Alaska Trip, Part I – Juneau
Last week I had an incredible adventure which turned out to be one of my best vacations ever. The trip to Juneau and Glacier Bay, Alaska, was organized by my very generous parents as a family reunion. A total of 11 Durhams were in attendance.
I departed bright and early Tuesday morning, Aug. 5, from McKinleyville. For reasons I don’t quite understand, Horizon had me fly all the way to LA, then transfer from the Q400 to a 737 for the trip north. The plane was half empty, so a bunch of soldiers in coach were invited to fill the empty seats in first class. I thought that was pretty cool.
We passed by Mt. Shasta. What a beauty! When I arrived in Seattle, I transferred to another plane headed to Juneau.
The captain told us that the weather in Juneau was nice, which is a rarity. “You’re very fortunate. It’s been rainy and cloudy in the Pacific Northwest for the last, umm, nine months,” the captain announced, as passengers chuckled.
The Weather Gods were smiling on us. It was sunny on the days we planned to be outside and rain was mostly limited to the times we were inside.
We gathered at the Super 8 near the airport, filled our cups with wine and chatted through the evening.
On Wednesday morning, Aug. 6, while some slept, a group of us explored the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Reserve, shown above. This is located near the airport.
We immediately saw bald eagles. On a different visit to the same place, a bald eagle flew directly over us about 10 feet above our heads. That was amazing.
Here’s some fireweed. Welcome to Alaska.
Here’s a photo of the Mendenhall Glacier as seen from the wetlands. In the foreground you can see the airport, which features a paved runway and a water runway right next to it for seaplanes.
For some reason I find seaplanes endlessly fascinating, and I’ll wager that you do too. We returned to the Super 8, gathered the clan and caught a shuttle to a trail head of a path leading to the Mendenhall Glacier. We walked and walked and walked.
It was worth the hike, as you can see.
I visited this glacier about three decades ago. It has retreated significantly since then, revealing this waterfall which is fed by a different glacier. The people near the bottom of the photo give it some perspective.
After visiting the glacier, we hiked back to the trail head, caught the shuttle and returned to the Super 8. By now I had super blisters on my feet from all the hiking, but we weren’t done for the day. I went with my parents to downtown Juneau and jumped on the Mt. Roberts Tramway.
The tram takes you to the top of the mountain. Here’s the view.
Seaplanes and eagles flew by below us.
We took a trail even further up the mountain. Here’s a view of the Chilkat Pass in the distance. I’m accustomed to the nice, fuzzy, comfortable, non-threatening environs of Humboldt County, so this place seems wild and dangerous to me, but in a good way.
Part way up the trail we spotted two black bears. The second bear is hiding behind some brush in this photo.
After seeing bears, we felt like some beers. So we visited the restaurant at the top of the tram and ordered some Alaskan Amber. They had just run out, so we got some Alaskan IPA, which I thought was even better. After the beer, my feet felt pretty good.
We went back to the downtown and visited some shops. With apologies to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce, I recommend you skip the downtown unless you have extra time. Most of the shops are really tacky and geared towards the cruise ship clientele. Still, if you sort through the rubbish, you'll find a few nice things, which you probably can't afford.
We grabbed a cab and on the way back to the motel spotted a cop car with a Smith & Wesson mountain bike on the back. I didn't know Smith & Wesson made bikes.
Wine, snacks and pizza were enjoyed that night.
The next morning, on Thursday, Aug. 7, we hiked the wetlands again, followed by a visit to the Alaska Brewery. We drank free beer and listened to the fellow with the big beard on the left. It’s a small brewery not much bigger in appearance from the one in McKinleyville, so he didn’t have a lot to work with. But he was hilarious and a real showman. I laughed a lot. We sampled something called Alaskan Smoked Porter. It’s beer with a smoky taste. The family had mixed reactions to it. Personally, I think it would be a nice beverage for washing down some salmon.
After the tour I snapped this photo from the parking lot. I love the steep ridgelines – very dramatic. Rain was coming. We caught a taxi to a restaurant, where I enjoyed some fish and chips. Then it was back to the Super 8 to grab out bags before heading to the airport.
Next stop: Gustavus and Glacier Bay.