Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, is on an island in the panhandle, accessible only by boat or airplane. It is small, but tied with Fairbanks as the second largest city in Alaska, with about 30,000 people (Anchorage has 300,000, so those 3 cities have half of the total population of the entire state).
Juneau is a great place to visit for a few days, as we did June 26-30, 2017. It is a temperate rain forest – with 230 days of precipitation per year. The vegetation is not as thick as a tropical rain forest, but the variety is greater. In the weeks before and after our visit, there was one sunny day per week. However, the rain is not the driving rain of the south, but gentle sprinkles that don’t slow you down much. Summer highs are in the low 60s, and winter lows average 29, a great break from Texas heat. During the summer sunrise is about 4 am, and sunset after 10 pm, so you have a full 18 hours of day (but during the winter you have 18 hours of night).
We enjoyed walking around Juneau on Tuesday, our first full day. On the non-tourist side of town we found the Cathedral, a wood structure not much larger than some homes.
A block away from the cathedral is an even smaller Russian Orthodox Church
We wandered back downtown. The public library is on the top (6th?) floor of a public parking garage – the brown building just to the left of the closest cruise ship. It is a nice library with great views.
The harbor has 2 to 5 cruise ships at a time throughout the summer. Therefore perhaps 25,000 people per day are added to an island that only has 30,000 natives. Most of the stores sell either T-shirts or Diamond/Gold Jewelry, so I bet the natives are not the primary patrons.
In addition to the jewelry and t-shirt stores, there are many taverns serving either seafood or hamburgers, and many types of beer.
Fishing is a major industry, and near the cruise ship harbor is a fish processing plant.
This was at the Taku Wild Alaskan Seafood factory, store, and restaurant, and enjoyed watching them process the fish through their windows. Their web page is pretty commercial, but you might want to explore their Facebook photos and videos for more “behind the scenes.”
On Wednesday we got the allocated beautiful day without rain, so we drove to the Mendenhall Glacier, and hiked many of the trails in the area.
Trivia: The glacier was formed about 1,200 to 2,000 years ago, based on trees found under the glacier as it recedes. It has been in retreat since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1700s. The lake in front of the glacier was not formed until 1929, and has been expanding since then, as the glacier recedes.
On our hike we ran into what we were sure were Texas Bluebonnets, except that they were chest high, not just 3 inches.
While we had a beautiful day, we decided to go to the Last Chance Mining Museum, once called the Jualpa Mining Camp, a mile outside Juneau. The application for the National Register of Historic Places lists 21 relevant buildings and structures. When we got there, we found only one building open, and no access to the other 20 buildings. The collections were in terrible shape, poorly labeled, rusty, and often unrelated. For example, why was a mid-1950s vintage mechanical calculator displayed when the mine closed in 1944? A rack of wrenches were all the same size. A rusty gurney was only identified by being near a vintage first aid kit. The large air compressor was powered by a 750 horsepower electric motor – to me the only impressive item, but not worth the hike and $5 admission fee.
As usual we spent some time in the Alaska State Museum. It was generally interesting, but be prepared for the history of each native tribe/community. Senior admission $11 each.
We went to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Why do they need one? Only a few percent of the natural salmon survive their first year in fresh water streams before migrating to the ocean, while 80-90% survive in hatcheries before the migration. A few decades ago recreational and commercial fishing yield leveled off, so several non-profit hatcheries were formed, solving the problem. Macaulay hatches 130 million fish per year.
Salmon return to the stream where they were hatched to spawn (breed) and die. How do they know? The water is slightly different in each stream, based on plants and minerals in the watershed, so the salmon can trace their origins. For the last 1-3 months before they are released, the salmon are kept in net pens in the fresh water exiting the hatchery, to imprint them. After several years in the ocean they return to the hatchery.
After 1 to 6 years living at sea in salt water, they return to the place they were imprinted to reproduce in fresh water. The fish ladder is a 450 foot long concrete stream, with about 25 pools and jumps through fast flowing water, simulating the upstream climb in nature. The climb stimulates physical changes in the salmon that lead to production of eggs and sperm.
After an adult female salmon lays their eggs (about 2,500 for a coho salmon, up to 7,000 for other species) they die, and fertilize the streams (or provide food for wildlife). After doing their part fertilizing the eggs, the males die as well. In the fishery they are anesthetized before extracting the sperm and eggs, and are then sold as food.
One of the web pages explained why there were so many bald Eagles in the area. They love salmon!
And finally, the very pretty typical scene on our drive into town.