We wake up this morning from a night of vivid, temperate rainforest-filled dreams to a crisp and vibrant Alaska – breathing in the cleanest air most of our lungs have ever had the pleasure to experience. As we step outside of our cabins, we are met with the seaside town of Wrangell. This is Southeast Alaska.
Sipping coffee, eagerly awaiting another mouthwatering breakfast, one’s mind can’t help but wonder…what sort of adventures will we be a part of today? This is our third full day exploring Southeast Alaska on board National Geographic Sea Lion. We began in Juneau and will end our trip in Ketchikan, but let’s not even think about the last day yet! Today is Wrangell day!
Wrangell is a vibrant, small town with lots of history to learn about and wonderful places to explore. The Tlingit tribe has a beautiful tribal presence that is ribboned throughout Wrangell. When exploring the world, it is important to learn about the cultures of each spot, not only for educational purposes but also out of respect for the people and the land they have cared for long before history books were written.
Our amazing expedition leader, Dana, tells us at breakfast what she has planned for us, and we all cheer as the day’s activities are explained. First, a tour of the Stikine River via jet boat with two destinations: Chief Shakes Lake and Shakes Glacier! Breathtaking Sitka spruce filled forests are kissed with low hanging clouds, and we encounter bald eagles and heaps of harbor seals on our way to and from Shakes Glacier. Next, we head to Chief Shakes Big House, which is set on one of the most sacred bits of land in Wrangell for the Tlingit tribe, Shakes Island. Here we are met by an elder of the Tlingit tribe, Virginia, who teaches us a bit about their lives, traditions, stories, and history. We are invited to enter ‘Chief Shakes Big House,’ a sacred house where many important things take place, all tribal related. Only those invited are allowed to enter this house, and we are welcomed guests. Jaw-droppingly magnificent totem poles are all around this bit of land. The Tlingit tribe does not typically upkeep their totem poles. They believe that once the carving is completed, the earth will slowly take back the totem, returning the wood to Mother Earth. They follow this same practice with their homes. Rather than remodel, they allow the earth to reclaim the materials used to make the home and then build a new one.
Next, we are off to explore the infamous Petroglyph Beach! No one knows who made these carvings, nor do we know exactly how old they are. Regardless, you can feel the power they carry. After the beach, we hike up Mt. Dewey, named after Melvil Dewey, the creator of the American Dewey Decimal System. Almost immediately after leaving the neighborhoods, we are in the forest with Sitka spruce trees surrounding us and drenching the air with their scent. Wildflowers, mosses, and mushrooms are some of our favorites as we climb up the small mountain. The view from the top of this short, moderate, stair-friendly hike is jaw dropping!
The Wrangell Museum is our last stop, and wow, what a gorgeous collection! One could spend all day looking at the gorgeous educational displays in this smaller-sized museum. The museum, Petroglyph Beach, the Mt. Dewey hike, and Chief Shakes Big House are all must-dos if you ever find yourself in the magical town of Wrangell.
Insider tip: Give yourself a little time to walk around and explore the town. Keep your eye out for the freshly made cedar soap store, and if you’re a treasure hunter, the Wrangell thrift store is a must visit!