We are midway through the week readers! If you follow my Instagram or Twitter you probably saw that I was hanging out at the Houston v. Chiefs game last weekend. What an experience being down on the field before pregame. Now back to Alaska. Last week we were in Ketchikan and now have traveled farther north up the inside passage.
Our second port was the state capital of Juneau. It was beautiful and cold. Juneau is an island and all around it is the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Needless to say our visit there was wet and cold. Since we were on an Alaskan cruise we had pre-planned this excursion on the Mendenhall Glacier with a helicopter ride and dog sleds but the weather decided that that was not going to happen. Well we were not going to go adventureless in Juneau so we decided to change to the Mendenhall and whale watching tour. I know we were super “touristy” on this trip but it did allow us to see as much as possible.
The thing is our tour didn’t start until later in the day and we weren’t going to just sit on the boat, rain or not. Besides it was the fourth of July and we had to explore. Brooke, my mom, Drew, and I go wonder around Juneau. As we do it starts raining on us harder and the streets are beginning to fill up because of the Independence Day Parade. So we found the Irish pub in Juneau. This is how I learned that Alaskan Amber is a pretty good beer. After a round and some stores we venture back outside. Well now the sidewalks are packed full of people waiting for the parade to come around the corner. Not wanting to stand in the rain or be jostled by the crowd we find a bar that has these big windows that are open to the street and park ourselves there to watch as the festivities pass.
After a round at the second bar and after the parade has passed we ask around for the best restaurant because by now it is past noon and we are starving. Turns out it is one near the cruise ship port, on the way there we run into my aunt, uncle, and cousins and they decide to join us for lunch. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the restaurant but they had some of the best oysters on the half shell that I have ever had, if not the best. I ate almost a half dozen on my own and the only reason that I didn’t eat more is because the rest had already been devoured. The rest of the food was just as good but nothing beats the oysters. For our entrees we all did our best to order something different. I had chipotle salmon, mom had salmon pizza with fish roe, and Brooke had this amazing salmon puff pastry.
After lunch our two groups split up and I do a little shopping for people at home. My boyfriend and I love handmade soaps and there was a shop selling glacial silt soap, and they are still his favorite. After shopping it was back to the ship for a nap because Brooke and I love our naps. The time for our excursion in the mid afternoon rolls around and the four of us Juneau explores and meet up with Baba and Papa to head out to see the Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake before we move on to see the whales. Our guide is a very knowledgeable older man. The area around Mendenhall Lake is full of trails that people use year round. He tells us all about the plants, the land and the wildlife. He told us about a mama bear and her cubs that had been hanging around but unfortunately we didn’t see them. Upon reaching the edge of Mendenhall Lake we looked across this blue-grey expanse of water and I beheld my first glacier. It is massive and was two miles away. I quickly discovered that glacier, and fjords really messed up my perception of distance and size.
Glaciers are beautiful giants, slow, persistent forces of nature. Glacial silt occurs when the glacier scrapes the rock beneath it and slowly grinds it into a powder so fine that it does not settle. The runoff from glaciers is a milky blue-gray. As we stood on the edge of the glacier lake our guide told us about the recession of the Mendenhall and when Nugget Falls was revealed. In the winter the lake freezes over and people skate on it and ski in the area around it. One of the questions that he asked us was what we thought the temperature of the water was. Yes, I’m the nerd that got the question right. Most people guessed a lower temperature, 50 degrees F or so, but water has a high specific heat and it takes a lot of energy to change the temperate. It was about 70 degrees outside and I guessed that the water was about the same temperature. Our guide asked how I knew that, I told him that I paid attention in science class.
After the glacier and lake we moved on to a beaver dam and were able to see how the aquatic animals affected their environment. The guide told us that salmon liked beaver stream and swam up them in part to clear the glacial silt from their gills. After the beavers it was on to a small harbor to go whale watching but that is for the next tale.
Brooke took one of the best pictures of the whole trip and it is below for your viewing pleasure. This is one photo that I’m jealous to not have taken but I’m so happy that we have it. Check back in Saturday for the remainder of the Juneau adventure!
**Feature Photo by Laci McGee.