We arrived with several other cruise ships, which—I’ve come to find out—means crowded streets, shops, and restaurants, as well as clogged cell towers. I’m amazed by the size of these floating cities and how many of them pull into these tiny port cities/towns and descend upon them for a day. All summer long. Since it’s late in the season, we’ll soon discover how many of the small towns close down and clear out for the winter.
Juneau feels and looks more like what I expected Alaska to be. It’s definitely getting cooler and cloudier.
I’m impressed how this city nestles in the shadow of looming mountains and hugs the waterways. As Alaska’s capital, it’s interesting to note that the only access into and out of the city is by plane and boat. No road access. I’m sure it gives the state government an appreciation for the challenges many of its residents face.
We signed up for one of the ship’s excursions: the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Photo Safari with Gastineau Guiding Company with tour guide Claire.
Claire told us about the local vegetation as we walked the Trail of Time through the Tongass National Rainforest. Along the way, Claire pointed out the various vegetation (lichens, mosses, mushrooms, trees like spruces, hemlock, alder, willow, and bushes like squash berry and devils club). We encountered no bear or any other animal encounters but Claire mentioned that spring mama bear had used an area tucked between tourist walkways as a napping place for her and her cub. Apparently she felt it a safe place for her young one.
The Trail of Time has time markers (hence the name) to indicate the location of Mendenhall Glacier in years past, giving us a sense of glacier melt. The rock, over a mile from the glacier, says “ice limit 1926”.
We could feel the cold air flowing off Mendenhall Glacier along the trail as we approached—even before we could see it. We finished our hike at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center with a view of the glacier and Mendenhall Lake (which did not exist before 1910). The glacier has retreated approximately 2 1/2 miles in recent centuries.
We met up with Captain Mitch at a marina on Auke Bay. His safari vessel is specifically designed for maximum wildlife photo encounters. The sheltered cabin has large panel windows that keep photographers dry enroute and open for unrestricted views when idling.
As we boarded the vessel, we saw lots of gulls and bald eagles fighting over the dead salmon washed up on the shore. The sight gives a different perspective of the majestic eagle. We cruised Auke Bay, Stephens Passage, and Favorite Channel and were taken to two whale encounter locations. At the first stop we met Captain Hook, a lone transient Orca, named because of his hooked dorsal fin.
Then we found the pod of humpbacks—about a half dozen—including calves with their mamas. We saw lots and lots of spouts and tail fins as they feasted on anchovies, herring, sand lance, and sardines in the cold waters. They needed to fatten up before their winter migration to warmer waters in the lower latitudes. During migration and calving season they don’t eat but rely on their fat stores for energy. (For more information on the humpback whale visit the International Whaling Commission).
Captain Mitch said humpback whales eat about 20 hours a day during the feeding season and gain about 12 pounds a day. 12 pounds! A day! It’s kinda how I feel on this cruise with the all you can eat buffet and desserts.
On the way back to the marina we paused near an ocean buoy where some sea lions were taking an afternoon nap.
On the bus ride back to the ship we asked Claire for a recommendation for lunch and she pointed us to Alaska Fish & Chips Company located at the Flight Deck near the cruise terminal. We sat outside on the patio; I had the Seafood Chowder and the husband had a halibut sandwich—which we both thoroughly enjoyed.
Our traveling companions took a ride on the nearby Goldbelt Tram up the mountainside, but with the low clouds and visibility, we opted not to do so. Maybe next time.
We found our Juneau bear in one of the gift shops.