By Dave Zuchowski
With a population of less than 31,000, Juneau is the nation’s sixth smallest state capital. But what it lacks in population it more than makes up in attractions.
Accessible only by air and sea, Juneau’s major thoroughfare runs only five miles to the south and 40 miles to the north. High towering mountains block further travel and make Juneau only one of four state capitals not served by an interstate. By area, Juneau is the nation’s third largest municipality (3,225 square miles) and the only state capital to border another country, Canada.
With Elizabeth Arnett, tourism marketing manager of the city’s CVB leading the way, I managed a leisurely look around the area while my Holland America cruise ship, the ms Oosterdam, sat in the harbor.
"All of the legendary Alaskan experiences are about 20 minutes from the docks," said Arnett as we made our way to the famous Mendenhall Glacier, a short ride from downtown.
The Mendenhall is one of 38 glaciers that feed off the massive Juneau Icefield, which is almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The glacier is currently about 12 miles long, considerably less than its greatest most recent length back in the mid 1700s. From the new and modern visitors center, glacier watchers can walk down a trail that leads to a panoramic view of the ice sheet that spills into a lake.
Average snowfall on the Juneau Icefield is a whopping 100 feet, and Arnett pointed out that it takes 200 to 250 years from the time a snowflake falls to the ground to make its way to the lake.
Something I found most interesting was the trail that took me by a salmon run, full of fish making their way to their breeding grounds. From a raised boardwalk, I saw numerous salmon, thick in the water, and even caught an upclose look as a bear emerged from the woods and snatched an easy dinner.
Stop number two took us to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, two and a half miles from town, where visitors can watch massive numbers of fish trying to make their way up the hatchery ladders to spawn while seals and even eagles try to catch their share along the way.
In May and June, you can see the juvenile spawn prior to their release at scattered sites. The hatchery releases close to 115 million salmon annually, but only two to 10 percent make the return, which takes place July through October. Even with these reduced numbers, the sea of living fish fighting to climb up the ladders is staggering.
When the adults return, the females are shocked with an electric current, then their eggs are removed for later fertilization in special holding tanks. The hatchery is permitted to incubate 121 million chum, 50 million pink, 1.5 million coho and 950,000 chinook salmon annually. After touring the facility, visitors can make their way into the Salmon Shop and scan the variety of salmon products and novelties, including complimentary samples of salmon caviar products.
Back in town, I found that Juneau is compact enough to allow a quick walking tour that includes a look at the governor’s mansion, home to 10 governors and many other territorial governors, the downtown core and the quaint St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Built in 1912 at a cost of $40,000, the governor’s mansion is a modest 2-1/2 story wooden building whose walls are plastered over and painted white with a number of totem poles standing near the entrance.
Though there were no Russians living in Juneau when Alaska was a Russian colony, the lovely white with blue accents church built in the "Russian colonial" style was consecrated in 1894 to serve the area’s Tlingit population. The current congregation consists of five families and 20 people, but financial support comes from visitors, including thousands of cruise ship tourists, who come to see its 18th century Russian icons and relics.
My seven-hour long visit ended spectacularly with an 1,800-feet ride up to Mt. Roberts aboard an aerial tramway, which climaxes with a spectacular look at Juneau and the surrounding area from an observation deck. The top of the tram includes the Timberline Bar and Grill, the Chilkat Theater, where an 18-minute documentary explains Tlingit life, heritage and history, a nature center, gift shops and several hiking trails.
If You’re Going . . .
For more information on Juneau, phone 1-888-581-2201 or www.traveljuneau.com. For more information on the Holland America Line, phone 1-877-932-4259 or www.hollandamerica.com.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.