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(and tossing out random thoughts)


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cruising Alaska, part three: Juneau

Juneau, I’ve been to Alaska… (Commence rolling of eyes.)

Perhaps familiarity dulls one’s perception of what’s seen every day. Perhaps this is why the colors of Alaska amaze me; and Juneau did not disappoint.

It’s fascinating that a state capital would, to this day, only be accessible by boat or plane. But that’s Juneau, a city that will fine a person who doesn’t secure trash cans properly — because of bears — before putting them at the curb. Though much more of a metro area than Ketchikan, Juneau, obviously, is still affected by the wild surrounding it.

Soon after the Sea Princess was secured dockside, we hopped on an excursion bus heading north out of town. The urbanity that is downtown Juneau faded into suburbs, which in turn dissolved into a thick rainforest. The forest soon gave way to a view of Mendenhall Lake and its source, the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier.

My first visit to Alaska a few years ago entailed flying into Anchorage, over waters tinged teal, almost turquoise, by glacial silt. Mendenhall Glacier displayed similarly dramatic coloration, though for a different reason. The blues associated with glaciers arises from the compression of ice over time, its melting and refreezing, which eliminates air bubbles and allows the ice to absorb the longer wavelengths of white light, resulting in shorter wavelengths (blue) being transmitted. Mendenhall was no exception.

The Tongass Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center offered a great overview of the glacier and surrounding area, in both informational and visual aspects. The viewing of a short film and the visiting of various exhibits (and my wife’s visit with a fellow knitter) was followed by a walk near the iceberg-dotted Mendenhall Lake and along Steep Creek.

Beaver dam on Steep Creek.

Wildlife’s a big part of the Alaska experience, whether one purposely seeks out the wildlife or happens upon it. If my wife hadn’t pointed it out, I might have stepped on a small porcupine waddling on the visitor path. Small and unconcerned, it crossed the path and proceeded into the tall grass. Salmon, with the last slow movements of their life, edged upstream. Though unseen, beavers announced their presence with a network of dams.

Then there’s the bear, signaled by the “oohs” and “aahs” and crush of tourists to one side of the elevated walkway. Hidden beneath the leaves of streamside bushes, it waded upstream and swung from side to side, eyeing the water. Slowly, patiently, quietly it slipped upstream, unmindful of the cluster of people above. The sockeye was also oblivious…and soon was the bear’s lunch.

Bear stalking salmon in Steep Creek, near Mendenhall Glacier.

The next stop was one that began with concerns that it might be tourist trap: the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure. (The “adventure” part is hyperbole.) Our group met near the base of a mountain among plantings of nonnative plants and unique “upside down trees.” While it’s a touching story of how this botanical garden was as much labor of love as it is a commercial nursery, it wasn’t quite what one would expect on a tour of an Alaskan rainforest.

In only a few minutes, however, we gained 300 feet in elevation and, with the commercial nursery far behind us, entered an untouched and lush rainforest. The drive was ably narrated by our knowledgeable and affable guide. Streams trickled under fern fronds. Rain dripped through the canopy. A walkway on the ridge offered a view over Juneau.

Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter.

After lunch back on the ship, we spent time in Juneau as tourists, visiting various stores (focusing on those operated by local families), and stumbling upon the Alaskan Brewing Co. store. It was quickly learned that — and we took advantage of — a shuttle would soon depart for the brewery, where a tour and tasting were offered.

If you look up reviews of the Alaskan Brewing tour, they skew toward the positive. Don’t get me wrong, though the “tour” doesn’t entail walking around the actual brewery, the humorous tour guide did cover the entire history of Alaskan Brewing, brewing, and process by which the company develops new beers. I think, however, that the largely positive reviews may be slightly influenced by the generous size (see the photo to the right) and number of free samples.

I ended the day with a quick, late-evening walk into town to pick up an Alaskan Brewing glass for the oldest son. The sun set, the evening’s entertainment was enjoyed, and the ship set sail for Skagway, perhaps my favorite stop.

Sun Setting Over Douglas Island (West of Juneau).


The Picasa album with all the photos.

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few words, some pictures, more to come

We’re back after travelling from San Francisco to Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, and back again in 10 days…leaving at the end of August and returning to the start of September.

I’d say our trip when by fast, but the ship rarely exceeded 21 knots and the days were packed with the history, wilderness and the people of Southeast Alaska.

There was amazement that two of our ports o’ call can only be accessed via plane or boat. Pink salmon crowded the rivers and brought out the bears. We tasted beer that can’t be found anywhere else.

Pictures for now; words later.

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)