North to Alaska! What’s That Big Yellow Thing in The Sky?

April 12, 2011

in Alaska, Trip Blog Posts

  • SumoMe

(Dick Jordan spent two weeks traveling throughout Southeast Alaska in June of 2008.  Here’s an edited excerpt from the blog he wrote during the trip; look for more installments in the near future.)

Mount Roberts Tramway, Juneau (Monday, June 16 – Juneau). We woke this morning to see something that had been absent for a week: The sun. Seizing the day, so to speak, we ran downtown after breakfast and rode the tram 1800 feet to the top of Mt. Roberts which has an eagle’s eye view of downtown Juneau. Only one cruise ship was in port early this morning, and the other three weren’t due in until between 11 am to 2 pm, so the tram and the facilities on the mountain were not very crowded.

Unfortunately, because 200 inches of snow had fallen during the winter, only two short trails were open to hiking this early in the summer, limiting our mountain-top excursion. We had a table at lunch with a spectacular view of the mountains to the west side of the ship channel, the cruise ship docks, and the tram as it ascended and descended  the mountain.

Nugget Falls, Mendenhall Glacier, JuneauBy the time we rode back down the mountain, all four cruise ships due in for the day had arrived and clouds filtered out most of the bright sunshine. So we jumped in our car and drove north to the Mendenhall Glacier, one of thirty-eight spawned by the 1,500 square mile Juneau Ice Field and the easiest one to access.

The U.S. Forest Service visitor center at the glacier was chock-a-block with tourists, but we managed to have some interesting conversations with the staff, catch a movie about the glacier, and take a short hike to Nugget Falls, a roaring waterfall caused by runoff from another glacier.  Most of the other tourists had returned to their cruise ships or motels, and we had the place almost to ourselves.

We saw little shorebirds called Turnstones, as well as nesting Arctic Terns (which migrate from Alaska to Antarctica and back again), and got fairly close to the snout of the Mendenhall Glacier. We heard a loud gunshot sound which normally signals imminent “calving” of glacier ice into Mendenhall Lake, but decided it probably was just the sound of ice floating in the lake that had split off the glacier during the last week and was now dividing itself into yet smaller pieces.

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