Guest aboard National Geographic Sea Bird awoke in Chatham Strait with the sighting of a humpback. Perfectly calm waters provided a great view of this large cetacean, which returns every summer from its breeding grounds in Hawaii. The cold, rich waters of Alaska provide an abundance of food after a winter of fasting. Around the bend, we dropped anchor in Iyoukeen Bay on Chichagof Island and explored the beautiful temperate rainforest along the shore. Some of us headed off trail on a bushwhacking hike and developed a greater appreciation for our boots.
In the early 1900s, there was a gypsum mine located here. Gypsum deposits are rare in Alaska and this deposit on Chichagof was the only commercial producer when Alaska was a territory. About 500,000 tons of gypsum were shipped annually to Tacoma, Wash., to manufacture hard-wall plaster, plaster of Paris, fertilizer, etc. The gypsum mine now long gone, it was clear that today, brown bears rule the roost. The ABC islands are known for their healthy bear populations that are in large part a result of the glaciers that once covered the islands and not long ago carved them into their present shape. Leaving U-shaped valleys in their wake, the glaciers are responsible for the rivers that host the salmon that feed the bears.
After lunch, we repositioned to Pavlof Harbor and explored the small bay by expedition landing craft and kayak. And if only these places could talk... The Tlingit people have fished this salmon stream for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and smokehouses found at the base of the waterfall and culturally modified trees are testament to the Tlingit presence. From 1912 to 1923, a cannery operated along the shores (where the old pilings were along the beach) and to support that business and other canneries in the area, a sawmill was built next to the waterfall. The entire coastline of the Tongass was once home to native Tlingit, thriving salmon canneries, herring reduction plants, and logging camps while today, aside from a few small communities, it is a sparsely populated jewel of Alaska.