Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A special day - Juneau, Alaska (from whence I could clearly see Russia)

Today was very special and, ironically, it was not as much about Juneau as it was about our chosen experiences.
Juneau itself is a lovely small city. It’s the capital city of Alaska – fourth in the state in population but very large in area – one of the largest cities in the country. It has all the expected facilities – Wal Mart, Home Depot, McDonalds, Supermarkets etc but it has no road / rail communication outside the city and everything has to be brought in by barge (or ‘plane) usually from Seattle.
Like Ketchikan it has heavy precipitation – rain predominantly but here also snow – and like Ketchikan its green, heavily wooded and located in a beautiful setting.
Mt Roberts formed the backdrop to our first view of Juneau with its cable car ride taking you to the top for a great vista. Unfortunately it did rain pretty much all day.

We had booked two tours today – the 'wrong bus' picked us up at the pier at 8am - with a great young driver/guide.

our first trip was out of Auke Bay on a catamaran cruise to go whale watching. We sailed out of port and into the Saginaw Channel. The water was a bit choppy and the wind and rain made it quite cold out on the ocean. Not long after passing the Point Retreat lighthouse on Admiralty Island 

we were told to keep an eye out for whales spouting and almost immediately we saw two on one side of the ship, three on the other and landed up with a crowd of humpback whales to observe. 

It was wonderful. The captain brought us quietly and slowly as close as he could to these huge animals and we watched them swimming along, breeching and diving with a flick of their huge flukes. 

I was only sorry my camera was not up to the task of catching it all. We were out on the water for three hours and could have spent more time. We also saw Steller Sea Lions and harbor seals in the same area and bald eagles (instantly recognizable by their white heads) in the tall trees lining the island shores. The whales were the show however. Absolutely wonderful

Our bus driver then drove us to the Mendenhall Glacier where we spent the next 45 min. This glacier is one of many that fill the valleys at the edge of the Juneau Icefield – an area the size of Rhode Island. The Ice that constitutes the glacier has accumulated over hundreds of years – with 100 inches plus of snow every year falling on the icefield and becoming compressed by the next years fall – and moving slowly but constantly down the valley through its own pressure and on a layer of melt at the bottom. 

As it reaches the run-off lake it calves and icebergs float in the lake melting slowly over time. 

The glacier itself is an unbelievably impressive sight in bulk and in its beautiful blue color that was particularly vivid in overcast conditions. 

I’m not sure about the impact of global warming but this glacier has been shrinking in size since the 1700s. It was an experience to see such a feature of nature in a relatively unspoiled environment.

we are becoming pretty good at dealing with weather in all its variations - the intrepid explorer / photographer looks elegant dressed in layers

But despite this elegance and sophistication still received jibes from the locals when she could not open the bear-proof garbage receptacle!!

Returning to Juneau and wandering the streets was a bit of an anticlimax – particularly as it involved visiting the shopping area but nothing could take away from the natural beauty we experienced here in Sarah Ps backyard


  1. I am home with a cold so as not to get chilled while reading your fabulous posts, I also put on an anorak!!! I do hope Merle got the purple hat.....too cute! Love the yellow boots as well! I don't know if I could live in an area with a lot of rain. Not good for my curly hair....I would look like a frizz ball.
    That glacier is amazing. I wonder if it's melting faster then it's moving down the valley?

  2. Pretty darn impressive ice cube ... as for the choices in headgear, that's another story