Alaska: Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier:

view of Juneau from boat

Thurs. Sept 6th:  We had breakfast and coffee delivered to our room 7 am. Then we stood out on our balcony along with Jackie and JR who were hanging over their railing beside us and watched as the Noordam was maneuvered up to the dock and the dock workers below in orange vests stood on the ramps and caught the lines that were shot from the boat at two different points. They then fished the lines up until they got to the thicker heavier blue line which they then fed into a motorized winch used to pull the heaviest water drenched ropes attached to the blue tether, out of the bay. When these monster ropes were secured, the men on board activated another winch which we could not see, that pulled the ropes taut, securing the ship snuggly against the barrel size bumpers along the length of the dock. This process was going on simultaneously at both ends of the boat.  The whole business took about 30 minutes, but it was very interesting to behold.

sea plane landing in Juneau harbor

By nine we were walking outside the boat, on the dock, enjoying the morning air, sites and scents of Juneau. Another fine Alaska morning. We watched several small planes land in the bay and pull up to their slips and tie off just like a boat. And we watched one take off. Pretty neat.

At 15 till 10 we were all together near where we disembarked the Noordam waiting to board a bus that would take us to Mendenhall Glacier about 25 minutes north. We chose this excursion for two reasons, 1. It cost less than the many others offered. 2. It was listed as “easy to moderate” on the stress scale and we wanted all of us to be able to enjoy this outing. As on previous rides, our bus driver was also our tour guide, so we heard a lot of facts about Juneau as we made our way along the curvy road to the park. Here are just a few:

  • Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is totally land locked, only accessible by boat or seaplane and is one of the largest municipalities in the United States and the largest capital in the US by area.
  • All goods arrive and depart by plane or boat. Cars, for the residents, arrive in Juneau via the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System — the floating roadway for Southeast Alaska.
  • About 20,000 bald eagles reside in Juneau.
  • In 1916, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine was built on the mainland and became the largest operation of its kind in the world and it produced more than $80 million in gold before it was closed in 1944.
  • The only road in and out of Juneau is AK-7 and it runs south along Thane Road for about six miles then just ends due to the rugged terrain and imposing mountains.  There is the Juneau-Douglas Bridge that connects the city to Douglas Island and West Juneau and the road that loops up to Mendenhall Glacier.  AK-7 also goes north out of the city as Glacier Highway for about 38 miles and ends at Berners Bay.

At the park we checked out the visitor’s center where we watched a 20 minute video about the glacier, took in the view of the small lake in front of the Visitor’s Center and then split into two groups. Gloria, Ron and Rita headed up a trail that started behind the center called the Trail of Time to see salmon and possibly bears. Later Gloria told us they saw an eagle perched on a post, sitting very still for a long time.  Me, Joe, JR and Jackie headed up the Nugget Falls Trail. It was rugged, about 2 miles round trip and wound up and down and around into the wilderness. It was a beautiful walk, the weather was gorgeous. We enjoyed stopping to inspect the different foliage along the trail, especially the wild ferns. The air became cooler as we neared the glacier and Mendenhall Lake, fed by the melting glacier ice and the tumbling frothy water of Nugget Falls cascading off the mountain on our right. We were able to get very close to the falling water, feeling the mist spray our faces. The glacier was on the other side of the lake. It looked like a great field of white blue snow and ice. Ancient and majestic, thousands of years old. We took our time, getting a lot of photos, walking and resting enjoying the beauty before we headed back to the visitor center.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

Back at the bus pickup we ran into the other half of our group and heard about their adventure. They were a little concerned about running into a bear after reading warning signs along their trail. After we all boarded the bus, our driver told us that just after we had all disembarked earlier, and he was heading out to the parking area, a mama black bear and her cub crossed directly in front of the bus.

JR Watkins and Jackie Bontrager, Nugget Falls 

We got back to Juneau and did some more exploring. We stopped for lunch at Pier 49.  Good food. I had crab tacos, and Joe had the halibut wraps. We ate outside on a long picnic table with a view of the harbor. Then we walked some more along the streets, passing one jewelry store after another. I counted more than 10 in a 2 blocks. They all had signs “80% Off”, “End of Season Clearance.” Several of the merchants came out on the sidewalk and accosted the women, offering a free gift if they would just come inside. Gloria went inside one and said she barely made it out in tact, and with no free gift. We went inside one store because I wanted to get a closer look at the Alaskan gold quartz.  Curious, Joe and I asked the price on a gold quartz pendant necklace on a gold rope chain. The sales man did his thing on a calculator and with all their discounts and mark downs, he came up with $1,500, a little too pricey for my taste. Just for the fun of it, Joe then asked the price on a necklace with a large pendant of some mega precious stone studded with diamonds. We were taken aback at the $20,000 price tag. At that point we both ran for the nearest exit.

We ended up in a cheap tourist trap where Joe bought an Alaska T-shirt. (He actually wears the tourist Ts he buys on our many trips.) I bought several more stick pins to put in my safari hat. By the time I got done it looked like a fisherman’s hat, stuck full of pins of places in Alaska sans the fishing lures.

Read Next Post Sept. 6 evening, Jeff and His Magic Dog
Read Previous Post Sept. 5, On Foot in Haines

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