It’s a wet, dreary morning as we sail into Juneau, the capital of Alaska. I had hoped for a little miracle, that the weather would be cold but dry….possible slight snow wouldn’t be too bad. Oh well we were told to expect rain as it rains all but 40 days a year and Juneau wasn’t about to disappoint!
Juneau became the Alaskan capital in 1906, Sitka was the capital up to that time. 1880 gold was found by a Tingit Indian and after the find 2 prospectors arrived however they failed to find any substantial amount of gold until their second trip when gold was found in the Gastineau Channel. Within a month hundreds of prospectors arrived and the Alaskan town established. One of the original prospectors were Harris and Juneau. The town was originally named Rockwell after the Naval Commander whose men had been sent to keep law and order in the mining town. However, Juneau threw (what I choose to describe as) a “hissy fit” over the fact that he was one of the original finders of the gold and nothing had been named after him. So they changed the name from Rockwell to Juneau – obviously the hissy fit was of gigantic proportions!!!!
Today Juneau is built around federal, state and local governments and it we’re told these departments employ one out of every two residents. Tourism is the largest private employers in Juneau with commercial fishing and mining also playing a part in the economy of this region.
One last piece of information before I launch into our visit….there are only 2 ways out of Juneau……sea or air. There are no roads out…not one….does that make you feel just a little isolated??? It did me….imagine not being able to take a road trip out of there!! What if you wanted to shop at a nearby city with a different choice of shops? Anchorage is 600 miles away by air….instead of freeways or normal highways they have a marine highway system with vessels that travel these waterways!! So want to go camping? Pop you car and trailer on the vessel and off you go to your preferred camping ground. “Where there’s a will there’s a way” the saying goes and it’s especially true for this wilderness area. So if you fancy freewheeling Alaska check out the Marine Highway!!! Also, a store similar to Walmart only recently opened in Juneau.
Back to us ‘cos it’s about us with some history thrown in! Not history with a of us thrown in……..
After venturing out to the balcony and, facing the windchill factor, we decided to wear our thermals. Time to undress and redress again. Getting dressed is very interesting, it’s definitely a “sara lee” experience. So is going to the loo when you’ve got all these clothes on! For those of you who don’t know the grocery brand Sara Lee or the jingle I don’t want to go into lots of detail but – the adverts for this company mention” layer upon layer upon layer” of pastry make their goodies taste great. So it has become a term for explaining that you have lots of clothes on. Sitting down was very difficult whilst wearing layers but taking the layers off was the most challenging. We were falling all over the cabin trying to get leggings off!! Doing the one-legged hop around the room!! Not one for wearing large amounts of clothing these garments felt very restrictive. A necessary restriction to stay toasty and warm and not face the alternative – freeze to death.
We chose to wander around Juneau today rather than join any particular tour the cruise company had organised. That way we could step off the ship at our leisure and decide what to do. The rain was heavy and the wind was freezing as we walked down the gangway of the ship. “What a day” I mentioned , mostly to myself. We got to the bus shelters outside the cruise terminal area and added waterproof pants to our extensive array of attractive clothing!!! This would be the most uncomfortable day of the cruise although the amount of wet weather gear we were wearing should keep us dry.
Setting off again, with a slower stride than 5 minutes ago, lo and behold we come across a souvenir shop. Stepping in, can’t pass a good souvenir store, Ty brings to my attention the barrel of plastic ponchos…I had been worrying earlier that if my waterproof jacket get too wet in this prolonged rain it could fail me. “Why don’t you buy one of these to put over your jacket and camera, it might help” Ty said to me and seeing the look of horror on my face he continued “well, you wanted to stay dry and no one knows you so just buy one”. Ok, why not, so I purchased a white plastic poncho with “Alaska” in blue writing all over it. Ty was not to take any photos of me in this outfit and I said that to him in my most threatening voice. Would he listen? Of course not!!! The poncho cost the princely sum of $1.98 plus tax.
Next door to the souvenir shop was a tour desk offering 2 hour tour of Mendenhall Glacier and an all day pass for the Mt Roberts Tramway for $34. This also included the $3 admission to the Glacier visitor centre. There is a shuttle bus for $8 (assume it was each way) that would take us to Mendenhall Glacier but we decided to take the 2 hour tour to the Glacier instead knowing the bus would be waiting at a set time to return. For that price we received a teaser tour of Juneau and some interesting pieces of information along the way.
We still had an hour to kill before the bus left for the Glacier so coffee was now high on the list. Crossing the road was different in Juneau, they had two lollipop men, well, one was a woman, who stood out on the crossing as pedestrians walked towards it. There didn’t seem to be much traffic in Juneau, a truck, bus or possibly a car intermittently but never saw more than two at any one time passing by the crossing whilst we were in the area. Certainly not enough to call for lollipop men…..perhaps I have it the wrong way round and it’s the number of pedestrians crossing the road that tend to be troublesome!? Who knows….it’s keeping people in employment and that’s a good thing.
There are plenty of touristy type shops in town, including many jewellery shops, all owned by the cruise companies no doubt. Opening in tourist season only! We purchase the obligatory fridge magnet, t-shirts and key chains. This holiday I haven’t purchased a single shot glass. I’m sure I’ll regret this decision once we arrive back on Australian soil. Shot glasses from almost every town I have visited, have been the one constant throughout my years of travel, oh, as well as my travel diaries of course. After our shopathon we’re heading further into town when we meet fellow sailors, a young couple from Kansas. They’re on their honeymoon. They showed us a loose diamond they purchased and plan to have set into a ring when they return home. They explained how to find the jewellers but we steered clear lest I find a loose diamond or two that I could bring home. I’m already wearing the Skagway purchase (you’ll have read Bordello blog to know what I’m talking about) and prefer not to be tempted any further.
Finally it’s time to head back to the pick up point for our tour to the Mendenhall Glacier. As with all tours to anywhere in Alaska the buses don’t move off until every seat is taken. Our bus is now full so we move off, the driver is also our guide and gives a commentary as we drive through Juneau – we’re passing the streams where they fish for salmon, see the tree with the bald eagles nest, this road bridge joins Douglas Island to Juneau. Our guide continues on, Juneau has both black and brown bears, yes, we did notice all the bins in town have a little sticker that says “bear friendly”. I think the bears might say they’re bear unfriendly because they have a special latch which bears have not mastered that yet. Having said that I couldn’t open the bin either. The guide pointed out the State building and made mention of Sarah Palin.
Arriving at Tongass National Park we synchronise watches to ensure we’re all back at the bus within 2 hours then the bus door opens and we all pile out. It’s a short walk from the bus stop to the first view of the glacier. It’s quite an amazing sight, even though light rain is falling, the scene is spectacular. concrete paths that lead to the lake bordered by trees, a carpet of grass merging into the river rock and then the slowly moving stream that winds its way over and around the rocks until it joins the lake in front of the glacier. Do you remember the icy mints we used to buy once upon a time (I haven’t seen them for years) they were a really pale blue, almost clear with a tinge of blue in them, well that’s the colour of the lake. Quite striking with the icebergs a shade darker than the lake floating slowly by as if they had all the time in the world to get where they’re going. To the right of this scene is a waterfall crashing down the rocks and into the lake, how do I photograph this scene and do it justice, I try to remember pointers given to me by one of my friends, Alan, he has way more experience. Click, click, snap, snap, I take so many photos trying to get “the one”. Did I get it? Who knows, it’s all in the eye of the beholder!!!
Mendenhall Glacier is 1.5 miles wide and 12 miles long, it is part of what is known as the Juneau ice field that covers 1500 miles to the Canadian border. The glacier is still increasing in size. There are several pathways and hiking trails available but we chose to stay around the visitors centre and the lake area. Love a good walk and we probably would have taken a hike but not in the rain, I’m a fair weather walker I’m afraid. I don’t like to become wet and bedraggled. So we probably missed more of this amazing scenery but I was happy with the views we saw.
Amazing how time flies when you’re having fun or enjoying a view! We just had time to wander into the visitors centre and buy a couple of items…..hey, you know by now, if you’ve read other blogs of mine, that shopping is what I do best!! The large floor to ceiling windows added another view of the glacier and its surrounds. As I looked out across the lake I noticed something red skimming across the water. Moving closer to the window for a second look, “Oh, my goodness, it’s a two-man canoe”, as usual no one was listening to me…looking around for Ty who’d wandered over to the telescopes. When he returned I pointed out the canoe, the red really stood out in this pale blue water….
As we left the visitors centre and the glacier the sight of the red canoe in the ice blue waters dwarfed by icebergs stayed with me.
The bus and our guide/driver was waiting. We didn’t have any stragglers on this trip, everyone was well-behaved and turned up on time. The trip back to Juneau was uneventful, except for a couple who didn’t get their “right” seat back for the return trip. They were a little put out. We weren’t allocated seats so it always amazes me why people assume they must be seated in the same place for the return trip. If they chose to leave a piece of clothing or a bag on the seat to assert their rights then that’s ok, you’d expect people to pass the seat by but if it’s an empty seat – first in best dressed!!!!
After returning to Juneau we decide to take the Mt Roberts Skyway, oops, sorry, the Mt Roberts Tramway. Why it’s called a Tramway is beyond me….it most certainly doesn’t use tracks to get to the top of the mountain, it uses cables, it does look a little tram-line so perhaps that’s the reason.. No part of this mechanical people mover touches the ground at all. Anyway, we take the next cable car to Mt Roberts. The views over Juneau would be spectacular on a fine day but today was not a fine day! By the time we reached the top the rain had increased. We walked to the look out and took a couple of photos, our ship through the rain, Juneau through the rain…..rain, rain, rain……oh and there was quite a large amount of snow up on the mountain and avalanche signs strategically placed behind plastic strips stretched across walkway.
There were a couple of highlights on this mountain other than the amazing views (if it was a fine day), the two gift shops and the resident bald eagle. There is also a theatre and a large restaurant. We sloshed across to the first gift shop….yes, sloshed, there was no covering over the walkway, it was raining and the snow had turned to a slimy slush which, given my habit of breaking bones whilst on holidays, meant slow steps to stay upright!!! Did not want to go back to the ship with muddy clothes or a swollen ankle. How embarrassing would that be?? Nor did I want to give Ty a photo opportunity, although by the time he stopped laughing he would probably forget to take the photo.
Making my way from the little gift shop to the main lookout I realised there wasn’t going to be any “wow” photos up here today. Looking down through the rain and trees I could just make out the blur of our ship, what a shame, this would be a fabulous place to get a sense of Juneau. Oh well have to leave it to someone else. There was a bear viewing platform but couldn’t see the platform and, if the bears had any sense, they’d be sleeping inside a cosy hole in a tree somewhere. Oh well there’s still the bald eagle to visit. As I turned to make my way to the bald eagles house the ranger came along and closed the shutter to the eagles house and unhooked the donations tin and walked hurriedly away in the other direction. The note on the shutter said something like ” the eagle is resting for the next 2 hours”. “Damn, how disappointing”, I murmured.
Time to head back down to the ship, we were cold and a little damp, my lovely plastic poncho was not holding up very well in this wind and rain, it was starting to rip in places making it extremely difficult to take on and off.
Naturally we made our way to the rest of the souvenir shops we’d ignored earlier in the day, these towns need our dollars given they only operate in the summer months and we were happy to oblige. Although Ty would remind me about the airline weight restrictions….always someone there to burst that spending bubble!! We had a flight from Seattle to Hawaii so we thought we had strict baggage limits and wouldn’t have extra baggage limits until we were coming home from Hawaii.
Arms full of shopping bags, we waddled back to the ship. Ahh, warmth of the ship and our cabin was very welcome. Off with all the clothes, shedding layer upon layer until I was finally naked and able to step into a lovely hot shower. I left Ty still hopping around the room trying to remove his thermal pants….
This evening we dined at the Nouveau Steak Restaurant at the very top of the ship. Glass stairs led to this restaurant and suffering a little from vertigo I chose not to look down but to look skyward keeping fingers crossed I wouldn’t miss a step and fall. Made it…..but we’ll take the lift down!! The meal was very good and the service was great, restaurant was quiet though, it was the only restaurant where you needed to pay…the cost was $30 per person. We thought it was well worth it.
The evening closed with an hour at the Casino, a drink at the Piano Bar before retiring. The ship was a little wobbly tonight…nothing to do with the wine I had at dinner either! On that note it’s goodnight.