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January 16, 2013

Sitka - Alaska’s First Capital

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One of the most vexing problems I had during my Holland America Alaska cruise was picking how I’d spend my time while in port. In the catalogue of possibilities, I counted 21 shores excursions in Sitka alone.

Broken down in three categories, they include adventure tours like salmon and halibut ocean sport fishing, volcano coast exploration by ocean raft, wilderness sea kayaking, photography tours, hiking and mountain biking, even snorkeling.

Wildlife tours include beach and wildlife exploration by jet cat, sea life discovery by semi-sub and a look at the Alaska Raptor Center, sea otters and Fortress of the Bear, a bear rescue center where the inhabitants roam in a natural setting while visitors view them from a covered area.

Knowing that Sitka (New Archangel) was the original colonial capital when the Russians controlled the area, I hit on a sightseeing tour that started with a stop at Sitka National Historical Park, which explores the culture of the native Tlingits, who lived in the area for over 50 centuries.

Located on the outskirts of town, one of the park’s main enticements is the array of large, colorful totem poles carved by the Tlingit and Haida peoples and erected along a pathway that wanders through the rainforest.

I discovered that totems come in four categories. Crest poles identify the ancestry of a family. History poles record the achievements and stories of a clan. Legend poles focus on folklore or actual events, and memorial poles honor worthy individuals.

During my look around, I could hear singing coming from the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi, a building constructed in the style of a Tlingit clan house that serves as the home of the Naa Kahidi Dancers.

Back in town, I explored the Russian Bishops House, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. Completed in 1842 by Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, who governed the Orthodox Church in an area that extended from Alaska to the Kamchatka Peninsula, the two-story log building painted a mustard yellow with a red roof dominates the downtown landscape around Crescent Harbor

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