We landed in Juneau at noon and started out first land excursion an hour later. I bought a non-cruise line tour from viator.com and our experience was very good. The drivers of the buses and boat were knowledgable about their city and what they hoped to show us. We had a short tour of the city which was followed by a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier where we explored by ourselves. Favorite facts about the city include that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or to the rest of North America. Residents and visitor get to the city by water or air. Also, The settlement was founded by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, and was originally called Harrisburg after a vote by the miners. According to one of our guides, Juneau was not happy with the result. He waited until Harris was out of town, treated the miners at the local pub, called for another vote and registered the result in DC. If the story is not true, it is still a good one and a good reminder the politics have not really gotten any better or worse.
After the bus tour, we were dropped off at the Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is 13.6 miles long and located in a valley, about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. It is part of the Tongass National Forest. We had more than an hour to explore although we could have doubled that time; however, had we doubled the time and did the whale watch, our ship would have left without us.
We spent time at the Visitor Center viewing the exhibits and audio-visual presentations which were excellent. (There is also a gift shop and restaurant that we did not visit.) The exhibits cover the history of Mendenhall Glacier, showing how it covered the valley in 1794. This is contrasted with current conditions today, related to climate change. The exhibits also depict local wildlife including mountain goats, black bears, and salmon in the nearby streams. We saw none of these but that we did not walk on the more remote trails, it was not surprising.
What we did see was the glacier which was magnificent. Julia was particularly impressed and took many pictures. The rangers pulled a sizable piece of glacier from the lake while we were there and we were both fascinated by the ice designs.
I want to go back and spend more time there.
And then the whales. Again, our tour guides were great. The only place that I have been so impressed with guides was when we were in Costa Rica. This time, we boarded a very quick little boat with 13 other people and were whisked away to find the whales. On our way to open water, we passed a small house and light house at the end of one of the many islands. I wondered, could I live there?
As soon as we got to open water, we saw two pods of Orcas (or killer whales) in the distance. Both pods seemed to be playing-possibly dancing-in relatively small spaces. After watching for awhile, we travelled further out and found the humpback whales. We saw them surface, blow air, crest through the water and dive. We saw two whales breach which is when their body leaves the water and then splashes back down. My pictures are rather pitiful but I was intent on not experiencing these magnificent animals from behind my iPad.
Our other wild life sighting was silly seals relaxing on a buoy, looking very much like a scene from Finding Nemo.
We left Juneau at 9:00 p.m. Almost twilight in Alaska.