Juneau

Sunday, September 3, 2017, 7:45 am

I kind of feel like I should let the pictures do all the talking.

And it started when the plane took off Friday. I had a window seat and got some great photos as we flew out of SeaTac. Landing in Juneau was no less impressive, though the weather was quite changed.

It’s now Sunday morning as I write this. I’m in the Heritage Coffee Shop, a very spacious cafe. For some reason, they give out vouchers with WiFi codes that are good for a single use for 15 minutes. After my first 15 minutes expired, I asked for another one, and she gave me two more. But this is kind of silly. I couldn’t even finish my coffee in 15 minutes, no less write an entire blog post about my first day in Juneau. So when my 30 minutes are up I think I’ll go back to my Airbnb and finish there.

Incidentally, I love Project Fi, but it’s pretty much worthless here. I have virtually no signal at all anywhere in Juneau, and when I do it’s not 4G. This is why I haven’t been posting frequent Facebook updates.

9:00 am

Back at the Airbnb now. It’s a gorgeous day, so I will head out soon. The Alaska State Museum is closed for Labor Day tomorrow, so I want to visit this morning, in spite of the great weather, and I want to ride up the Mt. Robert’s Tramway. Then at 1:30 I go on a hike to Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow. My flight home isn’t until 6:15, so I have all day to dodge raindrops.

When I arrived Friday evening, there was absolutely no ground transportation available. The supposed shuttle to downtown had a sign saying “Reserve Here” next to a booth that was completely boarded up. So I ordered an Uber.

The Airbnb is very nice. It’s about a ten minute walk from downtown and the waterfront. The walk is all uphill. There have been one or two large cruise ships docked here all weekend so far.

How to describe Juneau… Touristy shops and expensive eateries along the waterfront, and then a downtown that is reminiscent of any small town in America. Mountains all around. Wood frame houses mostly, and the architecture is completely nondescript. Even the state capital is just a brick office building with some marble columns to dress it up just a little.

Alaska State Capitol
Alaska State Capitol

Monday, September 3, 10:00 am

I woke this morning to steady rain. I had no sense that there would be any point in doing more sightseeing or hiking in the rain, so I took an Uber to the airport and was able to book an earlier flight, departing at 1:30. That gives me a few hours to finish this blog post. I’m currently the only person sitting in the only cafe in the only concourse at Juneau International Airport. From what I can tell, there are exactly five gates, and I can see them all from where I’m setting. I can count about eight other people, including airline and airport personnel, in the entire concourse.

Juneau airport concourse

At least there is WiFi, but it is too slow to upload photos, so I will wait to post this until I get home and can add photos and organize my album.

Now, because I’ve postponed my blogging all weekend, I get to recount all the fun I’ve had this weekend.

Saturday I did a boat trip to Tracy Arm, a fjord about 45 miles south of Juneau. I’ll let the pictures do all the talking, but it was a really pleasant day with friendly tourists (about 60) and crew. It was also bitter cold, and my three layers weren’t nearly enough to keep me warm on deck. Fortunately the boat had comfortable indoor seating, and I (along with about 3/4 of the passengers) took naps on the way back.

When I got back to Juneau I had a nice dinner of halibut and chips at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the harbor. It was a perfect end to a great day.

Sunday started clear and cool. I woke early and walked down to the coffee shop where I started this post in fifteen-minute increments. Then, after the very brief stop back at the Airbnb, I went off to visit the Alaska State Museum. I’m going to write a separate post about that.

From there I headed to the Mt. Roberts Tramway, but when I saw that it cost $33 to ride up and down, and I looked up at the top and thought, there’s no way the view from up there is worth $33, I decided to pass. Instead I strolled along the harbor, checked out the touristy shops, had some fish tacos for lunch at Deckhand Dave’s, and waited to meet the guide for my hike to Mendenhall Glacier.

The hike was just great. Not the toughest hike I’ve ever done, but enough to feel a bit sore today. There were three couples from the cruise ships, plus me and Eric, the guide and owner of the company, so a small group, and Eric did an excellent job of providing context and history and took a lot of photos (which he will be sending), so I didn’t have to. (But I did take some anyway.)

The glacier has been receding for a long time. Most of the hike we were on was under deep glacial ice as recently as 100 years ago. There’s a sign near the beginning of the hike marking the front of the glacier in 1910, and another about halfway up showing where the ice came to in 1942. The lake simply did not exist 100 years ago. And the forest we hiked through is all new. The further up we hiked, the more recent the ice receded, and the trees haven’t had much time to grow. There are Sitka spruces at the bottom of the trail, but none further up.

After we got back, around 6:30, I was so tired after not getting enough sleep the last two nights. I got some takeout from a food truck (salmon chowder and salmon cakes) and brought them back to the Airbnb. Try as I might, I couldn’t stay awake past 9:30. And I woke to the rainy morning at 7:00, making this one of the longest night’s sleep I’ve had in years!

It took me nineteen years living in Seattle to discover that Juneau is an easy two-hour flight away, perfect for a weekend getaway. But if the weather is bad (which it is a lot, apparently), there’s not much point to coming here. It’s not a town for culture or good food. The main activity seems to be drinking in bars, which are plentiful.

I wondered (and still wonder) how this region balances the economic and environmental impacts of tourism. You have these monstrously big floating hotels coming into port every single day all summer long, disgorging thousands of visitors. I would guess that on a given summer day 10-15% of the people in town are visitors. I asked Eric about this. As the owner of a tourism company, he admitted that it is challenging. After government, tourism is the largest economic driver in Juneau. He and most of the responsible people in the tourism industry in Juneau are always looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their services. He also told us that the cruise ships actually hook up to the city’s power grid when they are in port so they don’t have to run their engines. It saves them money and it reduces pollution. One hundred percent of Juneau’s electric power comes from a hydroelectric system that doesn’t use dams. Instead it harnesses water from the bottoms of two lakes through underground power tunnels. Seems like an ingenious system!

In nice weather, there is a ton of great hiking in the area, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to do more of that. But I’m glad I finally got to come up here and see how beautiful it is, and maybe next time I need a weekend getaway, I’ll try Ketchikan or Skagway or Sitka. Or the Washington coast. Or the Cascades. Or Portland. Or if I do head to Juneau, maybe I’ll do it as a last-minute thing, so I can ensure I get some good weather.

Check out my album of photos from the trip.

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