Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Juneau

Time to head back to the frozen North. And Juneau was not only cool but rainy. As we left the ship after breakfast, the rain started falling. And didn't let up until almost noon. Luckily, we just had to walk downtown. Juneau was our only day with a planned itinerary. I had been told that while Juneau was pretty, it helped to have something organized. I would agree that the city was pretty. Even with the cold rain, the flowers were beautiful and the city was clean and beautiful. But after walking down to the park by the dock, I was ready for our first tour, a historical boat ride.

We had signed up for a steamboat ride around the harbor combined with a history lesson of mining in Juneau. When we arrived at the dock the boat wasn't there yet. Right before our appointment time, we spotted a boat out in the harbor. It was tiny, way too small to be our boat. But it kept coming towards our dock. When it finally pulled up we were shocked, the boat was small, it hardly looked large enough for the eight of us. It reminded me of the boat out of Willie Wonka with its mix of red and brass. We boarded and not only did the boat have room for the eight of us but eight or so more. It was a beautiful teak boat from the turn of the century (2000 to be exact). The trip around the lake was rainy and hard to see out the windows but the history lesson was much more interesting. The amount of gold that was pulled out of the hills around Juneau is staggering. Hundreds of millions of dollars, all taken at a significant cost to life and the environment. At one point one of the mines was so dangerous that at least one person a day was killed. The companies got rich and Juneau developed because of the gold mining trade.

I have no pictures from the boat. It wasn't until we headed to our next scheduled activity that the pictures started. And then I couldn't stop taking them. The second tour was a trip out to a fish hatchery and then a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. When the bus that was scheduled to take us there was overbooked, we had to stand and wait for a while. But Princess found us our own personal bus and that was much better than being trapped on a bus with hundreds of strangers. The first stop was the salmon hatchery. I'm not sure what I feel about the hatcheries' work but it was certainly an interesting place. Fish return to the same stream they were born in to spawn. The hatchery catches the fish and extracts the eggs and sperm. The fertilized eggs are kept and nurtured until the fish hatch. Once the fish are old enough to set off on their own they are released into an imprint tank where they imprint themselves on the stream. Then they are released to the ocean and after a year or two return to the hatchery to complete the cycle. The hatchery was interesting but I was sad as well to see how humans were trying to improve on the natural process along with watching the fish try to finish their last swim.

The fish ladder that the salmon climb to return to the hatchery

video
The holding pen where the fish are kept before sorting and extraction

After the hatchery we headed into the wilderness to find a glacier. I don't even have words to describe my feelings the first time we turned a corner and saw Mendenhall Glacier. I didn't expect it to be so large, so accessible, and so beautiful. You can walk within 100 feet of Mendenhall.

The view from the parking lot

We trekked a bit down to the viewing platform and I took far more pictures than I should have. It was just so incredible looking. The blue ice is naturally occurring. If it had been sunny, the ice would have clouded quickly and the blue would have disappeared into white. We were fortunate to see it.

Blue Ice of the Glacier

There was a small trail that headed down from the main viewing area to a waterfall nearby. Even with my ankle I decided to try the hike. It was mostly flat and in twenty minutes I found out how worth it the trip was. The trail lead right to the base of the waterfall. I stood at the bottom watching the water rush over the rocks into the pool right at my feet. The water was cold and silty. I reached down to feel it and could feel the spray from the waterfall. It was one of the most amazing views. And it was an experience I won't forget for a long time.
A standard view from the bus

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