It’s a funny old thing, this cruising business. It’s like staying in a hotel, except every morning when you wake up the view out the window is different and you’re somewhere new. Today’s view – the city of Juneau. It’s the capital of Alaska so I guess that means it gets to be called a city. Can’t say it looked like a bustling metropolis, however the cruise ship docks are slightly away from the main town. We had company – cruise ships from Celebrity and Princess were also present in Juneau. We enjoyed brekky in the room today.
First thing we could see from the room, other than fog, was a cable tramway that went up at an alarming angle to the top of the nearest mountain. We could see it depart from sea level…but it wasn’t until the fog cleared later that we could tell where it went. Still, we had other things to do – the Grand Tour of Juneau. It consisted of three parts – the Mendenhall Glacier, a salmon hatchery, and the Glacier Gardens.
First – the glacier. If you hadn’t seen glacier before, this would be a real ‘wow’ moment. Unfortunately I guess everyone on our ship was a bit jaded after the incredible experience of Glacier Bay just a few days before. It was still another very pretty glacier though – and the visitor centre had some high powered scopes so you could a clearer view of the glacier face itself.
Also, unlike last time we saw a glacier, this time there a greater chance of seeing bears, as it was active bear country. And we weren’t on a boat. Alas, (or maybe it’s good), we didn’t see any. We are given plenty of advice on what to do should you encounter a bear. Normally they just want to get away from you as much as you want to get away from them. But if you accidentally find yourself coming between a cub and it’s mother, then you are basically toast. Also, as one of signs says, ‘bears don’t like surprises’. If you’re in an area that does not have great visibility, make a lot of noise, clap, sing, whatever, just so the bears know you are about and won’t be surprised if you suddenly turn a corner and come face to face with one. We didn’t have to worry about any of this advice, no bears on the paths we walked today. We did also see another interesting thing which we’ve noticed in pretty much all the other places we’ve been to in Alaska – bear-proof bins. They’re designed so the bears can’t open them with their bear hands. 🙂 Lucky they can’t read, as most bins have instructions written on how they can be opened.
Next was the salmon hatchery. I thought we’d been told the other day that the state of Alaska didn’t allow salmon farming at all, only allowing wild salmon to be caught. So visiting this place at first did have me a little confused. However they did explain that is was not a farm. In a farm, the fish spend their whole lifecycle there. This is a hatchery so it’s a little different. It basically exists to give as many salmon as possible the best chance in life right at the start, ensuring that fish stocks are very well replenished – I guess it just cuts down on the predators by giving the fish a safe place to be born and mature, before they go back to the natural river system and then on to the ocean. There were about 2.2 million itty bitty fishies there – or ‘fry’. (I guess this is where the term ‘small fry’ comes from?). Once they pass the ‘fry stage in the indoor tanks, they move to an outdoor holding area out in the open water, so they have a few weeks to become accustomed to the ‘smell’ of their home stream, so they know exactly where to come back to after their years in the ocean. Once they have learned the small – which they call ‘imprinting’, they are then release to fend for themselves just like any other wild salmon. About 4 or 5 years later, they return. And that’s what they were doing while we were there. Tons of salmon all trying to climb the fish ladder by the hatchery – there was a ridiculous amount of them, the tank at the tops of stream was just chock full of salmon. I didn’t ask what happened next – but I guess, as is the salmon lifecycle, this is the part where they’ll spawn and soon after die. One thing we did learn though – they are feisty, and not what you’d call pretty.
Glacier Gardens was out next stop. So named as it does not have a glacier in it…? I think the space where it resides was originally carved out by glaciers. Originally bought as a place for a successful landscaping company to just build a couple of greenhouses, the owners changed there minds after a landslide nearly wiped the whole place out, and set to making this very steep land a bit safer and more manageable. They did this by changing the flow of water, adding in holding ponds to hold some of the silt and to slow the water flow. This made the mountain more stable , and they were able to put a road in to reach a lookout at the top. Hell of a road, though, accessible only with their custom-build vehicles that can manage a 1-in-5 grade on a wet direct road without plugging us all over the side of the cliff. Some parts of the road were just held up with a few logs underneath, so I wasn’t exactly full of confidence at this point – the lack of doors on the vehicles didn’t help too much either. But sure enough we made it, for a rather nice view back over Juneau, and across to the Juneau airport.It’s also home to the ‘famous’ upside down flower tower trees… this was a good idea from the owner when the trunk of a tree ended up stuck upside down inside one of his ponds. To make a sit purse out of a sow’s ear, he decided to just leave the trunk there, stuck in the pond, upside down, and put a bunch of flowering plants in the top. It looked pretty, so he repeated the idea all over the gardens. Not bad! It was also just a really nice forest area with its own darker and moist microclimate, and lots of moss.
The tour concluded in Juneau, and we still had a little time before the “all aboard” time of 5:30, so we headed straight to that cable tramway – at least now you could finally see where it went. Man, that’s a steep climb! I’ll have to upload the video later, when I can. But it was a very smooth and comfortable ride – up we went with a minimum of fuss. And before you know it, there we were – it was odd to actually be looking down on Eagles as they flew around, so I know we were up in the air a bit.
At the top there was a visitors centre (and of course gift shop), but also a theatre with a small film where we had to opportunity to learn a little more about the native Tlingit tribe that lives in this area. There are two clans – Eagle, and Raven. They aren’t opposing clans, there are great bonds between them. All marriages are between an Eagle, and a Raven. An Eagle’s home will always be built by a Raven, and vice versa. These things maintain the strong bond between the clans and keep the culture strong. This was reflected even on the tramway. It only as two cars – one is Raven, and the other of course is Eagle. When one goes up, the other goes down. Always in balance, like the Eagle and Raven tribes of the Tlingit people.
We returned to the boat about an hour before “all aboard”, grabbed some very late lunch, then returned to our stateroom to watch all the people rushing back. There were a few people rushing back at around 5:40 but then all went quiet. Not long after, the ropes were cast off. Then, two people came running down the jetty. The security guy at the dock stopped them, made a phonecall, then … he confirmed their worst fear. They were too late. They’d missed the boat. Probably only by one or two minutes, but what’s done is done – once the ropes were off, there was no way they could safely get on the ship I guess, so … nothing they could do except watch as it sailed away without them. But still with all of their luggage, probably their passports too. The only possessions they had were those they took with them for the day, poor buggers. So unlike the rest of us I guess they’re enjoying some extra time in Juneau. But I have no idea what happens next – maybe they have to hope they can get a flight to our next port. I don’t know what they’ll do. But I think they have learnt a very big, large, ginormous, stupendous lesson. Don’t be late – boat don’t wait.
After that it was back to the usual cruising business – eating too much dinner, and awaiting our next destination. When we wake up, once again, we’ll be somewhere new.