Juneau – Port time: 8:00 a.m.- 10:00 p.m.
The second largest city in the United States by area, Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906. The current municipality is larger by area than both Rhode Island and Delaware. Juneau is rather unusual among U.S. capitals (except Honolulu, Hawaii) in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or to the rest of North America (although ferry service is available for cars). With Canada immediately to the east, it is the only U.S. capital on an international border.
If you remember your history, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, for 7.2 million dollars. At the time it was called, “Seward’s Folly.” William H. Seward was the Secretary of State who negotiated the deal for the United States.
Following the California Gold Rush many miners continued north in search of more gold. Sitka mining engineer, George Pilz, sent Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to the head of Gold Creek at the urging of Tlingit Chief Kowee. They reportedly found nuggets “as large as peas and beans.”
On October 18, 1880, the two men marked a 160-acre town site where a mining camp soon sprang up. Within a year, so many miners had arrived that the camp became a village, made up mostly of tents and shacks. It was the first European American settlement to be founded in this territory after the United States purchased Alaska.
Today a huge part of the local economy is based on fishing. Real estate agencies, federally funded highway construction, and mining are still viable non-government local industries. Fur trading and whaling declined in the early 1900’s.
Juneau’s daily population can increase by roughly 6,000 people from visiting cruise ships between the months of May and September. We’ve seen four ships in port at the same time and expect the number of passengers is higher than what was listed in literature.
The typical excursions in Juneau are: helicopter flightseeing ($$$$); fly out fishing adventure ($$$$); bear watching and wildlife viewing ($$$$); whale watching, with guaranteed sighting or $100 cash back ($$$); Mendenhall Glacier tour ($); Mt. Roberts Tram ($.) ($$$$= $400; $$$= $200; $= less than $100)
We’re not getting any younger. So, in planning this trip we kept in mind that it could possibly be our last one to Alaska. Therefore, it was time to cross off one of my bucket list items. I’d wanted to fly in a float plane for twenty years, and this was the perfect chance. We booked it! At $630.00, it was worth the price, to fly over five glaciers and enjoy the trip to Taku Lodge.
Finding the guide at the bottom of the gangway was easy. She directed us to the float plane office a short distance away. While waiting for our plane to arrive we enjoyed a friendly chat with, June, a local who was there with group from her work.
Soon we boarded our plane, which held ten passengers, the pilot and nine-year-old co-pilot. Ok . . . he wasn’t actually the co-pilot, but had great fun sitting in the 2nd chair and learning about the controls. He may be a budding bush pilot!
Recorded narration was provided via our headsets that described each of the five glaciers we flew over enroute to Taku Lodge. Information was also furnished about the rivers, towns and wildlife. And, the headsets drowned out the noise of the props.
Our landing was smooth. Stepping out of the plane to a dock was easy and soon we were welcomed to a homey log cabin for a grilled salmon feast. Beer and wine was available for purchase. Hot apple cider, tea, and coffee was included. As the salmon grilled, the staff shared the history of the lodge.
Following lunch there was time to visit the gift shop and/or take a short nature hike, and view a bear cub in a tree before boarding for our return flight.
The flight back to Juneau was just as spectacular as we soared over glaciers. As we entered the harbor, we saw ours wasn’t the only “dam” ship there. The Volendam was docked near our Zaandam.
At Taku Lodge we had learned that Mary Joyce (who was originally hired as nurse for the owner and her son) later owned “The Lucky Lady”, an Irish pub in Juneau. So, in her honor we visited to salute her with a beer. Sadly they didn’t have my favorite Irish beer, Kilkenny, so we each had an Alaskan beer.
Afterward there was time to stop in at the Red Dog Saloon. This stop is a “must do” for many people just to say you’ve been there. Due to allergies, sawdust has taken the place of free peanuts, and piles in drifts on the floor. In the past we waded through mounds of peanut shells. The entertainer is a crusty old guy with a repertoire of songs many know by heart. The staff often sings along. You can find many souvenirs in the adjacent gift shop.
One good thing about cruising near the end of the season is the stores are filled with bargains as they prepare to close for the winter. Having purchased my share of trinkets on past cruises, I managed not to succumb to temptation.
We returned to the ship for dinner, a movie and some quiet reading time. We drifted off to sleep with visions of glaciers in our memories.