Saturday, April 14, 2012


(this blog should be read as a second part of my first blog on Alaska there will be more.)

It's been 15 years since I last visited Alaska so I may not have a exact recollection of events, however I won't let that stop me from discussing my 5-year Alaska experience.

The small part of Alaska we went to is known as South East the archipelago traveled by cruse ships,or inland passage off western Canada. Generally this area from Juneau south to Ketchikan has a climate similar to Seattle with more rain as you move north. Winters are mild but wet and can be windy and dangerous for small planes in winter as well as uncomfortable boating. Consequently I always went in the summer.

There's marble in them there islands

Mt. Calder - pure white marble

Ten percent of Alaska is owned by native corporations since statehood formation. Most of the state is federal or state owned land. It is important to know when one is looking and exploring around, whose property you are on . This is home of the Tungus, our largest national forest, now protected by President Clinton, not so when I was there. Today it would likely be illegal to walk or drive the old log roads we traveled on these remote uninhabited islands as we did, looking at geology formations.

How we get around

Old log roads

Landing craft and fishing boat home

People who live on these islands have to be self sufficient,with boats to get to town for supplies,but no infrastructure at there home site, diesel generators for power needs. Fish camps are scattered around with customers pampered in and out on float planes, getting an outback experience with no personal discomfort. Local economists gauge the economic health by calculating the ratio of pounds of fish going out, to gallons of beer coming in,on the barge transport system.

Fishing for dinner

Landing craft as truck

Dangerous passage

There is classic award winning book over 600 hundred pages describing the geology of the United States mainland, titled ANNALS OF THE FORMER WORLD by JOHN McPHEE. In it the author states that if you don’t want to read the entire book, it's enough to understand that the stone on top of Mt. Everest was formed at the bottom of the ocean. I am not smart enough to describe the geology of SE Alaska but to say that its geology was formed a long way south and smashed in, or what geologists called docked, by tectonic drift. So there is a lot of variety to look at. I found a lot of good information in the Ketchikan library on local geology, those librarians are always so kind and helpful, I hope our digital age doesn’t somehow displace them. Two of the best sources being MARBLE RESOURCES OF SOUTHEASTERN ALASKA by ERNEST F. BUCHARD, given to me by Ron Geitgey, with a section on geography and geology by THEODORE CHAPIN, bulletin 682 posted in 1920. How these guys traveled around and walked these rain forest islands is beyond my imagination. The second great source for me is a book written by PATRICIA ROPPEL, titled FORTUNES FROM THE EARTH, published in 1991. There is a lot of other great stuff on this subject but these two I found most helpful.

Me at the black deposit

Marble blocks covered with moss

Stacked and ready for San Francisco

On my first trip to SE Alaska, Bob with his meat, me with my over stuffed navy sea bag, we landed on Gravina island just off Ketchikan (bridge to nowhere fame), and took a local ferry to PRINCE OF WALES island. Then van shuttle to CRAIG our headquarters, then down to meet JIM the Alaska fisherman and explorer who lived on Bob's 42 foot wooden trawler. After going to grocery store for provisions we headed out the next morning to a friend of Jim's place, to pick up a skiff with an outboard motor to use. His friend had a wonderful home. He and his wife and one son lived in all built by him on a log raft. Behind his home he had built a large building that was his log mill all on another log raft, well lit and airy, a business he used to supplement his fishing. I remember they had a dog that he said had never been to town (had never seen another dog). I liked that.

My friend the Yakima farmer

Marble blocks

Me swimming in quarry

Shortly after heading out for Marble Island we were all engaged in conversation and came up on a concealed rock, high and dry and tilting portside. This is how navigational errors sink boats. If the tide is going out, the craft tips and fills with water . Tide was going the right for us,so we had to wait an hour or so and were lifted off and floating again. Must have hit right in the center, these old wooden fishing boats have massive keels, probably not so lucky with modern fiberglass boats. No damage, everything seemed to work again.

The black quarry

25-foot-long marble blocks under water, water left from Juneau capitol job

Rail cart in rain forest

Our fishing boat had a top speed around 6 knots, and we got to Marble Island at night fall. The solitude and stillness of this remote place is beyond description. As you approach the island two 40-foot-high stacks of quarry blocks protrude from the rain forest out into the water, all waste material abandoned there 80 to 110 years ago by the Vermont marble company. These piles of marble quarry blocks were built by loading blocks with stiff leg derricks cut from handy trees and steam driven wenches to a rail cart on top, with an improvised track to the end of the pile and dumped. By our recollection these scrap piles tangled through the rain forest for 3 miles, 40 ft wide 40 ft high, by my calculations there are probably 60,000 marble blocks resting in the rain forest. Four quarry holes of white marble and one quarry hole or black marble all filled with fresh water in the middle of a pristine rain forest. This being one of many abandoned quarries I would have a chance to visit the next five years. (MORE ON ALASKA FUN LATER )

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, the suspense is killing me! Here's an interesting link I found with some more great photos.
    I wonder if Joe has seen all of the Portland buildings on that list?!