We didn’t book an excursion for Sitka but rather took our own walking tour. It’s a cute town but the cruise ships dock about a ten minute bus ride from Harrigan Centennial Hall in downtown Sitka.
From there we headed to the nearby Baranof Castle State Historic Site—not quite what I expected. I expected a castle. Instead, it was a stone walled circular lookout area at the top of several flights of stone steps. The hill was once a fortified site for the Tlingit people who occupied the land, but was unfortunately taken over by Russians in 1804. The Russians held the area until it 1867, when it was transferred to the United States.
We wanted to visit the Raptor Center—which we discovered is a lot cheaper when not purchased through the ship, especially if you can get a military discount. But transportation is not included. We took a bit of a hike to get there (racking up those steps), but it’s a great way to see the town. At the Raptor Center, we watched a short video about the raptor rehabilitation program, viewed several still in the early stages of healing inside and some further along outside. The raptors they care for include bald eagles, golden hawks, falcons, kestrels, and owls.
A walking path in the forest surrounding the Center took us along a river filled with spawning zombie salmon and dead salmon all over the rocky beach. Signs warned us that bears often frequented the area. The path also took us through a cool meadow area, which we discovered is called a muskeg—a kind of marsh or bog with thick layers of decaying vegetable matter usually formed over bedrock, with mosses and spongy foliage. I tentatively stepped on it. Definitely squishy with soggy firmness.
From there we took the short cut back through Sitka National Historical Park, a 220 acre park with Tlingit Totem Poles. However, the short cut turned into a long cut since I wanted to explore the area. On the way back we hiked around it’s peninsula, past another creek filled with dead salmon and feasting gulls, and checked out some of the totem poles along the path.
As we explored the park, we crossed a bridge over a creek filled with spawning salmon. While they fight their way upstream, do the salmon see their fate rotting along the creek banks and in the silty bottom?
Ashmo’s Seafood truck had great reviews on google and we thought it would be an excellent place for lunch. But it wasn’t around. So we found The Fresh Fish, another food cart down a little alley and purchased almost the last bowl of Alaskan Seafood chowder. The cart seller scooped from the bottom of her large crock pot, which meant we had a bowl filled with seafood goodness and not a bunch of liquid. The seller said she made it with bacon broth, making it rich and complex. She spoke truth. We sat down on some nearby steps, ate our chowder, and watched sad customers be told she was sold out. Trying the different Alaskan chowders was definitely a must as we traveled.
We like to visit local artist galleries we find in towns we visit. I really need to increase my art budget if I want to buy anything other than prints. While at one of the shops we heard the ladies behind the counter talking about coffee. When we asked where the best coffee shop was, one of them took us out side and pointed in the direction of the shop. “Follow the coffee smell,” she said.
And we did.
Back Door Cafe was located through the back door of Old Harbor Books. Jon ordered café mocha and I enjoyed my chai latte while perusing the books. The berry crumble bar was a definite must also.
We found another little art gallery, Fate Accompli and we chatted with the owner, Rachel, about the local art. We were drawn to the bright colors of MK MacNaughton. The storeowner told us the artist was her favorite, even though she was not local, but from Juneau. We purchased a print of her muskegy landscape, Inside the Gray, since it reminded us of the short hike we took at the Raptor Center.
We found our bear on a corner, not too far from the art gallery.
Back on the ship we attended our first show—an Elton John tribute: Remember When Rock Was Young. With the crowd demographics skewing toward those of the 70s, there was lots of crowd participation singing along to the songs.