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Hoonah, AK

Airship Goes to Alaska


Today was a rainy rainy day in Hoonah. (That's the view from Airship's galley, above.) 

But we had things to see, so we suited up "full Alaska" (rain pants, rain jacket, hat, Xtratufs) and headed out to do some exploring. First up at 9am was a visit to the carver's studio just up the road, where local native artists Gordon Greenwald, Herb Sheakley and Owen James are working on the cultural elements of the traditional Huna Tribal House being built in Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park.

Our tip from Sherrie–the harbormaster here–to get there at 9am when they opened in order to beat the cruise ship crowd was a great tip! We heard later from some boat neighbors who went later on that there were about 20 people in there when they visited. We were the only ones at 9am, and spent a lot of time chatting with the carvers and learning about the project.) More info about the project is here if you're interested.

I took a bunch of photos, but even shooting RAW the white balance was so hard to get right in the final photos. The light was a mix of natural light and giant green fluorescent jobbies hanging from the ceiling, so I'm giving you the black and white versions (which look much better).

These panels make up what will be front of the tribal house:


The panels are all hand-textured, and the texturing alone takes about 12 hours per panel:


Handmade tools for the job (the one on the far left has an antler for a handle…the rest are from tree trunk/branch sections):


This is carver Gordon Greenwald, telling us how they make the tools, and why the wood handles are better than the antler handles (because they're softer and have a little give when you're using them, and the antler handles are too hard, and the impact transfers more into your hand when you work):



We also got to see the four interior house posts, each one representing one of the four original Tlingit clans. The clans are the T'akdeintaan, (Raven), Wooshkeetaan, Chookaneidí and Kaagwaantaan (all eagle moieties). The central pole carvings are a goat, a shark, an octopus and a wolf, respectively. Each image has to do with the history and stories of that particular clan. 

Here's one color shot that turned out okay, so you can see the paint colors (that's the shark, and the spine of the shark which is important for the story of this corner house post, but I don't know that particular story). They're using consumer paint to match the traditional pigments (and not, for instance, salmon roe mixed with saliva):


On the corner post next to the shark…this story I kind of know. It's story of a giant octopus who was snatching villagers as they went about their daily fishing and gathering. Since the clans get so much of their everything from the sea, they could not go on being afraid of the water.

A boy (I forgot his name) tied a spear or a knife to his hand, killed a dolphin to use as bait, and went out in his canoe to attract the giant octopus. He threw out the dolphin parts and the giant octopus showed up and grabbed the bait and the boy and the boy was never seen again. But soon, the carcass of the tentacled monster washed up on the beach and the young man's body was found inside.


This one tells the story of the glaciers in Glacier Bay advancing (at the speed of a running dog). Some young men were hurrying to tell the rest of the villagers to flee, but the glacier was moving too fast and swallowed them up before they could warn the others. 


The orca's blow hole is often depicted as a face, because the spray of the whale's breath is like a spirit that radiates from the blowhole and without it the whale could not breathe.

Traditional tribal carved headwear, some with fur:



Gordon was so nice to spend so much time with us and share so much information with us. Follow along with the progress of the Huna Tribal House here on facebook, if you're interested. I think we won't get into Glacier Bay this trip. We'd like to have more time to spend in there, and I'm doubting there's much in the way of internet so we'll aim for next summer and as a bonus, we'll probably get to see this work on the actual Tribal House there in Bartlett Bay when it's finished.

After the carver's studio visit, we headed down to Icy Strait Point to get in a bit of touristy activity at the cannery (about a 2 mile walk from the marina).


The bummer about the cruise ship(s) being here is that the town is flooded with (a minimum of) 2,500 more people. The benefit of that, however (besides the economic impact is has on a small Alaskan town of 750), is that many of the places that would not be open on a "no cruise ships day" are open. (Like, the baleen and fry bread place, for instance.) 

The cannery museum and shops and restaurants (and zip line, of course) were all open today, so we grabbed some halibut fish & chips and a beer and had a fun conversation with some other diners from the cruise ship. (Seven days! All they get up here is 4 ports in 7 days!)

They've got a bunch of the old equipment in there with a ton of info about how they processed and canned salmon when the cannery was a working cannery:




I even bought a touristy thing in the gift shop. (Well, I bought two…one for Tiffani and Deke, since I'm pretty sure if they'd seen it, they'd have gotten one for themselves anyway.) Click to enlarge, for full detail. 🙂


The woman working in the gift shop was super nice and gave us a good tip for a breakfast spot (and what to order) tomorrow morning before we take off for Elfin Cove. (Everyone we've met here in Hoonah has been so nice and friendly. This is a sweet little town and a recommended stop.)

Our walk back in the rain was wet but pretty:



The forecast tomorrow looks good for Icy Strait so we'll head to Elfin Cove and then on to Pelican if the Icy Strait/Cross Sound conditions stay chill. After that, I think we'll start heading….I know, please no, but we have to….south. Slowly, very slowly…south. 🙁 I have to stop thinking about it now. 

Hey look! Another humpback! Shiny!! 


  1. Sam Landsman Sam Landsman

    Some of Kayley’s reviews are awfully similar to the descriptions in the Douglass guide…

    St. John Harbor, on Zarembo Island, is one example. Here’s a section of the Douglass description:

    “The harbor has an interesting natural feature—a carbonated artesian spring found on the mud flats in the southwest corner of the bay, about a quarter mile past the house on the west side of the bay. The spring is visible only at low tide.”

    And in Kayley’s review:

    “This area has a very interesting geological feature: a carbonated artsian spring ground on the mud flats in the southwest corner about a nautical quarter-mile past the house on the west side of the bay. The spring is only visible at low tide.”

      • tiffani tiffani


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