“This is the capital of Alaska?” I asked as our cruise ship prepared to dock along Juneau’s wharf. “I expected it to be bigger.” But with a population of 30,000 and being completely landlocked with no roads in or out, it made sense why it was so small.
Once docked, we made our way down the gangplank and into the rain. The guidebook didn’t offer much to do in Juneau, other than going to see Mendenhall Glacier, exploring the small downtown area, and taking the gondola to the top of Mt. Roberts. The cruise offered many organized shore excursions, for a small fortune, but we figured we would take the city shuttle to the glacier and explore on our own. The cruise ship was also insistent that you only go to the shops on their list and not to any of the other ones. But, we prefer the locally owned shops and ignore their list.
Once on the shuttle (an old school bus), we got an interesting tour of the city by the Native American bus driver. Most tours talk about the area’s history, as you would find in any guidebook. But this tour was about when the Walmart and Fred Meyers opened up and where people had to go before that, and when the McDonalds first opened people came from all over, and some on float planes, and how they ran out of food and had to close early. We also found out that the people living in Juneau no longer support Sarah Palin, as she is a “quiter.” It was all very entertaining and we happily tipped the driver as we got off at the Glacier.
At the first sight of the Mendenhall Glacier we were in awe at its sheer size and beauty. The guidebook called it the most famous and accessible of Alaska’s glaciers. We had expected to be able to walk right up to it, but to our surprise, there was a large body of water between the land and the glacier. The area around the glacier offered a few hiking trails, so we followed one heading towards the glacier. The forest in this part of Alaska reminded us a lot of the coastal forests of Oregon and Washington. But the one big difference was all of the bear warning signs. Luckily, we had a noisy five year old and no bear would want to come around us. So, noisily we hiked down the trail seeing lots of animal crossings, but no animals. It definitely felt like bear country and I felt an eerie feeling of being watched. After awhile we realized we would not have enough time to hike to the end of the trail and still make the last shuttle back into town so we turned around. On our hike back out we passed two groups of people. The second group asked us if we had seen any bears and we told them that we had scared them all away and had not seen any. Back at the trailhead we ran into Kerri’s sister Erin and her husband Ralph. We were talking to them about our hike when the couple we had just passed on the trail came running up screaming, “BEAR!” They said right after they passed us they came across a black bear running up the trail. I guess a noisy 5 year old does make a great bear deterrent.
We took the shuttle back to Juneau and went exploring the downtown area. The shops were your standard tourist shops, nothing we couldn’t live without. We soon came to Alaska’s seat of government, the capital building. Not what we were expecting. It looked like a standard old office building. The other government buildings were also a bit different, including a very pink assembly building with a “For Rent” sign on the door. We had hoped to take the gondola to the top of Mt. Roberts, but the mountain was in the clouds and it would not offer us a very good view, so we called it a day headed back to the ship.