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Day 4: Juneau

Hump Day? Humpback Day

sunny 73 °F
View Silver Seas Cruise on paulej4's travel map.

large_JuneauFromVeranda.JPGWe arrive at Juneau at 9:30. Pecking order here was: Coral Princess (1,975 passengers) at 6:30, Grand Princess (2,600 passengers) at 8:00, Celebrity Millennium (1, 950 passengers) at 9:00, then us, and later on, the Explorer of the Seas (a whopping 3,835 passengers) at noon. large_IMG_6201.JPGThat’s five ships total on this day at this, the capital of the State of Alaska where the weather forecast today is for a high of 73 degrees, a low of 55, partly cloudy skies and, again, a 10% chance of rain. Imagine it: 10,742 tourists all at once. Do the locals love it or hate it?

As an aside as it is really a quite different animal altogether, the National Geographic Quest is moored adjacent to us. This 100 guest, 50 cabin explorer vessel is equipped with Zodiacs (an inflatable dinghy powered by an outboard motor) and a mud room. You can book eight Alaska days aboard for around $6,000 each/double occupancy and listen to whales on their hydrophone or kayak in the fjords.large_NationalGeographicQuest.JPG

Located on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau is the second largest city in the entire United States—by area.In two days, we will visit the largest city by area which is Sitka. Juneau is over 2,700 square miles; that’s bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. 31,275 people live here at sea level under the visage of 4,000-foot Mount Juneau and across the channel from Douglas Island. Juneau gets its name from Joe Juneau, a gold prospector from Quebec. No roads connect this city to the rest of the state or, for that matter, to the rest of North America. The terrain around here is not road friendly so all goods come and go by boat or plane.

Juneau was initially here because of great herring fishing. The first European to see the place was Joseph Whidbey, the captain of the good ship Discover during George Vancouver’s expedition in 1794. After the California gold rush miners headed this way and, in 1880, nuggets “as large as peas and beans” were found here. It wasn’t until 1959 that Alaska was granted statehood and not until 1977 until the Alaska Pipeline made the state flush with cash. It is the only state capital located on an international border; Canada is just to the east.

The 2014 Palma Bay earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the fiber optic cable that connects the city to the rest of the world and in 2008 avalanches knocked out the power so the city had to switch to diesel power for a short time.

The government is the largest employer accounting for about a quarter of the economy followed closely by us: tourism. Fishing is still big with gillnet and troll salmon fleets sailing from here. Juneau International Airport boasts of 11 daily departures. The Juneau Empire newspaper recent headlines of note are: “Dog wakes residents, alerts them to house fire,” “Pilot rescued after Glacier Bay emergency landing,” and “Five passengers safe after canoe flips at glacier.”

Upon arrival, B4 and I ate breakfast outside at our favorite place outside La Terrazza and then I took off for a 5-mile walk while she continued with her book and emails. I found bald eagles feasting on salmon in a stream and a quite fine whale statue.


Our adventure here is with the Gastineau Guiding Company. We’re going whale watching and on a Mendenhall Glacier photo safari departing at 2:45. We meet our naturalist photography guide, Jim, at the pier in front of the ship. We drive to Mendenhall Glacier, walk an easy trail into the forest and take in the amazing scenery and wonderful silence. There is much talk (much of it of no interest to me) of botany and plants and trees and remedies available from this fauna and that. If only I suffered from those maladies, I would be fascinated. Finally, without seeing any bears, we come to a vista from where The Mendenhall Glacier can be understood.large_GuideJimCaptainJen.JPGlarge_MendenhallCouple.JPGlarge_MendenhallCalvingBergs.JPGlarge_MendenhallWaterfall.JPG

The glacier is just over 13 miles long and, along with its surrounding territory, is protected as part of the almost 6,000 acre Mendenhall Recreation Area, a unit of the Tongass National Forest. The Mendenhall has retreated 1.75 miles (12%) since it was first measured in 1929. Average yearly temperatures here are currently increasing but the good news—such as it is—shows that the increasing tide of moist warm air is carried up the icefield and turns into snow. The snow feeds the icefield and may offset a bit of the increasing melt. If temperatures continue to increase this trend will be threatened because the glacier won’t be cold enough to create conditions necessary for snow to form. Jim, our guide, explains in great detail the science of global warming and is cautious, I can tell, to determine whether or not he has deniers among his audience. Today, he does not.

Later on, we see what I am told was a bear. Everybody else in the throng that had appeared saw this creature except for me.BearNoReallyItsABear.JPGBearVsMamaBear.JPG

Every local we have met here is marveling at the "hot" weather; twenty degrees warmer than average (in the 70's rather than the 50's) while we are visiting.

The historic melt has created Mendenhall Lake which is growing in size. Another interesting feature of the melt is that tree stumps and logs with roots and bark still attached are appearing below the glacier’s leading edge. Scientists report that the stumps are between 1,200 to 1,400 years old with some much older—as much as 2,000 years according to one report. As we walk a heavily trafficked trail, we see posted reminders of where the ice boundary was; in 1916, 1920, 1936. It's a very long walk to where the ice boundary is today. A very long walk.

Later we are aboard a safari boat with a sheltered cabin ringed by large windows. I am in my element here; this is what I love to do when I travel. I didn't own a 400mm lens when I last visited this place. If I can just hold it steady enough but that is a difficult task on a rocking boat trying to shoot a perfect photo of a moving target. I do my best; you see what that is here.large_SashaDiving.JPGlarge_SashaTail.JPGlarge_SashaWithBoat.JPGlarge_SashaWithBoat2.JPGlarge_FaustRockSealsAndEagleGlacier.JPGlarge_BaldEagleInFlight.JPG

We are soon complete. Back to our ship we decide to shower and do room service. Our suite is perfect for that and we are perfect for it. B4 has finished her book, "Bad Blood" and is astounded. She recommends it heartily.effc4eb0-9404-11e8-b8b0-bf3a4cba6d8a.png large_HarborSeal.JPG

As 11:00 approaches, we are still tied up in Juneau which has rolled up the sidewalks long ago. We are finished for the day and so are they. B4 dozes on the couch as I write; I envy her blissful sleep but I have a day to document. Tomorrow is another day for us all.

I note as we sail that we are the last of five ships to leave Juneau on this beautiful, unseasonably warm and calm evening. Will we ever return?

Posted by paulej4 09:35 Archived in USA Tagged alaska juneau

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