Juneau and Southeast Alaska 7/13/11
While I never intended my blog to be a travel guide, I did want to say a few things about southeast Alaska. For my money, it is the most beautiful part of the state. Rain forest, major waterways, snow covered peaks, glaciers and ice fields – all are there. Before I came to Alaska, I had only the dimmest notion of the state’s geography.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to travel to Juneau and Ketchikan three times in the last year for work. Juneau, in particular, is beautiful with mountains going down to water. The Gastineau canal runs through the area and it is a tourist mecca with many massive cruise ships docking from May to September. Tourism is the lifeblood of the community.
I wanted to mention a couple things I did on my most recent Juneau trip earlier this month. These are my four star recommendations. I hiked up Mt. Roberts after taking the tram which goes up about 1800 feet from downtown. While the tram was a mob scene, hardly anybody seemed to venture farther up the mountain. Once you got 15 minutes up from the top of the tram, there were only a handful of hikers. Hard to believe more people did not go up higher. I did see four black bears and two bald eagles flying overhead. I hit it on what must have been one of the primo days of summer. The views going up were sensational. The air was crisp and exceptionally clean and it did not get cold until I reached the snow. It felt good to breathe. On top before the snow there was a flat remarkably green pasture like area. On the far side, there was an area that reminded me of the Great Gulf Wilderness near Mt. Washington in NH. You can hike to some wide lookouts overlooking this vast gulf wilderness. In the distance there were mountains beyond mountains for as far as the eye could see.
I also went on a whale watch on Auke Bay near Juneau. It is the home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a great government agency. Auke Bay must be one of the best spots in the world to see humpback whales. There were several pods in the vicinity of our boat. I saw many whales. There were two breaches and I saw bubble net feeding where a group of whales trap schools of herring. I have to say it was way more exciting than I expected it would be. I found the grace and beauty of the whales captivating. It was cool to hear their sounds which the captain played by putting some kind of sonar device in the water to hear the whales.
After the whale watch, I went over to Mendenhall Glacier for a short hike. I was surprised at the amount of ice around Juneau since it is warmer than up north. Mendenhall has receded dramatically though. Our tour guide showed how much it has receded over the last 20 years alone and that was huge.
In the museum about southeast Alaska in Ketchikan, they say southeast alone is as big as 500 Rhode Islands. I liked the vibe in southeast – friendly, slower-paced, and more relaxed than Anchorage. I was told Juneau is the most liberal and green city in the state and I believe it.