For a town of 32,000 people Juneau sure has a lot of variety! Sure, it is the state capitol, so the legislature makes a lot of news in Juneau, but from Eaglecrest Ski Area to Eagle Beach, from downtown Juneau to the Alaskan Brewing Company, there is so much more.
Like a glacier in the back yard.
Some days it is like having the refrigerator door open, but on other days it is easy to forget that it is there.
You can drive out to Mendenhall Glacier, check out the visitors center, and take a walk or a hike on an amazing variety of trails around the glacier.
The Mendenhall Glacier is a river of ice flowing out of the Juneau
Icefield, which you can take a helicopter ride to. There are even dogsled rides
available on top of the icefield! I’ve never taken a dogsled ride, but I have hiked to the top of McGinnis Mountain on the left of the photo below. It is a little bit over four thousand feet high. The view from up there is great!
The glacier carved out the Mendenhall Valley and then retreated, leaving a premium stretch of flat ground, which is rare in Southeast Alaska. We just call it "the valley." The glacier is at one end of the valley, Juneau International Airport is at the other end, and in between are lots of subdivisions and a couple of shopping centers.
From the valley to downtown is a four lane highway named Egan Drive, and along that roadway is the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. Pull off of Egan Drive, park in the lot, and it is just ten or twenty steps to be in nature. The birding is great here!
On the other side of the Egan Drive are box stores galore – Costco, Fred Meyer, Walmart – but if you’ve seen one chain store…
Ah, downtown Juneau. Tucked into the base of Mount Juneau, the city has expanded out into the ocean. Juneau’s mining history supports parts of the city - literally. The mine tailings along with dredged materials have filled in tidelands and made more ground to put parts of Juneau on.
The Alaska-Juneau Mine closed in 1944, and there is little to be seen of the mine workings today. There is still lots of gold in them thar hills, but deciding how to extract the gold and maintain the quality of life in Juneau has been and ongoing conversation. For now the AJ mine remains closed.
After government and tourism, mining and fishing are still a big part of Juneau's economy. Green's Creek Mine is a silver-gold-zinc-lead mine on Admiralty Island. The Kensington Mine, 45 miles to the north of downtown, is a gold mine. Both mines are within the Juneau Borough.
Almost every city has pigeons, right? Juneau has the everyday variety of pigeons, flocking to a handful of accidentally dropped popcorn. Juneau also has town ravens that behave differently than wary country ravens.
Wild country ravens wouldn't dare panhandle like this!
That is a cruise ship in the background of the photo above, and also in the photo to the right. Tourism now rules downtown during the summer season. Up to five cruise ships are docked at the Juneau waterfront or anchored in Gastineau Channel each day. Thousands of curious travelers shop, take the tram to the top of Mount Roberts, visit the glacier, tour the fish hatchery, go to the salmon feed, and take tours in buses, boats, small aircraft, and helicopters.
Since Juneau is the state capitol some of the buildings are dedicated to government work.
The Windfall Fisherman bronze brown bear hangs out with a fish under his paw
near the Dimond Court
Building and the Alaska State Capitol building. I took a free tour of the Capitol Building recently, and enjoyed the variety of information that Max-The-Tour-Guide offered. Our little group learned about the building itself, it's eighty year history, and it's columns made from Southeast Alaskan marble. We went into the legislative chambers where Max told us about some of the processes legislators use to create a law in Alaska, and some of the laws that keep the lawmakers at work. The tour included artwork and state history, and fun anecdotes.
The legislative session is from January to April.
Juneau also has a State Office Building, which is a large, angular, cement structure. And there is the Federal Building, which is a nine story block of a building with a terrific bronze sculpture of pelicans in front of it. No, there are no pelicans in Juneau, but there is an old story about a shipping mix-up, and a federal building in Florida getting the salmon sculpture intended for Juneau. I don't know if it is true or not.
Of course the Governor's Mansion is in Juneau, and the current governor lives in it. At Christmas time the governor and his wife open their house to the public for a tour and cookies. Or cookies and a tour, whichever way you see it.
Juneau's City Hall has a great mural by Bill Ray on the side of the building. It shows a Tlingit story about creation.
Juneau is on the mainland, and there is a bridge to Douglas Island. You guessed it, it is called the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. Just across the bridge the West Juneau suburb is sprinkled up the hillside.
To the north is...North Douglas (okay, okay, we will work on imaginative names), and to the south on Douglas Island is the town of Douglas. It was merged with Juneau when the Juneau-Douglas Borough was formed in 1970, but Douglas still maintains a laid-back, Alaskan flavor.
You may have noticed that there is a lot of "up" around Juneau. In wintertime there are occasionally avalanches.
To prevent the snow from building to a depth that could cause a dangerous avalanche on Thane Road, to the south of Juneau, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (locally called dotpuff) fires a 105mm howitzer. They set the artillery up on Douglas Island and fire across Gastineau Channel at Mount Roberts to create smaller, controlled snow slides. That’s gotta be fun, right?
Let's head out the road, to the north of downtown Juneau. Even though the locals call it "out the road" it is really Veteran's Memorial Highway, and it is a beautiful drive. There are panoramic views of the Chilkat Range and Lynn Canal for miles, beaches to play on, trails to hike, and very special places. Places like the Shrine of St. Therese.
The chapel was built in 1938 using stones from the beach. It is a peaceful and spiritual place. The causeway to the island is an easy walk, and there is good fishing from the rocks on the point.
Looking out to the west from the other side of the chapel I saw a whale watching boat doing what whale watching boats do. Watching whales.
There are cool sandy and gravelly beaches like Eagle Beach, Auke Bay Recreational Beach, and Sunshine Cove, and there are interesting beaches like Bridgett Cove.
If it is this amazing on an overcast day then imagine strolling along the beach on a sunny day!
For a gentle stroll or a challenging hike then Juneau has a trail for you. There are dozens of groomed trails, and plenty of rough paths. Overall there are 250 miles of trails in Juneau.
The trail to the right is along the edge of Auke Lake. There are even floating bridges along this trail that put you in the lake - very enjoyable!
From this trail you can just make out the University of Alaska Southeast campus across the lake. From occupational endorsements to masters programs UAS Juneau is a beautiful place to study.
There's more to Juneau...much more. As time goes along I will add more about Alaska's capital city.
More on Juneau: Arctic Terns at Mendenhall Glacier