Saturday, July 20, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 5 - Juneau, June 26, 2013

I bite, just like this travel blog.
This is Part 5 in my series about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit to Alaska's capital city, Juneau.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading the first four parts of my series:

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan
Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord

If you would like to view my entire collection of photos of Juneau, you can find them on Flickr here.

Juneau Basics

Distance sailed from Tracy Arm Fjord:  94 nautical miles/108 statue miles
Total distance traveled from Seattle:  1,014 nautical miles/1,167 statue miles
Time zone:  Alaska Daylight Time, 3 hours behind CDT
Today's weather:  Rain, upper 50's
Today's wildlife count:  1, a solitary bald eagle
Cumulative wildlife count:  11

After spending the morning touring the Tracy Arm Fjord, we headed north again, and landed in Juneau around 1:00, about an hour ahead of schedule.  On tap for today was a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier, a salmon hatchery, and then a salmon bake.  Our tour didn't leave until 3:15, though, so my wife and I decided to walk to town first to buy some junk.  One problem with these Alaskan cruise ship ports is that there are a TON of jewelry shops if you want to blow substantial amounts of dough, but surprisingly few if you just want to pick up some junky trinkets.  We ended up at the "House of Russia", which although a bit more upscale than your typical junk shop, had a few cheap-ish trinkets that did the trick.

Unfortunately, a Charlie Brown Cloud followed us around this afternoon, with the rain picking up literally 5 minutes after docking, and not stopping until - yep - a few minutes before we left.  Luckily, for the most important part of our tour, the trip to Mendenhall Glacier, the rain was fairly light, so a rainjacket was enough to keep you mostly dry.  The glacier is about a 20 minute drive from the pier, and you're only given an hour to walk around, there's only so much you can do.  We decided to hike the trail to "Nugget Falls", a 45-minute roundtrip if you hustle.

If you don't feel like walking, there's a nice view of the glacier and Nugget Falls (on the right) just behind the visitor center.

After a brisk 20-minute hike, we reached the end of the trail at Nugget Falls.  You get a closer view of the glacier from here.

And you get a view of Nugget Falls, which was in full flow thanks to record heat the week before we arrived.

It looked like there was a rudimentary trail you could scamper up to the top of the falls, but it didn't seem like a great idea since the rocks were slick from the rain, and we were running out of time, anyway.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, as we turned back, I noticed a large iceberg floating in the lake; it looks like it had broken off from the main glacier fairly recently.

And we were treated to one final, spectacular view of the glacier and falls before our brisk walk back to the bus.

We got back to the bus just as the driver was opening up the door, and it was time to head to our second stop, the salmon hatchery.  Some people think of a "hatchery" as a "fish farm", but that really isn't the case.  A hatchery only keeps the fish around for a year or so, before releasing them into the wild.  They eventually return back to spawn after several years, hence, the hatchery piece.  I thought the hatchery was OK, but honestly, if I were in Juneau on my own, I probably wouldn't bother visiting.  Part of the problem is that June isn't salmon season, so there wasn't a whole lot to see.

A "ladder" that simulates salmon swimming upstream to their spawning point

Nice view of Douglas Island behind
By now, the weather was getting really nasty, so it was good timing that the rest of our tour would be inside.  There is a small aquarium inside the visitor center that's worth a visit.  You can also purchase various types of salmon products in the gift shop.

Before leaving for the salmon bake, I spotted a bald eagle in a tree across the road.  This was the only wildlife I saw today.  My brother went on a whale watching tour, though, and saw some whales, including one that did tricks for the boat.  Trust me, he'll be more than happy to tell you about it.

If you're wondering what a "salmon bake" is, it's basically an outdoor barbeque buffet or chuckwagon dinner, except with salmon (naturally) being the main course.  The weather was really nasty now, but thankfully, the tables were covered, and portable heaters kept the dining areas reasonably warm.  The hot chocolate helped, too.  It was a delicious meal, but there was only one problem - we were eating a little after 6, but dinner would be served on board the ship at 8:15.  That made me REALLY glad I'd walked about 4 miles on the day so far.  There would be a lot of food to walk off to avoid that beached whale feeling.

I'll skip the "Serving Suggestions" section, since it's pretty much the same advice that I gave for Ketchikan.   I would add, if you come up here on a cruise and want to do a "flightseeing" tour, but didn't have the time to do one in Ketchikan, there are plenty of tour operators available in Juneau, too.  Just be prepared to pay for the experience.

Next up - Skagway, and our adventure to the Yukon.

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