Juneau is an interesting place. It’s the capitol of Alaska. Government— State and Federal—is the greatest contributor to the economy. I’ve heard that tourism is the second greatest economic driver. After seeing four cruise ships in the harbor on Saturday, and three different ships in there on Sunday, I’m a believer. Cruise ships bring in about a million visitors per year!
Downtown Juneau sits at sea level below mountains that rise steeply up to 3500’-4000.’ Up on top is the Juneau Icefield that contributes to one of the area’s attractions, the Mendenhall Glacier. We stayed in an RV park that is only a couple of miles below the glacier. We couldn’t see the glacier, however, “for the trees.”
The population of Juneau is about thirty thousand. The Glacier Highway ends about forty-five miles north of the city. A two-lane road extends about ten miles south of the harbor, giving drivers a north-to-south trip of about sixty-five miles.
Juneau has no roadway connecting it to outside its immediate area. People and vehicles on the local streets and roads arrive by barge or ferry. Or you can land at Juneau International Airport and rent a car that got here by boat or barge.
Another tidbit of non-highway information. Most of the electricity for this area is generated at a hydroelectric facility south of here. It’s accessible only by boat or plane!
Our first full day in Juneau, we took a 56’ boat called Adventure Bound for an all-day trip to the end of Tracy Arm. Two hours after leaving the dock in Juneau, we entered the “Arm.”
Soon we were seeing chunks of ice that were larger than the boat we were riding. Because it was an overcast day, the “glacier blue” of the ice bergs was as deep and intense as could be imagined. It would be another two hours before reaching South Sawyer Glacier at the end of this meandering inlet.
Before reaching the glacier, we passed between fjord-like mountains. We were told the water was about 1200’ deep.
As we neared the glacier, ice floes were crunching against the bottom of the boat. There were hundreds of seals all over the bay at the base of the glacier. The seals were on the ice floes. Some of the ice floes were small, others were about a hundred feet across.
After our boat was positioned, two people put their kayaks into the icy water. The kayaks had been on the back of the boat. The two kids got into their kayaks and paddled off through the ice. They went back down the Arm to a small island where they camped overnight. I heard that the boat was going to pick them up the next day.
Then, for two hours, the thirty-eight people on the boat heard and saw South Sawyer Glacier. At times there were loud “booms” with nothing visible happening to the glacier. Other times chunks of ice would crash into the water. Cameras clicked. Voices would exclaim, “There it goes!” A few times there were large chunks of ice that “calved.” These would send tsunami-like waves throughout the bay. Our boat would go up and down on those waves!
Leaving the glacier, on our way back to the dock, we saw a couple of Orca whales. About half an hour out of Juneau, we even saw a mountain goat above Gastineau Channel! It was the first time we’ve seen one on this trip. Nice!
I’d read somewhere that Tracy Arm was a “must see,” and this cruise was a “must do” when in Juneau. Mary Anne and I agreed with that description. What a wonderful day it was.
Sunday we drove back through Juneau toward the townsite of Thane. The front-office of the RV park we stayed in had recommended a “salmon bake” place called Thane Oar House! When she told me the name of the place, I wondered if I’d heard correctly….
Not too far from our RV Park we saw a couple of stopped cars in the on-coming lane. One of them flashed his head-lights. Then we saw why they’d stopped. It looked like a crocodile walking across the road. As we drove closer we could see a “body” of young ducks pitter-patting in tight formation across the road. So all traffic stopped on Old Glacier Highway for this “Protect Wildlife” moment!
Thane Oar House is rustic. The table settings were paper plates and plastic eating utensils. But the food was superb. We had a lunch that included beer-battered halibut, a pork rib, and fire-grilled sockeye salmon. The sauce that was put on the salmon “was to die for.” This place focused on fish and it showed!
On our way back to the RV park, we stopped at the Alaskan Brewery. Beer drinkers in the Pacific NW likely know of the brewery’s signature craft, “Alaskan Amber.” Since it was a week-end day, only the tasting room and gift-shop were open. As we sampled some of the products, a group of us were told why this brewery was such a fine place! Fine place or not, it produces some pretty good beer! Yep, I bought a six-pack of the Amber and a six-pack of the brewery’s smoky flavored Stout.
There are only two or three RV parks in Juneau. We’re staying in the Spruce Meadows RV Park. It’s a nice place. It’s a couple of miles from the Alaska Ferry terminal. As I mentioned, it’s only a couple of miles from the Mendenhall Glacier. We’d spent good time up at Mendenhall two years ago when we visited Juneau on the cruise-ship Diamond Princess. But still, we went up there Saturday night after church and took some pictures. It’s just something that had to be done.
Back to the RV park. In every other RV park and campground we’ve stayed in, rigs and vehicles check-in or leave throughout the day. But here, rigs check-in a few minutes after an Alaska Marine Highway ferry has docked. Or rigs check-out a couple of hours prior to the next ferry’s departure. This morning I heard a couple of rigs pull out about 4:30. Likely there were going to Auke Bay to get ready for the 6:45 AM ferry. Other than that, nobody else seems to have left today.