchased a piece of the original transatlantic cable for "the museum I'll have some day."  Steve and his wife gathered all sorts of interesting things including Tlingit baskets, bead work and blankets. A family hobby for 50 years, the collection was eventually donated to the community.

The museum’s Tlingit (sounds like KLINK IT) collection is amazing. Also displayed are a number of carvings done by local Master Carver, Jim Heaton.  The museum has commissioned a new totem pole for the museum grounds.  Master Carver, Jim Heaton (above) and apprentice Jeffery Klanott (left) are hard at work on the new totem pole. Carved from an 800 year old yellow cedar, it will be next year before the totem is finished.

A major attraction in Haines is the Chilkoot Weir Adult Salmon Counting Station operated by Alaska Fish and Game. They count the salmon which are going up the Chilkoot River to spawn. For every 10 Sockeye counted, they take one and cut a sample out of its back and record its length and sex. The samples are sent back to the lab and studied. It turns out that the fish from each spawning river have unique scales. These are like "river" prints. They also sample catches made by commercial fishermen and can tell in which river they spawned. People come from all over the area to fish for salmon below the weir. It’s always interesting to watch the fisherman and the bears share the same stretch of river. It’s also interesting to watch the bears and tourists interact. When we were here in 2010 we saw an Asian tourist ride her bicycle into the bushes closely following a Brown sow and her twin cubs! I immediately switched my camera to video so I could capture the “incident” to sell to CNN. Fortunately a Park Ranger interceded and the bear was saved from the stupid tourist.

Watching the bears is always so interesting. While this sow is hard at work eating and bulking up for winter her cub is busy playing with anything he can get his paws on. Such as the sand bags placed on the weir by Fish and Game. Before the evening is over the cub will dislodge all the sandbags and chuck them in the river. Bad bear cub! He’s also busy honing his how to catch salmon skills. So far we have seen five bears fishing the river by the weir.

Haines Packing Company is located at one of the oldest cannery sites in Alaska. The cannery is situated just five and a half miles from Haines, at the mouth of the Chilkat River in Northern Lynn Canal. All five species of wild Alaska salmon are delivered fresh to the dock by the local fishing fleet. The fish are processed immediately.

We were able to watch them process the salmon through viewing windows. I had no idea how labor intensive it is. After trimming the head and tail off they are run through a filleting machine. The are trimmed by hand and put through a
machine that debones the fish. Now here’s the amazing part, they debone the fillet again by hand with pliers! No wonder salmon is so expensive!
The cannery also has the cutest gift shop ever! It’s guarded by Splash, the Boston Bull Terrier.  I was able to cross a number of people off my Christmas shopping list thanks to this shop!  

See the cute doggie raincoat and hat? The shop owner won first place at the Alaska State Fair for this entry in the Recycling category. It's made from Purina Dog Food bags which are plastic coated. So cute!

Did you know the Disney movie
White Fang was filmed in Haines and the movie set still lies in the city? The Haines Brew Fest and Southeast State Fair are both hosted on the old Alaska set. This is also the location of the community garden. While Jim and Maggie poked around the old movie set I checked out the garden! I was surprised at some of the vegetables they can grow in Haines. Not only was the garden productive, it was also very pretty! 

We took a ride one day to do a little birding and to look for the Gold Nugget Mine on Porcupine Creek. The birding sucked, but we found the mine! Unfortunately the mine gate was locked and a DANGER! – Restricted Area sign hung from the post. We could see a little bit of the plant and we could hear it running but that's all. If you are familiar with the show “Gold Rush” you know Grandpa and Parker Schnabel run the Gold Nugget Mine. Because I felt so unsatisfied with my non mine experience we stopped on the way to town so Jim could snap my photo in front of Ma and Pa Schnabel’s Southeast Road Builders location. With my “Gold Rush” experience completed (sort of) we headed back to camp.


Almost everything in Haines is brought in by the once a week barge. Food, fuel, building materials, parts, etc. Because of this, it’s an expensive place to live. Jim had a heart attack today when he went to the store for a loaf of bread that turned out to be $9.00 (because it’s baked in the lower 48, then frozen and shipped here.) Want premium gas? It’s  $5.55 a gallon. It’s no wonder Alaskans hunt, fish, gather berries and keep a vegetable garden to help offset the high cost of  living in Alaska.  

Did I mention that Haines celebrates Mardi Gras? Yup. I know it’s hard to believe, but for the last 20 years on August 24, Haines plasters the town with green, gold and purple decorations and then gets plastered (if the noise level last weekend was any indication.)  At least Jim survived this Mardi Gras without injury. Who knew there was a New Orleans of the North?

I forgot to tell you we are stranded in Haines. We left two days ago for Skagway and only made it as far as the Canadian Border. As we pulled up to the crossing a very loud screeching sound emanated from underneath the 5th wheel. One of the Border Guards checked underneath and said “you have a busted spring.” Of course this happened on a Saturday when all the auto shops are closed. So back Oceanside RV Campground we went. Turns out the campground owners also own a marine repair shop and they can fix our spring for us! On Sunday they took measurements and ordered the part on Monday from Anchorage. Hoping it will be here in a few days and  we  can get back on the road. It’s getting cold here, the first snow is just around the corner, so we need to go soon. Don’t think we’ll make Skagway, time to head south before winter catches us.

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