Juneau is located at the foot of Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau in the Gastineau Channel. The borough is 3,108 square miles and consists of towering mountains, islands, saltwater bays, forested valleys, and residential flatlands.
One thing changed this region forever…….the discovery of gold in 1880. The famous gold rush lasted until 1944 when the cost of extraction exceeded the price of gold. The rush was over, although some mining still exists today.
Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, and we remember it well, even as young kids. It was quite a proud day when the "land of the midnight sun", an area that contains 3 million lakes, 3000 rivers, 1800 islands, and 100,000 glaciers became a state of the USA.
Commercial fishing and mining still are the number one industries. Tourism, transportation, medical services, education, government services, and retail trade keep many locals busy. The Tongass National Forest draws many visitors, and with 17 million acres, hiking can go on forever. In Juneau alone, there are 262 square miles of hiking trails. What is funny is that there are only 45 miles of roads in and out of the city. The forest consists mainly of spruce and hemlock conifers that have been estimated at between 200 to 700 years old.
As far as wildlife in this area, the number one sighting has to be eagles. Harbor seals numbers have been figured to be 155,000. Also seen are black bears, marmots, and porcupines.
We know the weather can turn on a dime, but it appeared that if rain was in the forecast, it might hold off until later. The temperature was in the high 60's with a slight breeze, which turned out to hold all day. Once again…..lucky.
And once again, we have been here many times over the years, and have taken excellent tours to see whales, glaciers, and a fish hatchery. The plan was to take a walk from one end of town to the other, mixing with the locals, and seeking the perfect place for lunch.
Much of the dock area looked different to us. At the container port, the Disney Wonder sat. Later in the day, HAL's Volendam docked right behind us. Probably not the correct term, we were at a new floating dock, that rises with the tide. The good thing is that the gangway is able to stay more level, not rising or falling steeply.
Leaving the ship, we encountered several stalls of tour vendors, enticing all to book excursions through them. They did have many takers. We may have mentioned earlier, that tickets sold for the Mt. Roberts Tramway were cheaper than if you purchased them at the ride itself. They add tax to their price. Also, ship ticketed folks could use an express line. For this reason, these tickets were available onboard until 9:30am.
Other tours available included flights to see Taku Glacier, fishing, or bear-watching. Helicopter trips took the folks over Mendenhall Glacier or landed to take a dog sledding ride. These tours ranged from $320 to $650. There were a total of 13 of these type of tours. Whale-watching by boat had 7 excursions ( $160 to $210 ), while adventure tours offered 9 of those for $100 to $340. Sight-seeing had 13 tours from $50 to $130, and there was one that had a private limo for $900 for 8 people.
All of the typical high-end jewelry stores were in downtown, which was something we never expected to see in Alaska 20 years ago. Obviously, they are doing well, because they are still here plus more. Furs are a big item here, even alpaca items from Peru, go figure. Russian souvenirs are abundant, especially things to do with Christmas. Particularly nice are the carvings by the locals using bone, antlers, and soapstone. The most popular item has to do with salmon….smoked, dried, or canned.
A neat place to visit is Taku Smokeries & Store, where you can buy a variety of fish, mostly salmon, and also ship it anywhere in the US. There is a viewing window where you can watch fillets being created from the whole salmon. It is quite an art to get it right, and having the proper knives is a must.
Built next to the smoker is a restaurant called Twisted Fish. It did serve a lot of fish entrees, but they also had pizza. We just might have to come back here for lunch. But first, we wanted to take a walk around town, and check things out. Since we were down this end of town, we wandered over to the boats to watch the process of unloading salmon into the smokery.
A couple of new stores were here, so we went in to find a good bargain for a fleece vest. Only brought one on this 2 week trip, so now a nice red one with Juneau on it will be a nice souvenir.
We watched the tram for a few minutes. It climbs 1800 feet to Mt. Roberts, right above town. We have been up there before, taking in the views and hiking trails. There is also a restaurant up there, as well as a gift shop. Oh, what a surprise. By the way, the ride takes about 5 minutes up and the same coming down.
You have to make a stop in the Red Dog Saloon, founded in the mid- 20th century. It has a sawdust floor and walls and ceiling decorated with Alaskan critters. And naturally, there is a large store next door, selling Red Dog everything. With three ships here (the Volendam sailed in around noon), this place will be busting at the seams later.
Continuing past many shops, we walked past a place called Rendezvous. It appeared to be a bar and billiard place. Noticing that the door looked scratched deeply on the inside, a local fellow told us the story about a bear walking inside, then panicking to get back outside. He did a whole lot of damage, especially to the doors, trying to escape. This man said the whole incident was captured on a cellphone and was put on utube. It's still there to see he said.
From here, we headed down to the water and the closest place you could call a mall. It really is a long shed that houses some restaurants and shops. There was one pizza place, but it was sold by the slice, and had no tables left.
So we back-tracked through park along the water, passing grassy areas with any benches, a bronze sculpture and Patsy Ann's story, all about a little famous dog that lived here in the past.
Ending up back where we began, we had a wonderful lunch at Twisted Fish. It was not as crowded as we thought it might be. Margherita pizza was very good, as was the strawberry shortcake dessert we split. Today we tried the amber beer, and found it delicious with the pizza. We lingered for a while, since the ship was not leaving until 10pm.
Later in the afternoon, we spent some time out on the outer decks watching thee float planes take off, as well as spotting some eagles flying over the channel, hunting for fish. Got some good photos of both.
Dinner was fun because we all shared our day's excursions. Bob and Dave happened to be on the same float plane for a dinner at Taku Lodge with views of the glacier below. They both had a great bear story, when this stray bear came to the BBQ pit area after their salmon had been cooked. They watched with amusement when this bear actually licked the steaming grate while they all ate dinner in the nearby lodge. Bet they got some good pictures of that.
The ship left the port shortly after the Volendam left. Instead of a show in the Queen's Lounge, there was a video of sorts with Alaska in Concert. Might have been nice to go, but once again, we lingered over dinner and got out late.
Tomorrow will be a short stop in Icy Strait Point, a place we visited almost 10 years ago. Wonder if it has changed?
Bill & Mary Ann