After our day in Haines, our next port was Alaska’s capital: Juneau. A few facts about Juneau:
- It is located on Alaska’s “panhandle,” running along the west edge of Canada
- Its population is 32,000 — not a lot for a state capital
- You can reach Juneau only by boat or plane
- Its name comes from gold prospector Joe Juneau
- Juneau became capital of the Alaska Territory in 1906. Prior to that, the capital was Sitka.
- Around 20,000 bald eagles live in the Juneau area. We saw several on a bus ride there, sitting atop light poles, etc. They were quite common there.
Our morning in Juneau was spent at Mendenhall Glacier, one of the city’s major tourist attractions. We took a city bus to the glacier, which is part of Tongass National Forest.
Here’s the view of the glacier that greets you (remember, all the white ice in the center is the glacier — it’s not the mountain-like, sticking-up part).
We continued hiking into the park, where the views just kept getting better and better.
Now, you can also see the waterfall (Nugget Falls) over to the right. A few facts about Mendenhall Glacier:
- Mendenhall Glacier is over 13 miles long — imagine that ice continuing back 13 miles into the back of the picture.
- The area of water in the front of the photo is called “Mendenhall Lake,” and it’s formed by the melting of the glacier. The lake began forming in 1931 (so, imagine prior to that time the glacier extending that much farther forward).
- As the glacier retreats, scientists have discovered many trees beneath it — an ancient buried forest.
- The glacier was named for scientist Thomas Corwin Mendenhall.
- There is a giant ice tunnel within the glacier, and many travel to see this each year. But to access the tunnel, you must kayak to it and then climb over ice (we didn’t do that!).
We did more hiking around the glacier and the falls. It was a really pretty area, and it was interesting to compare the flowers and plants of Alaska to those in the Midwest. We were frequently reminded that we were in a rain forest, although a temperate — not a tropical — one.
Nugget Falls — to gauge the size, look at the tiny people in front of the falls!
More hiking, through forested areas. With all the mosses, it almost wouldn’t have seemed strange for a dinosaur to come walking out of the trees! It was a beautiful, but strange, environment.
There was a large old pipe going through parts of the forest. It was interesting to see how the trees had just grown around it. Evidently, the pipe has been there since the early 1900s, when it carried water from Nugget Creek to a powerhouse.
Although we kept a sharp eye out, we didn’t see any bears. No signs of any. Sigh. I know, it would be bad to really run into one. But I might enjoy seeing one from a distance!
Stay tuned. More on Juneau next time … have you been there? What do you know about Alaska’s capital?