Our trip from Sitka to Juneau was long and sleepless. We left Sitka about 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and arrived here in Juneau at 7:00 a.m. Sunday. At least it was late enough the campground gates were open and we just found our camp site and went to sleep for about five hours after which we set up camp. We have full hookups and the cell service is fairly good but we have no satellite available. The Mendenhall Campground is a National Forest facility and probably the best campground in the area. The campsite itself is very nice with a large picnic table and fire ring. We then went into town to get our food supplies built back up since we had been maintaining the minimum while taking the long ferry rides with the fridge shut off. They have a Walmart Supercenter which was fully supplied and we also went to the Fred Meyer which is similar to a Walmart but much nicer, at least this one was. They are affiliated with Kroger and our Kroger card worked there. We have a whole key ring full of grocery cards by now since we get one every time we visit a store we don’t have one for. Anyhow, between the two, we are pretty well stocked up for the next couple of weeks before we get to Anchorage.
Monday, we went to see the Mendenhall Glacier. We were able to see it from quite a distance as we were coming in on the ferry but it was much better to see it closer. It had calved the day before so there were several icebergs in the lake. A good write up on the glacier is available here so I won’t go into all of that. The lake itself was formed by the melting of the glacier and is about 200 feet deep and stays a constant 37 degrees Fahrenheit due to all of the ice cubes floating in it – one big iced drink! We walked a trail that took us down to the lakes edge and about a half-mile closer to the glacier. In 1975 the glacier was about were the visitor’s center is now and they say it is receding about 250 feet per year currently. The face of the glacier is about two miles from the visitor’s center now.
Tuesday we saw several things. First we went to the Alaskan Brewing Company for a tour which was one of the more interesting brewery tours we have seen. The business was started in 1986 but has already reached over 100,000 barrels (31 gallons) per year in production. Due to its location, it is also one of the most environmentally friendly manufacturers in the country. A couple of their processes are described here. They also dry their waste products and, since Juneau basically has no farming, sends that product to Seattle to be used as fertilizer and feed. You also have to remember: anything that comes into or out of Juneau has to be by air or boat. There are no roads to get here, just like the rest of the towns in the inside passage.
Second, we went to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest. This is a fairly large project that was built on the site of a former mudslide in the 1980s. Their signature item is the huge dead trees they have planted upside down and then planted flowering plants in their roots – really unusual. You don’t just wonder through it, they give you a guided tour. Most of the grounds are in the Tongass National Forest and they have built a cart road up to the top of the mountain and you ride these powered carts up the mountain, the tour guide explaining the vegetation and other items of interest in the forest.
We then went on a ride on the Mt. Roberts Tramway which takes you about 3,500 feet up the side of Mt. Roberts. Once you get there they have a short movie on the Tlingit culture you watch and then there are several trails you can walk. The movie was outstanding and the view of the harbor in Juneau was also great. We enjoyed the trail though it was a little tougher than we had expected. There was one section that went through one of the slippery snow patches that was on a pretty good grade and a couple of feet away went straight down the mountain side. Needless to say, we were a little apprehensive but all worked out well and it was a great experience. There were some great views on the trail as well as a marmot who seemingly posed for us.
Wednesday we just stayed in and camped and I was able to finally give the Mothership a much needed bath. Thursday we took a whale tour. It was great and we saw a bunch of whales, all humpbacks. It was a small boat and there were only eight of us on the tour. The boats are not allowed to get closer than 100 yards to the whales but we were still able to get a few decent pictures. It’s called breaching when the whales come completely out of the water and is very rare. Most of the time you catch them like we did today; barely breaking the surface, blowing air, and then raising their tail as they dive. A couple of the whales we saw had their calves with them and one of those spent a good bit of time playing with a sea lion.
Tomorrow, Friday, we take our last ferry ride and will arrive in Haines about 3:00 p.m. with any luck. I don’t think we will have cell service or wireless the first couple of days when we park in a State campground but we plan to come into a private campground in town our last night there and hopefully I will be able to get the next blog entry posted in a timely manner.