North to Alaska (Day 2)

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Our first full day in Juneau. We walked around a bit before breakfast and discovered many of the shops and restaurants are no longer open early for travelers. After a bit of a walk around the city, we ended up back at the Baranhof Hotel for breakfast. The hotel was built in 1938 and has a distinctive “art deco” appearance (outside and inside). This was the first hotel in Alaska built with reinforced concrete and steel. Originally there were 6 stories, but 3 more were added later. The food was good. They even had reindeer sausage on the menu. It only came with a gigantic amount of food so I just had an egg sandwich with potatoes.

After walking to the tram station, we boarded the bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau is the only city to have such a large glacier within city limits. The bus driver was Robert and he was quite knowledgeable about the area. Juneau would not be a city except for the fact that gold was discovered here (ok, pointed out to prospectors by indigenous people). Franklin Street (where the Baranhof Hotel exists because mine tailings were dumped and compacted. Otherwise, the area would be very muddy. Initial discoveries of gold were in Gold Creek (wonder why it got that name) about 3.5 miles upstream from present day Juneau. The initial prospectors (one was named Joe Juneau – a prospector from Quebec) took roughly 1,100 pounds of placer gold nuggets back to their investor. That started the Alaska Gold Rush.

As we drove along the highway, we learned that the weight of the ice in the Mendenhall Glacier (billions of tons of ice) is pushing the local area down and the Gastineau Channel is rising because of the pressure. Although the tides are presently about 20 feet (difference between low and high tide) the channel would be much deeper if not for the pressure from the glacier. I believe that is called isotonic rebound. Think of the game “whack a mole” on a global scale. The airport was built in 1935 (first runway) and would not exist if not for the ice pressure pushing the tidal flats to a higher elevation.

Here is a 360 degree photo (taken with my Theta X) of the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls.

Mendenhall Glacier overlook with Nugget Falls (on the right), Juneau, Alaska in early September, 2022. #SEAK22WD #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

We saw the plant “Devils Club” and “Skunk Cabbage” as we drove along. Both have large leaves and are quite visible from the road. On the return trip to Juneau, Ruth saw a black bear and eagles.

Devil's Club plant showing extensive thorns and spines on leaves and stem.
Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) – aptly named – note the spines on leaves and stem.

We are in the Tongass National Forest which is a temperate rain forest. It receives over 100” of rain each year (and a little snow). Most of the mountains in the area are roughly 3500’ at the top. We decided late in the afternoon to take the tram to the top of Mount Roberts (roughly 1000’ climb in elevation from Juneau). Great views. I was about to purchase tickets when we were approached by a local individual who had a season ticket and offered to allow one of us to use their pass. The people we have encountered on this trip as so nice and welcoming. Had a chance to walk the trails at the top and take some 360 degree photos. There were a number of totems near the trail head. It is about 2.5 hours to walk down the mountain. Of course, we took the tram back down. I also did a hyper lapse video of the descent.

Hyper lapse of Mount Roberts descent via tram.

In the evening, we ate at Deckhand Dave’s Fish tacos. Their salmon tots were fantastic as were the salmon nugget fish tacos. Nice seasoning. We also had a berries and crème crepe for dessert. I liked the atmosphere (with the mountains in the background).

Main take-aways from today include:

  • How incredibly nice the local people are (we even had some ask about joining our table at the taco restaurant.
  • How impressive the scenery is. The glacier and waterfalls were impressive.
  • No matter where I go, I always learn something new about the flora and fauna. Even though I have been in Washington state (near the southern end of the range), I was unaware of the Devil’s Club plant. It is so distinctive (with the broad leaves and numerous thorns), I think I would have noted it.

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