This time we came by boat. In the past we have flown in, but did Juneau that it is not possible to drive to this state capital?
Yes, Juneau, Alaska is the only state capital that has no highway connection to anywhere within the state, or any place else for that matter.
Odd for sure, yet the very reason it is so isolated also makes it perhaps the most scenic and interesting of our state government centers. There are certainly no others where we could visit a glacier, ride to the top of a mountain, and watch spawning salmon all in one day.
We began by jumping on the Mount Roberts Tramway, partly because it was right by the dock where we came in, but also because we wanted to take advantage of the sunshine. Clear days are a bit of a rarity around here so we didn’t want to take any chances of encountering afternoon showers.
The tram carries up to sixty people eighteen hundred feet up Mount Roberts in about six minutes, with views that are nothing short of spectacular. Thanks to the fantastic weather we could see miles and miles of the Gastineau Channel in both directions.
We also had a bird’s eye view of the city, the ships, and even the airport several miles off in the distance. Once we arrived at the top we took advantage of the trails to climb even higher, which provided a perfect panorama of the surrounding mountains.
It’s no wonder that the tramway is one of Juneau’s most popular attractions, and when we made it back down to sea level we hoped on a bus to another one.
Mendenhall Glacier isn’t really in the city, it’s about 12 miles away, and because it is receding that number keeps growing. As with many of Alaska’s glaciers, warmer temperatures are melting it faster than the snow can replenish the ice.
We didn’t make it all the way to the ice field, instead opting for a view from the overlook on the Glacier Highway. This was the quick way since we only had one day and there was plenty more to see and do. Still, the sight of this massive ice flow with the mountains as a backdrop and a meadow of blazing fireweed in the foreground will remain permanently etched in our memories.
From there we had one more stop to make before wandering around downtown, the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. While we have seen salmon running before, we can safely say we have never seen anything quite like this!
We get it, people sometimes exaggerate and throw around the word millions just to signify a lot, but after some quick calculations we realized that we truly were looking at about a million fish. Most of these were babies, fry as they’re called, living in four giant tanks well above the fray that was going on outside.
These tanks serve as home until the little guys are ready for release and years of adventure in the open sea before finally returning here. That returning was going on outside and it was quite a spectacle.
Thousands of salmon were fighting their way up a series of stair-stepped tanks that are made to simulate their natural instinct to swim upstream to spawn. One odd thing to us was the fact that they never get more than a few feet away from the ocean.
The entire process of struggling up miles of swift water has been recreated in an area about the size of a football field. Moving through it is designed to be so difficult that it takes weeks to accomplish, just like if they were in the wild.
One big difference is that when they finally make it, they do not get to lay eggs, they are “zipped” open and the eggs are fertilized in buckets. Once they hatch then it is into the tanks that we mentioned before.
This greatly reduces the fish lost to predators and other dangers, making the hatchery much more efficient than Mother Nature.
Heading downtown, we figured we should check out the capitol building but found a few surprises along the way. Turns out Juneau has a bunch of bronze on display. By that we mean statues, lots of statues.
We found a humpback whale breaching near the hatchery, a couple of hard-rock miners digging along the waterfront, a huge bear right in the center of town, and an interesting pooch near the docks.
The bear, known as Windfall Fisherman, and the whale, called Tahku, are both by the renowned sculptor R.T. Wallen, along with several other works around town that we didn’t have time to see.
The miners are a tribute by Ed Way to the men who extracted the areas vast mineral riches, and the dog… well she has a story to tell too.
Her name was Patsy Ann and beginning in 1929 she faithfully served as “The Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska.” Even though she was stone deaf, she somehow knew when a ship was coming in and would scurry down to the dock to say hello.
Sailors from far and wide learned of her welcomes and would reward her with treats, and so the cycle continued until 1942 when she finally said goodbye. Fifty years later artist Anna Burke Harris unveiled a life-size statue of the bull terrier on the spot where Patsy Ann used to greet the fleet.
After a pat and a hug we made it to the capitol, which looks like just about any other office building, but we found one more statue. This one very well could be the most important, because without William Henry Seward there would likely not be any state of Alaska. It would still be part of Russia.
Back in 1867, when he successfully pulled off buying Alaska, many called it Seward’s folly. He proved prophetic though, and the purchase turned out to be a bargain beyond even his wildest dreams. So to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the acquisition the state erected this monument.
The visionary Secretary of State stands proudly holding the deed to his “folly” in his right hand, almost as if he’s saying “take that” to all who doubted.
One thing is for sure, we have no doubt that we are glad he made the deal.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com