July 9, 2013
Sea Planes are making headlines recently since the time Kerala government started a sea plane tour for the tourists covering some exotic locations in the Gods Own country. Recent reports suggest that Goa, Karnataka and other states also intend to start a similar service. These news items brought a smile on my face since I was fortunate to undertake a sea plane tour a couple of months back in the most exotic location imaginable…Alaska.
This May, my wife and I had taken a week long Alaskan cruise on board the cruise ship “Carnival Miracle” from Seattle on the west coast of United States. Our cruise ship took us through some spectacular landscape, glaciers, ice burgs and the cities of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan in Alaska.
In Ketchikan harbour....Cruise ship in the background
The Sea Plane harbour in Ketchikan
Sea planes waiting to pick up passengers
Cruise ships galore in the Ketchikan port
Ready to get into the sea plane
An aerial view of Ketchikan port
The Misty Fjords unfold
Miles and miles of Alaskan lakes and mountains
Close view of Alaskan forest
True to its name Misty Fjords welcomes us with lots of mist
More mist as we enter the valley
A glacier lake
A glacier lake with a floating harbour for sea planes
Our sea plane lands on a calm glacier lake
Standing on the floats of the seaplane which has landed on a glacier lake..only 2000 feet deep
Another sea plane full of cruise passengers lands next to ours
A combination of lakes and forests makes the Misty Fjords National Park...a surreal experience
Sighted an inter island ferry
Holding on for dear life...in a lake so quiet..so calm..and so deep...!
As our sea plane takes off and leaves the Misty fjords behind
Heading back to Ketchikan
A speed boat tries to catch up with out plane
Inside the sea plane
Aerial view of Ketchikan harbor
A 360 degree view taken by iphone 5 of the scene from the seaplane..as we took off from Ketchikan
One of the attractions advertised by the Cruise ship was the Sea Plane ride to the Misty Fjords National Monument in Ketchikan. Out of curiosity I booked the sea plane ride for me and my wife for the 19th May 2013 though it cost us a neat pile. As soon as the Carnival Miracle came alongside Ketchikan port, we were taken to the Sea Plane harbor by bus, where a number of sea planes were tied up waiting for the tourists. May is the start of the cruise season in Alaska, tourists, mostly Americans pour into Alaska during this season. In fact there were four cruise ships in Ketchikan harbor that day with thousands of passengers.
The sea plane which we had to embark seemed to be small from outside with a single propeller in the front and bobbing up and down in the sea on floats. However, once inside, we found that there was enough space for seating 6 to 8 passengers. This tour was fully booked and we took off in the earnest. As we were taxiing on the water, we could get a close look at all those cruise ships in the water and once in the air, a beautiful view of the small but cute city of Ketchikan and its harbor unfolded. We had a veteran Alaskan as our pilot who was thoroughly familiar and a skilled flyer.
Misty Fiords National Monument (or Misty Fjords National Monument) is a national monument and wilderness area administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Misty Fiords is about 40 miles (64 km) east of Ketchikan, Alaska, along the Inside Passage coast in extreme southeastern Alaska, comprising 2,294,343 acres (928,488 ha) of Tongass National Forest in Alaska's Panhandle. All but 151,832 acres (61,444 ha) are designated as wilderness. Congress reserved the remainder for the Quartz Hill molybdenum deposit, possibly the largest such mineral deposit in the world.
The national monument was originally proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in December 1978 as Misty Fiords National Monument, using the authorization of the Antiquities Act and became a part of an ongoing political struggle between the federal government and the State of Alaska over land use policy and authority that finally led to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. In that law, it was statutorily established as Misty Fjords National Monument. As one can see this Park has a huge area preserved as a natural forest and no human habitation is allowed. Even the trees which fall down due to age are not removed and allowed to degrade naturally! It is dotted with mountains, glaciers, miles and miles of forests teeming with wildlife and glacier fed lakes. Probably the name Misty fjords were given since the area is shrouded in mist even in the summers as we found out later.
We were over the Misty Fjords soon enough, and a spectacular sight was unfolding below and around us something which I have never seen in my life. Mysterious landscape, acres after acres of wild green forests, mountains, lakes and valleys…and to add a touch of romanticism…mist everywhere. What we saw that is simply not possible to describe in words and hence I let the readers to see it with their own eyes in the accompanying pictures. It was worth every penny we paid. Both of us were busy clicking pictures all through…left, right and center…because every mile was home to something new, something extraordinary. We realized why the Americans are so crazy about visiting Alaska. The views were simply out of the world.
Half way through the tour, our pilot landed the sea plane on a glacier fed lake in calm and serene surroundings with snowcapped mountains all around us. We went out of the plane and stood on the floats, holding on the aircraft for dear life, since one slip meant 2000 feet of watery grave! All around us, sea planes were busy landing and taking off. There was even a wooden floating harbor where some of the sea planes had landed and parked! Overall, three hours of best scenes of natural splendor and heavenly experience.
Acknowledgements: Wikipedia for history of Misty Fjord National monument.