Monthly Archives: June 2022

Wrangell, Alaska

I must fully admit that my favorite Alaska town was Wrangell. It could have something to do with its climate. It could also have to do with its hard working atmosphere and general ambiance. Its people were especially friendly. A true Alaska town of 2,500 hard-working people with few businesses other than what is necessary for survival, Wrangell is completely unique. It could simply have to do with the fact that this is the only Alaska town that we took a walking tour of and got to know quite well.

Wrangell is a natural deep-water port and sits on the top end of an island shaped like a bird in flight. It has a thriving fishing industry that we questioned and other traditional enterprises that keep it humming. It’s a welcomed stop for only small cruise ships and independent travelers. Wrangell is accessible only via Alaska Airlines, float planes, and the Alaska State Ferry System. There are no roads into it. It has mild summers with an annual rainfall of only about 80 inches. Its climate is closer to Tofino than Haines. Autumns are wet and windy. Winters are mild. Its setting is typically spectacular. Wrangell is probably better suited as a jumping off place to see glaciers, wildlife observatories, and free rivers like the Stikine.

Wrangell is 750 miles north of Seattle and 150 miles south of Juneau. It has few traditional tourist shops and has seen declines in its economy as fishing, timber industries, and boat repairs become less important. Seafood processing still remains a viable business here, however, and salmon, shrimp, herring, and halibut handlers are still scattered about this community in large numbers as are churches. We saw many of the fish handlers. Our host sported a traditional Tlingit headpiece and spoke of his divorce and 4 daughters.

John Muir arrived in Wrangell in 1879 and found it inhospitable and rough. Wyatt Earp was its official law officer at one point. Both black and brown bears are here in large numbers and causing conflict. It is the only Alaska town that has had 4 rulers: Tlingit, Russian, British, and American. It has only one museum of note that acknowledges its unique character with flags. The James and Elsie Nolan Center more or less specializes in totems, house posts, and other local crafts. We were allowed in it as our first stop, and it was amazing and different.

Wrangell is so extremely rare that it has a truly unique golf course called Muskeg Meadows that has a raven rule. The kids of Wrangell Island have an unusual way of funding their educations. There is a garnet mine on their island, and they are the only people allowed to sell these sometimes valuable rocks to fund their schooling.

Come to Wrangell to be both entertained and amused by its totally unique atmosphere and character.


Towns Named Farmington

There are plenty of towns named Farmington in the United States. I can find most of the 26 places named Farmington in this country. The one in New Mexico appears to be the largest Farmington around. Its population is nearing 46,000. The community was originally home to the Anasazi “basketmakers” about 2,000 years ago. The Navajo, Apache and Ute Native Americans soon followed them into the region. Spaniards began to settle in the area during the early 1800s. It was officially incorporated as a viable community in 1901. I have been there but do not especially recommend going.

Farmington, AR appears to be a lively town near Fayetteville in the growing Bentonville area. Almost 6,000 people live there now.

There appears to be a Farmington in California. It’s in San Joaquin County and has a population under 200.

There’s a fairly large Farmington in the state of Connecticut. It’s near Hartford and 3,000 people reside there. Delaware is a small state with only 3 counties. It has a town named Farmington not too far from Milford south of Dover. It seems small like its state.

There’s a Farmington in Kentucky near Mayfield. Again, it seems incredibly small. There’s a fairly big town named Farmington in Illinois near Peoria.

There are Farmingtons in Maine, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. Strange, but true, Peter Hall, a Farmington native, visited all 26 communities named Farmington. It became his personal bucket list. The largest of these is now the one in Michigan in the Detroit area. It’s called Farmington but is better known as Farmington Hills. What a strange bucket list!

There’s a big Farmington in Minnesota with 21,000 people living there. It’s south of Minneapolis. There’s a much smaller Farmington in northern Mississippi east of Corinth. Missouri boasts one of the larger Farmingtons, a town of more than 16,000 Missourians one of whom is Ruth’s First Cousin Don.

The small state of New Hampshire has a fairly large town named Farmington with almost 4,000 people living in it. It’s not too far from Concord.

There are Farmingtons in New York near Rochester, a Farmington in North Carolina, and a fairly large Farmington in Utah near the Great Salt Lake.

There are Farmingtons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Oregon, but they are all quite small. That’s more than 20 of the 26 Farmington’s, which seems to be a popular name for a town. I can understand why so many farmers want to live in a town named Farmington. Eating well is pretty important to most Americans.


Misty Fjords, Tracy Arm, & Kenai

The people on our cruise had 3 opportunities to visit and appreciate living glaciers via kayak and zodiac excursions. Most on board did at least one of these. They were very popular side trips, the highlight of the cruise for most of the passengers who ventured out. All 3 were much visited attractions well worth the price.

The first of the 3 side trips we were able to take was to Misty Fjords. All 3 were much visited attractions, a nice break from the cities visited, and a chance to see much appreciated Alaskan wildlife. Misty Fjords is a 2 million acre, National Monument experience with benefits. People on the excursions and on the boat saw glacier-gouged valleys, waterfalls cascading from hillsides, alpine highlands, and much more for an additional but worthwhile fee. People got to kayak or zodiac on salt water and see what some consider “the Yosemite of the North” while it’s still a natural landscape of sheer beauty. Just north of the port of Ketchikan about 40 miles away, Misty Fjords is where timber barons used to use float planes to see lava flows, snowcapped peaks, and enjoy natural beauty of epic size and importance. It is still so beautiful that President Jimmy Carter created Misty Fjords National Monument in 1980 so all might appreciate its grandeur and protect its wilderness status.

The 2nd excursion was to Tracy Arm. This beautiful place was 45 miles south of Juneau and the scene of 2 deep and narrow fjords called Tracy and Endicott Arms, both are still 30 miles long. At the end of Tracy are the twin Sawyer Glaciers. We saw abundant wildlife in the form of harbor seals and soaring eagles. What visitors see depends on weather and remaining ice.

Kenai is the smallest of Alaska’s 8 National Parks and quite a wonderful sight. Carved by the Harding Icefield and opened to the sea, the Kenai Fjord is a rugged arctic landscape to see from a kayak, zodiac , or ship. Most cruise ship lines do not go here, so it remains natural. We saw the Kenai Glacier carving but were too early to see bears that will later inhabit the area to get ready for winter.
The closest community to Kenai is the port of Seward.

Ruth & I consider ourselves very lucky to have experienced calving glaciers twice in our lifetimes. The other opportunity was a chance to see Glacier Bay National Park and the port of Gustavus on a previous trip.


Towns Named Cottonwood

There are at least 16 towns named Cottonwood in the United States of America. There are 2 fairly large towns named Cottonwood, and both are suburbs of large cities. Cottonwood Height which is part of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a population of more than 33,000 and Cottonwood, Arizona, is home to more than 11,000 people.

There are towns named Cottonwood in at least 14 other places. The 3rd largest Cottonwood is a town in California south of Redding with a population of more than 3,000. There are Cottonwoods in Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, and Minnesota. Texas has a small town named Cotton Flats, and Kansas has Cottonwood Falls, a town of fewer than 1,000 people. There is even a Cottonwood in the state of Alaska, and a tiny town named Cottonwood is in the north eastern corner of Louisiana.

There used to be more than a dozen towns in New Mexico called Cottonwood because of its Spanish heritage. Water is commonly found where Cottonwood trees abound. Alamo is the Spanish word for cottonwood. No towns now exists in New Mexico with the name Cottonwood. The last one has become a ghost town. The Cottonwood town in South Dakota is said to be down to a population of one.

The very common Eastern Cottonwood tree has a leaf that trembles in the slightest breeze. They’re members of the poplar family. They are known for rapid growth and act as wind breaks. Natives used all parts of the Cottonwood and employed them as trail markers.


Humpback Whales

Fourteen whale species are classified as baleens. They include the blue whale, the bowhead, and the Humpback. The blue whale is the largest species of baleen. They can grow up to 100 feet in length. The bowhead variety of whale resides almost exclusively in arctic waters. They are big whales and rare. Ruth & I attended a lecture on Humpback whales while on the cruise. Our host named Amy claimed to be passionate about whales. She knew a lot about them but was addressing a group who knew far less about her subject than she did. She assumed we knew more than we did.

Humpback whales live in two places; Alaska and Hawaii. Humpback whales are always born in Hawaii where they are known as koholas. They travel to Alaska to feed. When the females get pregnant, they go to Hawaii to have their young. They give birth to a single calf, and both Mama and the baby have hair on their heads. They live on krill while in Alaska. Humpbacks have two blowholes which close when they are not excited. Fish that have been swallowed can’t escape through these blowholes.

Humpback whales derive from land animals like crocodiles. They returned to the ocean but still need to breathe. They can’t echolocate, but they do make noises. These sounds remind humans of songs and all the males sing the same song. The song changes constantly. They sing only in Hawaii. They migrate 2,500 miles to Alaska without a stop to feed, traveling from four to six weeks. Many include the big bay near Monterey, CA in their travels. While migrating, humpbacks never feed but survive the distance on their blubber. They go to Alaska mainly to breed and feed because they have no enemies there, but they always return to Hawaii if they get pregnant and need to give birth.

Orcas are their only predators. Baby humpbacks are nine to twelve feet long on the average. Humpback mamas raise a calf for about a year. They go to Alaska mainly to feed because krill and the other small species they feed on are plentiful there. They travel close to the surface and leap into the air much more often than other whales do.

Humpback whales are not endangered. There are approximately eighty thousand of them currently. People go to Alaska mainly to see animals. We saw no whales or bears because we were not there during their seasons or while they were migrating. We did, however, see seals, sea otters, and lots of eagles.