Wednesday, June 26, 2013

GLACIERS AT LAST… BUT MELTING FAST!


Mendenhall Glacier
Back onto the Ferry… headed to Juneau.  It’s smooth sailing, and we arrive in Juneau at the unconscionable hour of 4:45 AM.  It’s a short drive to the Mendenhall Lake Campground at the base of Mendenhall Glacier.  The gate is locked from 10:00PM until 7:00AM so we continue up the road a bit to the end where there is a large parking lot with a wonderful early morning view of the glacier.   Here we park, crawl into Dimples and sleep for a bit.  Once the gate is open we check in.  Our space is huge and private with full hook-ups.  Mosquitos are rampant but we can report that the ThermaCELLs really work so no worries. 
After setting up, we hike some of the trails around the campground.  The rain forest is lush and laced with small streams and ponds.  One pond sports a beaver den. No beavers in sight but in the surrounding area we see gnawed stumps of the trees that are now piled in the middle of the pond. Mendenhall Lake is stunning with icebergs and waterfalls. There are numerous trails in the area of the glacier and we take advantage over a few days to do a little hiking along the Steep Creek Trail, the Trail of Time and the Nugget Falls Trail.  Since Mendenhall is the most accessible glacier in the area, there are lots of tourists along these trails, and tour busses fill the parking lots. But this glacier may not be around for long, it has receded a total of 2.5 miles since the 1500’s and 1.75 of those miles since 1958.

Tracy's King Crab Shack
Downtown Juneau near the cruise ship dock feels like Disneyland.  Every day four to six humongous floating cities bring thousands of cruisers who pour into the streets and wander about with apparent sensory overload. We avoid this area although we did brave the crowds late one afternoon to stop by Tracy’s Crab Shack.  Tracy’s is a pair of food trailers parked right next to the dock.  All seating is alfresco, tables are shared, and it’s all served on disposable dinnerware.  Although the ambiance is low key the food is anything but.  This is the place for some of the best King Crab dishes in Juneau. Now King Crab, even in Alaska is not cheap. A three pound bucket of legs will set you back over $100, but the best deal is the combo that serves 1 to 2: a generous cup of award winning hearty crab bisque, four fluffy crab cakes with a vibrant dipping sauce and two huge perfectly steamed king crab legs for $32.00 add a couple of Alaska Ambers and the tip and we have a really outstanding meal for under fifty bucks. Considering the location we are surprised that many of the diners sharing our table are locals who dine here as often as once a week. They’ll fight the crowds for Tracy’s legs but usually on a four-cruise ship day. We also learn that Tracy’s was featured on the past season of Bravo’s Top Chef, pretty impressive for food trailers on the dock!
Tracy's King Crab Shack on Urbanspoon

Aquarium
The Macaulay Fish Hatchery offers tours of their facility, a basic tour and an in depth behind the scenes tour.  Since this year’s crop of King fry were released a few days before our visit and the fish ladders sit empty, there’s not a lot going on behind the scenes so we take the basic tour we get a short talk about the facility and the processes while viewing empty tanks and nets being washed and dried. There is one freshwater indoor tank with some tiny Coho fry.  This hatchery is a private non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the Juneau area fisheries. This is fish ranching not fish farming.  It is modern and clean and a much more sophisticated operation than the State and Federal hatcheries we visited last year in Oregon and Idaho.  Although they clip all of the fry and inject data pins in a large percentage much like the other hatcheries in the country, they have also developed a method using a small change in water temperature during specific times of development to create a slight difference in the thickness of the ear cartilage to identify their salmon.  They also have an aquarium with a 5,000-gallon saltwater tank multiple smaller tanks, a touch tank and a shop selling salmon products.
Totem

As the Capital of Alaska, Juneau is home to the Alaska StateMuseum.  The permanent collections boast a large assortment of Alaska Native Culture, Early Exploration, Russian America, American Political, Mining, Minerals and Maritime History artifacts. These are all interesting but it’s the special exhibits that really intrigue us especially Nicholas Galanin – Tlingit/Aleut Multi-Disciplinary Artist – State of Being Displaced.  This installation is visually exciting and intellectually stimulating.  

There is also the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.  Housed in the former Juneau Memorial Library Building are various exhibits relating to the local history arts and culture.  The main attraction is the original Montana Creek Fish Trap, a 500-700 year old basketry style fish trap and a replica based on measurements from the original.

On the recommendation of a local man that we met while having an afternoon beer at the Viking Bar, we drive across the bridge to Douglas to try out the fare at The Island Pub.  They serve a variety of pub food, but it’s their wood fired pizza that draws us.  Every year they hold a contest and folks create different combinations of fresh local toppings for their thin crust gourmet pizzas.  We order the 2013 winner: light cream garlic sauce, smoked salmon, capers, red onions and their special cheese blend. It’s like lox and bagels with a twist and goes really well with some Alaskan Ambers.
Island Pub on Urbanspoon

A day at the Beach
One thing we did not expect in Juneau is temperature in the high eighties.  They’re having a heat wave, so we do as they do and head for the beach.  On the way we stop at a road break and the pilot car driver is originally from So Cal close to where Chris grew up.  He invites us to meet him at the Viking Baron Saturday night for shots of tequila – lots of fun, but we have to get back to the campground by 10:00 when they lock the gate.   (Unfortunately we are late and have to park Dave outside the gate and walk in what’s up with this curfew???)

There is so much to do and see in and around Juneau.  Our biggest outing is an all day cruise of the Tracy Arm Fiord with Adventure Bound Alaska’s 65 foot “Captain Cook”. We cruise over the jade green inland sea dodging blue icebergs, our necks craning to see the tops of snow capped granite walls with waterfalls spilling into the ocean, and our lungs filled with the crisp iced air.  At the end of the fiord we park at the base of the Sawyer Glacier.  The captain turns off the motors and we sit in silence.  Suddenly, loud pops and cracks like fireworks, a few small splashes and BOOM a large block of ice violently crashes into the sea.  It is powerful and awe inspiring.  But there is a softer side here.  The icebergs at the base of the glacier serve as a nursery for Harbor Seals and everywhere we look are mother seals and their pups some a few days old.  On the return trip we see more icebergs, various sea birds, bald eagles and a good-sized black bear. 
Sawyer Glacier
Mom & Pup
Captain of the Berg
Black Bear

Well that about sums it up for Juneau… one more ferry ride on this leg of our journey will bring us to Haines… and then…


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