Alaskan Cruise with Kids – Part 4, Sitka

Day 4

Sitka, Alaska. We pulled into port at about 7:00 am and readied ourselves for a whirlwind tour of Sitka.

The thing about cruising is that you really don’t have that much control over your time when in port. You have to make sure you’re back for ‘all aboard.’ If not, you will be left behind. Our style of travel (explore where the wind blows you) doesn’t fit well with this schedule, but we took the experience for what it was worth and booked an excursion that introduced us to the Alaska Raptor Center, Sitka National Historical Park (part of the National Park Service), and a cultural presentation by the native Tlingit people at the Naa Kahídi Community House.

Alaska Raptor Center

Our first stop was the Alaska Raptor Center, where they care for injured bald eagles, owls, and other raptors. We saw up-close some of these beautiful birds and met some of the people who care for them.

Alaska Raptor Center
Bald Eagles in the flight training center – almost ready to re-enter the wild.

We saw a presentation that introduced us to Spirit, a young bald eagle. She won’t get the recognizable white head and tail until she is five years old.

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Spirit, a young, injured bald eagle

We also explored the outdoor areas and spied some more beautiful raptors.

Alaska Raptor center

Unfortunately, we did not have long to explore, before being ushered on to our next sight of interest.

Sitka National Historical Park

Our family loves the National Park Service and could have spent all day exploring Sitka National Historical Park. Once again, that would have to be saved for our next trip to Alaska.

Sitka NHP was a beautiful sight, featuring walking trails, wildlife, and amazing totem poles. We took a short nature walk, encountered a couple of totems, and earned our Junior Ranger badges.

Sitka National Historical Park
On our nature walk, we saw many interesting trees.
Totem Sitka National Historical Park
And saw some awesome totem poles.
Sitka National Historical Park Junior Ranger
And we can’t forget about our Junior Ranger Badges!

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Naa Kahídi Community House

Next, we saw a cultural presentation by representatives of the native Tlingit tribe. These fine people introduced us to the symbolism of their culture, taught us a few Tlingit words, and performed several dances and songs. It was truly enjoyable and educational.

Naa Kahídi Community House

Naa Kahídi Community House
Beautiful stage and performers.
Naa Kahídi Community House
Performers in native attire.

Lunch

Yes, we did all of that before lunch. Needless to say we were hungry and exhausted, but we had a few hours until we had to be back on the ship. So we intentionally missed the bus back to the boat in favor of exploring Sitka for a while. (This bothered my son to no end. He was so worried that we missed the bus and couldn’t figure out why we would intentionally do so!)

Anyway, we explored the town, the local bookstore, the local Ben Franklin, and found a little cafe in town. We had some vegetarian raviolini soup, bagels, and soft pretzels. And topped it off with some frozen yogurt.

After exploring a bit more, we took the free shuttle back to the boat and continued our cruising experience.

Check out Part 5 here. Follow our adventures from the beginning here.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Maple Sugar Time

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park System. Being from the Chicago area, I’ve been visiting the Indiana Dunes since I was a kid. This year, we took the kids to Chellburg Farm (part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) for Maple Sugar Time, where we learned first-hand how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup.

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We started with a ranger-led hike down a trail from the visitor’s center. The ranger made sure we all understood how trees got their nourishment. Early spring is maple sugar time because the trees have sucked all the nourishment from the ground and haven’t used it yet to make leaves or start growing in the new season.

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Continuing on the trail, we saw a demonstration of how Native Americans made maple sugar from the sap of the maple tree. They would tap the tree with a wooden spigot and collect the sap in a bark basket. The sap would be transferred to a rock with a bowl-shape, into which a fiery rock would be submerged to boil off the water, leaving the syrupy sap behind. This was further processed into dry sugar for easy transport.

Bark basket

charred wood

Further down the trail we saw how early settlers boiled the sap down to syrup in a succession of hanging cauldrons.

maple sugar time

We were then given an opportunity to “tap” a tree just to see if we could do it.

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We then visited the boilery that the Chellburgs used to process the sap into maple syrup. They used a succession of metal pans.

In the Chellburg farmhouse, we were given a taste test to see if we could tell the difference between real maple syrup and the fake stuff from the grocery store. We could definitely taste the difference!

After learning all about the process of making maple syrup, the children earned their Junior Ranger badges.

Junior Ranger Indiana Dunes

And the family took a hike to enjoy the natural beauty and history of the Indiana Dunes.

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Epic Antietam, The Bloodiest One-Day Battle

Our next stop was Antietam National Battlefield. Though much smaller than Gettysburg, Antietam was no less powerful.

Our visit started with a movie about the battle. We then went up to the viewing room where we got an amazing view of the battlefield. We also visited the small museum in the visitor center.

This is what we learned:

The battle at Antietam is known as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. According to the National Park Service, “23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.”

“23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.”

Before embarking on our auto tour of the battlefield, we collected our Junior Ranger activity books. The kids love working on earning their Junior Ranger badges at the National Parks that we have visited.

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Dunker Church, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD

It’s easy to see why this could have been a very bloody battle. The terrain here is very hilly and sightlines are extremely poor. A soldier could not have seen the enemy until he was almost right on top of him.

Our family did an experiment. Dad walked ahead off the trail of Sunken Alley (otherwise known as Bloody Lane). The kids and I stayed behind. It was not too long until he disappeared from view into one of the shallow valleys. Just like that, we had zero visibility of him even though he was relatively close.

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The hills and dales of Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD
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Sunken Alley (Bloody Lane), Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD
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Burnsides Bridge, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD

Nothing stimulates the appetite of little ones more than a little learning about the Civil War and a little hiking on a beautiful day. The same holds true for Mom and Dad. We, luckily, met up with a cyber friend who recommended going to Sheperdstown, WV to find some food.

Maria's Taqueria, Shepherdstown, WV
Maria’s Taqueria, Shepherdstown, WV

We had a delicious lunch at Maria’s Taqueria. We recommend this quaint little restaurant highly.

Epic Gettysburg – Day 2

On day 2 of our Gettysburg stay, the weather turned windy and cold. We decided to explore the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center and Museum to stay comfy and warm. But we did have a few more landmarks we wanted to see around the town.

More Landmarks

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Viewing Amos Humiston’s memorial, Gettysburg, PA

The first landmark was a memorial to Sgt. Amos Humiston, the only infantry soldier to have a monument dedicated to him at Gettysburg. My son has been intrigued with the story of Amos Humiston for over a year. Humiston was shot and killed on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The memorial stands where he fell. His body was found still clutching an ambrotype of his three children. The picture of his children was published in several newspapers and, from this, he was subsequently identified by his wife.

 

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Lincoln arrived here by train

The other landmark we were interested in seeing is not too far from Amos Humiston’s monument. It is the train station where Lincoln arrived when he traveled to Gettysburg to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

Museum and Visitor Center

After seeing these sites we went to the visitor center to explore.

First, we watched a 20-minute(ish) movie about the Battle of Gettysburg. Then, we were ushered upstairs for a view of a cyclorama painting. What is a cyclorama? you may ask. Well, I certainly had no idea. My husband thought it sounded like work (I think he was thinking of a spin class at the gym).

A cyclorama is a very large painting that is designed to be viewed from the center. It wraps around 360 degrees, so everywhere you look there is a different vantage point. Pretty cool, actually.

The cyclorama at the visitor center was painted by late 19th-century painter Paul Philippoteaux, and depicts Pickett’s Charge on the 3rd day of the Battle of Gettysburg. According to the Gettysburg Foundation, it “measures 377 feet in circumference and [is] 42 feet high. Longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure.” Light and sound effects, as well as an accompanying life-size diorama, add to the experience.

We then explored the museum, which was set up chronologically from events leading up the to Civil War to the aftermath.

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Reflecting in a Civil War soldier’s mirror
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Looking at Lincoln
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Resting by the battle of the ironclads.

Junior Rangers

After that, we visited with a park ranger to have some questions answered and pick up our Junior Ranger activity books. As always, the ranger was very helpful. And the kids love the Junior Ranger program. The activities help them learn about and grasp the difficult concepts that they’re seeing around them. And the ceremonial oath they have to take after completing activities makes them feel important, knowledgeable, and responsible. I can’t say enough about the Junior Ranger programs at the NPS parks. They’re great.

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Working on Junior Ranger activities. This one was really tough.
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Being sworn in as a Junior Ranger.

After exploring the museum and earning our Junior Ranger badges, we had one more very important landmark we wanted to see, back at the cemetery. We had to find where Amos Humiston was buried. Our trip would not have been complete without seeing it and being on the Earth in the same place that he was.

With help from the ranger, we found it:

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Sgt. Amos Humiston’s grave marker at Gettysburg National Cemetery.