Scenes outside of Juneau

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in and around Juneau, Alaska.

Near the port in Juneau, AK

(This was before most Americans had ever heard of Sarah Palin, by the way.) While many of my travel companions elected to take a helicopter ride out to Mendenhall Glacier, I decided paying $300 a pop for myself, my son, and his friend, was a bit steep for one afternoon. Instead, we walked around tour, took the tram to the top of the mountain, and then we spent $5 each for a short trip on what was probably a converted school bus, and saw a bit of the area.

Along the trail, on a rainy day hike

Juneau is located on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle,  about 20 miles from the western Canadian border on British Columbia. The Pacific Ocean keeps the climate mild: in September the rain forests were beautifully green and lush. The two primary employers are the state government, and tourism from the huge cruise ships that dock during the summer (only) months. Although the cruise ships bring income into the city during the summer, I suspect the locals have mixed feelings about the surges of crowds followed by the empty jewelry stores and t-shirt shops that sit, closed, throughout the winter months.

Juneau from across the bridge. The mists hung over everything.

After riding the gondola to the top of the mountain for the breathtaking views, we returned to sea level. Our little tour bus took us on a short drive through the downtown area (note: Alaska is one of only a few state capitals without a ‘dome’ on its capitol building. The one in Juneau looks like an ordinary office building). We then stopped at a few places, to look out over the channel, and then out of town to look at the glacier.

My son and I enjoying the rain forest

For our lunch, I wandered into a random candy-and-souvenir shop to ask the manager where we should eat, after explaining that I wanted to go some place that the locals would go. She directed us down the road to an Asian-fusion place, located inside of a hotel. I cannot recall the name, but it faced the waterfront, and was filled mostly with locals. We always seem to have the best luck asking people who actually live in a location.

Travis at Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau is in a beautiful area that would be worth spending a few days, especially if you liked to hike or do other outdoor activities, and could plan your trip away from the cruise ship port days. The city, itself, is not a destination.

A few of my fellow travelers (some you may recognize):

From right: Phil Plait, Mrs. BadAstronomer, Richard Saunders of the SkepticZone podcast

One of our travel companions, being Amazing 🙂

Categories: James Randi Educational Foundatioin - JREF, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. What a great time and I miss everyone from that trip.

  2. Sounded like great time, but where are the pictures?

  3. Oh, they came later….beautiful world!

  4. Awesome pictures! I was born and raised in Alaska but have never been to Juneau. Someday!

  5. Juneau is a very special memory for Himself and I! We did the multiple-glacier helicopter tour, which included seeing a lot of wildlife and actually WALKING ON a glacier. Norris Glacier, in fact…as I was walking over to look at a streamlet running across the surface, my best friend said, “Come here a minute,” and put an arm around my shoulder. He said something about how things never go as planned, and that he had imagined the moment a little differently, but, “This–” he gestured at the glacier, “is the biggest chunk of ice I could ever give you. Will you marry me?”

    Needless to say, I said “Yes” (after a few moments of moving my mouth randomly and emitting little squeaky noises). He then handed me a ring in his size, made from seashell, that he had bought at a local gift store; he had one in my size that he kept. We put those on each others’ fingers, and wore them until we found exactly what we wanted for our real wedding rings a few week later. (And we still have them, too!)

    I have to say, even had we not gotten engaged, the helicopter/glacier walk was worth every penny of the couple of hundred bucks we spent. We saw so many different glaciers — Taku, Hole-in-the-Wall, Norris, and half a dozen more–as well as mountain goats, grizzly bears eating berries, and the fantastic forests…one of the best experiences of my life. Every bit of Alaska we visited on the two week trip was absolutely gorgeous. I highly encourage everyone reading to go up there sometime.

    But bring some good bug repellent, the mosquitoes up in Anchorage are quite seriously more than an inch long, and so thick around they leave a smear like a mascara brush on your clothes…

  6. Love the post because Juneau is my hometown! I use to give tours to people off the cruise ships as a summer job 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the glacier and got to hike around. That’s the best way to appreciate the city and forest.

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