When we started our three hour Alaska Airlines flight in Seattle the weather was sunny and clear, allowing us to see a formidable stand of mountains that marched up the Pacific coast in Canada. Eventually they disappeared under a thick bank of clouds that we dropped down into when we landed in Juneau. Juneau is the capital of Alaska for political reasons, because it certainly is inaccessible to most of its residents. That formidable stand of mountains that we saw from above, isolate it and the rest of the Alaska panhandle from land and Canada. Anyone who visits Juneau must arrive as we did or by boat. There are about 60 miles of drivable road. We have already driven about fifteen of them in our first few hours here. Only 30,000 people live here in the third largest city in Alaska.
We went downtown such as it is and joined 8,000 cruise ship passengers who were roaming around buying T-shirts and anything else that wasn't nailed down. If it were not for their daily visits, we wonder if there would be anything here at all, but the coast lined with thick stands of fir trees. It took a bit of searching just to find a place to eat dinner. We're guessing that more intentional tourists come here for outdoor activities - fishing, hunting, rafting, kayaking, etc. but with the periodic rain, making outdoor plans is less than appealing at the moment.
We are suprised that gas is significantly less expensive here, about $.25/gallon. You might say, "Well sure, that's where a lot of our gas comes from," but on our previous visits here, gas prices were much higher than at home. The explanation was that the local gas is crude and needs to be shipped south to be refined and then shipped back. Given the environmental concerns, I doubt that they are refining up here, but there must be an explanation...
The local tourist literature gives some interesting insights into how the people here feel about those of us from down south. They get questions such as how high is Juneau - the ocean should give you a clue, does it always rain here - no, sometimes it snows, and how many days are 24 hours long here in Juneau. You need a sense of humor to live in such an isolated place. The forecast is for the clouds to lift; there may be much more here than we know.