The park consists of 15 different poles including totems and memorial poles. Totem poles are carvings that tell a story. I read somewhere that the old phrase "low man on the totem pole" is inaccurate because the lowest spot represents the most strength. The beginning of the story is the bottom of the totem and the top is the end. The totem trail leads from the visitor's center outward along the coastline. Even on a rainy day it is possible to see the cruise ships docked in the bay. It provides a good photo opportunity if you are a cruiser.
The path continues from one totem to the next. You will also find a plaque with information about the battle that took place on these grounds. The Tlingit tribe fought with the Russians in 1804 to retain their lands. The Tlingits were initially successful but in the end the Russians gun power from ships in the bay destroyed their chances. At the end of the totem trail, we watched some a totem being carved and spoke with the people doing it. In their conditions, it takes 4 months to complete a totem. All the totems that are carved are replicas of ancient designs.
Also, an interesting fact is that the tree may have been sitting for 10 years or more before it is carved. We also learned from the men carving that they used to be loggers but that business has been stopped due to stricter environmental laws and now they make their livings carving totems
The Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center (ARRC) is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1980 to help bald eagles injured by human contact. Until recently, bald eagles used to be considered an endangered species. The ARRC in fact cares of any injured birds that are taken to them - we saw an oel and a peregrine falcon, for instance. Visitors can learn about eagles, their habits and problems.
Bald eagles got their name because of the white feathers that cover their head when they reach maturity, at around 5 years of age. They live up to around 30 years in the wild and make pairs for life. We saw some wild eagles feeding by a fishery next to the dock where our boat was docked.
The Russian Bishop's House is the best surviving example of Russian architecture in North America.This is the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka and a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1842 by the Russian American Company as a residence for the Bishop of the Orthodox Church. This preserved buiding houses a collection of photos and items from the Russian period. Imperial Russia was the dominant power in the North Pacific for over 125 years. Sitka (known as New Archangel at the time) was the Russian colonial capital. The Bishop's House was completed in 1842 and was the center of Russian Orthodox church authority in a diocese that stretched from California to Siberian Kamchatka.
After years of decay, the national park service spent sixteen years completely restoring the building. It was donated by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1969. Occasional services are services are held in the chapel to keep it consecrated. You will learn about smart-house building techniques in the 1840s that largely reflect very modern trends. Even a small part of the foundation is on display to demonstrate the quality of this early construction. The solid wood house was built extremely well for harsh winters, but not so well for a very wet climate. The fine furnishings are original to the house. The small chapel is also quite beautiful and complete with icons and candles.
The Sitka Rose Gallery was listed in my travel guide as a store to visit in Sitka. It was not suggested by the cruise line and did not appear on their map. However, I think this store was a gem. It is located in a Victorian style house that sits slightly back from the main street. It is at the end of the shopping district but well worth the walk to see their treasures. The gallery has beautiful original pieces as well as prints. The sales associates are helpful and knowledgeable. The artwork contained within the store represents Alaskan artists. The artwork includes prints and pictures but also includes beautiful sculptures and scrimshaw work. There is also jewelry, some even antique in the store. The back of the store contains a soap shop featuring soaps made locally. I enjoyed shopping in this store. The prices proved to be better than some other ports we stopped in as well.
I asked one of the first persons we met in Sitka, how to find historic St. Micheal's Cathedral. He laughed and told me you can't miss it. Its in the middle of the road. He was right. Of course the multiple spires with unusual domes is a tip off too.
Constructed between 1844 and 1848, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel is the principal representative of Russian cultural influence in the 19th century in North America. From 1840 to 1872, Sitka was the Seat of the Russian Orthodox Diocese which governed all of North America, and thereafter it continued as the Seat of the Diocese of Alaska. This outstanding example of Russian church architecture was by far the largest and most imposing religious edifice in Alaska until well into the 20th century. The present cathedral is an exact reconstruction of the original building which burned to the ground in January 1966.
For a small donation you can tour the church and get the "rest of the story" from the local priest. The talks are quite informative. The church icons, golden alter doors, and a huge chandelier were saved from the fire by the townspeople who formed a chain. One man performed superhuman feet of lifting the chandelier which weighed four hundred pounds off its chain to be rescued form the encroaching fire.
The icon's themselves are somewhat of a miracle. The priest told the story that they were lost at sea when the ship that transported them sunk in the Pacific Ocean. The icons were later recovered from the beach by church members on the outer shore of Sitka. The Sitka Madonna is the symbol of the city and is thought to have miraculous powers. The church was rebuilt with exacting original detail including the sail cloth which covered the dome and walls. Unlike many larger cathedrals it is built on a human scale.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum is a small building on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska. The campus sits slightly outside the main shopping district of Sitka but is well worth the extra walking to get there. You can also get a day pass on the city bus which drops at this location as well. Sheldon Jackson was a missionary who is credited with introducing Christianity to the natives of Alaska. He is also credited by some of obtaining priceless artifacts representing the different tribal groups of Alaska underhandedly. These artifacts are what the museum that bears his name show. It is a wonderful collection of all sorts of ancient pieces. The price of $4/person is well worth it to see these priceless pieces.
To study the different pieces and all the information would take 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, we had about 45 minutes to spend here. The museum is circular in shape and naturally leads you around the perimeter eventually leading to the center where two authentic totem poles are set up. The outer perimeter contains all types of artifacts including several weapons, clothing items and household items used by the different groups in tall glass cases. One of the prize pieces of the museum is the helmet worn by Tlingit warrior Katlian during the battle fought with Russia over the lost lands surrounding Sitka.
The room winds around to displays that are at waist level. These displays sit atop drawers which all contain different artifacts if opened. With few exceptions, you can photograph all of the pieces. Of course, they are behind glass so be sure to turn off the flash. It is a wonderful collection of native work. The gift shop is small but contains some unique pieces all claiming to be authentic native work. You can visit the gift shop without touring the museum, but you will be missing out on one of the best museums I have ever seen.