Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier

We left Gustavus Saturday afternoon (July 13), arriving at the airport which is easier than arriving by ferry.
The Mendenhall Glacier as we were approaching the airport.

Juneau is the capital city of Alaska--some call it the most inaccessible capital in the US if not the world because there are no roads to the outside world even though it's on the mainland.  Hemmed in by mountains on one side and ocean on the other, Juneau stretches along the coast for many miles in a narrow band--home to around 35,000 people.  The ferry terminal is 14 miles away from the historic downtown and is not served by either a shuttle or public transit (hence the inaccessibility for the independent traveller).  In spite of living in such a narrow band, much of the space is taken up with a 4 lane highway because people are very dependent on their vehicles here--many likely live at one end and work at the other.

We stayed at A Bear's Den Inn in the Mendenhall Valley for two nights, arriving in time to explore the historic downtown late Saturday afternoon and evening (we could get there by bus thankfully). There were a few giant cruise ships at the docks and the downtown was teeming with people.  Most of the "cookie cutter" souvenir and jewelry stores were open.  The historic downtown is attractive and obviously catering to the cruise ship passengers.  A few hours was enough for us.

On Sunday we borrowed bicycles from our hosts and cycled up to the Mendenhall Glacier.  This was a pretty easy cycle on a dedicated bike path at about a 4% grade.

View of the Mendenhall Glacier from the road.
As we expected, we shared the site with a few thousand cruise ship passengers--there was a constant stream of coaches discharging people who had perhaps an hour to enjoy the lake, glacier and falls.   We had most of the day, and so once we had visited the Visitor Centre and walked to the very impressive waterfall, we took off up the hill on the East Glacier Trail.  We met lots of locals out enjoying the beautiful day.
I took a little time out to knit a bit...

The glacier is retreating about 200 feet per year.  The Visitor's Centre has an excellent display of how this is accelerating due to climate change.

From the East Glacier Trail.  The recently scoured rocks are evident at the toe of the glacier.  
It was a pleasant cycle back down the valley, stopping at a beer and wine store for some refreshment which we enjoyed in the very pleasant back garden of our B&B.

It was with some relief that we left Juneau the next day for Sitka!  A very pleasant four hour ferry ride on one of the new fast ferries.  My next posting will be about Sitka, a small town which feels very welcoming--for starters there was both a shuttle AND a public bus at the ferry dock which is about 4 miles out of town.  We are staying at the Cinnamon Bear B&B which is about halfway between town and the ferry, and well served by public transit called "The Ride" every hour.  And the weather continues to be very pleasant--about 20 degrees and sunny.  Locals are actually feeling this is too warm! 

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