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Trip to Juneau Alaska, June 26-30, 2017

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums

Jump to the 2013 Trip to Anchorage, Fairbanks and other places

Jump to the Anchorage, Alaska trip in 2015

Jump to the Fairbanks, Alaska trip in 2018


Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, is on an island in the panhandle, accessible only by boat or airplane. It is small, but tied with Fairbanks as the second largest city in Alaska, with about 30,000 people (Anchorage has 300,000, so those 3 cities have half of the total population of the entire state).

Juneau is a temperate rain forest - with 230 days of precipitation per year. The vegetation is not as thick as a tropical rain forest, but the variety is greater. In the weeks before and after our visit, there was one sunny day per week. However, the rain is not the driving rain of the south, but gentle sprinkles that don't slow you down much. Summer highs are in the low 60s, and winter lows average 29, a great break from Texas heat. During the summer sunrise is about 4 am, and sunset after 10 pm, so you have a full 18 hours of day (but during the winter you have 18 hours of night).

Juneau is on the water, surrounded by mountains. Fog often forms over water.

Tuesday June 27

We enjoyed walking around Juneau on Tuesday, our first full day. On the non-tourist side of town we found the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a wood structure not much larger than some homes. It may be the smallest cathedral in North America, according to Wikipedia.

A block away from the cathedral is an even smaller St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1893.

St. Nicholas church was open to visitors, and the inside was lovely. As an orthodox church the icon screen (made in Russia) is across the middle of the church, and the altar area is behind the closed doors when not in use.

Juneau is along a mountain that goes into the bay. The roads are steep and narrow, and some of the public sidewalks are actually staircases, such as this. To see the scale, there is a person standing next to the car at the bottom, next to the very tall power pole.

We wandered back downtown. The public library is on the top (6th?) floor of a public parking garage - the brown building just to the left of the closest cruise ship. It is a nice library with great views.

I had to borrow this picture to get four cruise ships in the harbor at once... walking down the docks the ships are so large that, at most, you can only see two at a time.

The harbor has 2 to 5 cruise ships at a time throughout the summer. Therefore perhaps 25,000 people per day are added to an island that only has 30,000 natives. Most of the stores in the business district near the docks sell either T-shirts or Diamond/Gold Jewelry, so I bet the natives are not the primary patrons.

In addition to the jewelry and t-shirt stores, there are many taverns serving either seafood or hamburgers, and many types of beer. This bar had a cute offer... Husband Day Care, if you just wanted some time off.

Fishing is a major industry, and near the cruise ship harbor is a fish processing plant. The fish are being vacuumed out of the hold of the Narada fishing boat - see the large white hose. They were still transferring fish an hour later.

The vacuum went under the dock and dumped them into a tank at the other side of the dock, where a conveyor took them up several floors to a sorting area at the top. You can see salmon, each about 2 feet long, under the plastic or near the top of the conveyor.

This was at the Taku Wild Alaskan Seafood factory, store, and restaurant. We enjoyed watching them process the fish through their windows. Their web page now links to Facebook, where there are numerous interesting short videos, including "behind the scenes."

Wednesday June 28

On Wednesday we got the allocated beautiful day without rain, so we drove to the Mendenhall Glacier, and hiked many of the trails in the area.

The visitor center at the Glacier has numerous viewing places to see the terminus of the glacier itself. From here you can see about one mile of the 13 mile long glacier. It looks blue because of the way the highly compressed snow and ice crystals reflect and absorb light in the glacier

Trivia: The glacier was formed about 1,200 to 2,000 years ago, based on trees found under the glacier as it recedes. It has been in retreat since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1700s. The lake in front of the glacier was not formed until 1929, and has been expanding since then, as the glacier recedes.

The glacier calves, forming icebergs in Mendenhall Lake. The Titanic would not be not at risk, but the canoe and kayak people might be.

Next to the Mendenhall Glacier is Nugget Falls, closer than the glacier, not larger.

One of our short hikes was to the base of Nugget Falls

Proof of life - yes, I was there. Near the glacier is about 10 degrees colder than surrounding areas, so the temperature was probably in the low 50s. Teenagers and macho men wore shorts, I did not.

On our hike we ran into what we were sure were Texas Bluebonnets, except that they were chest high, not just 3 inches.

Even though the flowers and leaves look the same as Texas Bluebonnets, research shows them to be Lupinus, a perennial that in some areas of the world grows to tree height. I just thought it was Alaskans trying to be larger than Texans.

Notice the moss oh these trees... this is really a rain forest. Even heavier moss was on other trees in dark areas (poor pictures).

While we had a beautiful day, we decided to go to the Last Chance Mining Museum, once called the Jualpa Mining Camp, a mile outside Juneau. The application for the National Register of Historic Places lists 21 relevant buildings and structures. When we got there, we found only one building open, and no access to the other 20 buildings. The collections were in terrible shape, poorly labeled, rusty, and often unrelated. For example, why was a mid-1950s vintage mechanical calculator displayed when the mine closed in 1944? A rack of wrenches were all the same size. A rusty gurney was only identified by being near a vintage first aid kit. The large air compressor was powered by a 750 horsepower electric motor - to me the only impressive item, but not worth the hike and $5 admission fee.

This rather attractive waterfalls was near the Gold Mine "museum" and made the walk not a total waste.

As usual we spent some time in the Alaska State Museum. It was generally interesting, but be prepared for the history of each native tribe/community. Senior admission $11 each. Pablo Picasso did not have anything on the local natives, with this mask in the Museum.

Thursday June 29

We went to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Why do they need one? Only a few percent of the natural salmon survive their first year in fresh water streams before migrating to the ocean, while 80-90% survive in hatcheries before the migration. A few decades ago recreational and commercial fishing yield leveled off, so several non-profit hatcheries were formed, solving the problem. Macaulay hatches 130 million fish per year.

After the salmon hatch, they have a yolk sac on their bellies that supports them through the first winter. The crowded parts of the tank were solid black - in this part you can see thousands of "alevin." There are 1.1 million coho salmon in this tank, about 6 months old, to be released next year.

The salmon nets holding fish waiting to be released are in the far side of the picture. The near side is part of the salmon "fish ladder."

Salmon return to the stream where they were hatched to spawn (breed) and die. How do they know? The water is slightly different in each stream, based on plants and minerals in the watershed, so the salmon can trace their origins. For the last 1-3 months before they are released, the salmon are kept in net pens in the fresh water exiting the hatchery, to imprint them. After several years in the ocean they return to the hatchery.

After 1 to 6 years living at sea in salt water, they return to the place they were imprinted to reproduce in fresh water. The fish ladder is a 450 foot long concrete stream, with about 25 pools and jumps through fast flowing water, simulating the upstream climb in nature. The climb stimulates physical changes in the salmon that lead to production of eggs and sperm.

There was a window in the side of one of the fish ladder pools. Although this was just the start of the start of the season when salmon migrate to spawn, we had a couple fish pose for us.

Once they reach the top of the fish ladder, they are held in a pool. A worker explained that they wait until they have 200 males and females of a particular species, and in this pool there were only two of the type they were looking for. On the internet there are pictures of this pool churning with fish.

Once they reach the top of the fish ladder, they are held in a pool. A worker explained that they wait until they have 200 males and females of a particular species, and in this pool there were only two of the type they were looking for. On the internet there are pictures of this pool churning with fish.

One of the web pages explained why there were so many bald Eagles in the area. They love salmon!

On the road between the airport and town we often saw eagles on the street lights. Too often they were in unattractive poses.

Jenny wanted to see if she could get multiple eagles in a single picture. She found four, but they wouldn't line up and pose.

My favorite eagle, posing properly, near the harbor.

Our hotel was near the airport. The Gastineau Channel was the pretty drive into the city.

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