Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beautiful Juneau

Juneau is unlike any state capital I've ever visited. If you arrive by ferry, you'll see this unique sign as you leave the terminal:

Yup. The road ends. Unless you are into blazing your own roads with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can't drive to Juneau, because there's no road that goes there. You must take a boat or a plane to get to this beautiful jewel of a place.

I found Juneau to be quaint and cute, clinging as it does to the side of steep forested mountains. At first, I was surprised by its narrow little streets (especially when the GPS told me to take a left turn just past the Governor's Mansion, which really meant "do a 180 degree hairpin turn and go up that incredibly steep, narrow lane") But, the longer I explored, the more charmed I became by this former mining town.

As I made my way to the "Last Chance" mine, I passed sweet little houses, clinging to hillsides, covered in flowers, like this one:

And even drove across a wooden road, built on top of beams extending from the mountain side:
The Last Chance Mine has a museum with a cranky hostess and lots of leftover junk--ahh, I mean former mining equipment--in it. If you hike a short distance above the museum, you'll see some of the junk left around this stream:

If you're lucky (or if you're on a cruise ship tour), you might see a Gold Miner panning for gold, like this one:

I believe this guy maintains his beard and costume for the benefit of the tourists, who also pan for gold. I happened to be lucky and be there at the time a real miner was panning for gold. Unfortunately, I didn't think to get a photo of the real miner as he excitedly showed me what he'd found that day (maybe because he wasn't in costume, and just looked like a regular guy). He held up a little plastic bottle so I could see the little flecks of gold dust he'd found that day. He planned to make a pair of earrings out of the gold he found; he was retired and this was his daily hobby.

My favorite part of visiting the Last Chance Mine was taking a hike along the Perserverence Trail, which was the first road in Alaska. I liked it so much that I hiked it twice...once alone and once with my parents. It's a steep trail, as you can see in this photo of my parents climbing it:

But you are rewarded with beautiful views of this waterfall

And the opportunity to see mining equipment and mine shafts, like this one, along the way:

You can see some metal beams protruding from the mountain in this one--these beams once supported Alaska's first road.

Funny thing is: as my parents and I were hiking along here, we met a guy who works in the same office building as myself in Salt Lake City. It's definitely a small world.

Another highlight of Juneau was visiting a salmon hatchery there. We found it entertaining to watch the salmon jumping up the fish ladder. Here's a little video showing that:

For those of you who can't see video, here's a photo of the fish ladder. All of the disturbance in the water at the base of the ladder are all the agitated salmon, jumping and moving and anxious to get going on their journey back to the place they were spawned. They like to jump out of the water even when it's not necessary...just for the joy of it.

Once the fish make it to the top of the ladder, some of the workers have to separate them out by species, because some of the species will fight. Here's a little video of a worker pulling out a king salmon.

Mendenhall Glacier, the world's only drive-up glacier, is another Juneau Highlight. Here's a photo where you can see the glacier, the icebergs it creates, the waterfall nearby, and most importantly, my sweet parents:

We took one of the nature trails near there, and saw a black bear (plus a lot of the salmon carcasses that he had fished out of the water, taken a few bites of, and left on the bank).

Another of my favorite spots in Juneau is the St. Therese shrine, which is near where the road ends. It's a beautiful, restful spot. It's a perfect place for contemplation. Here are a few shots from there:

This is called the "Merciful Love Prayer Labyrinth"

This beautiful shrine is on an island just off the shore (with a causeway so you can walk to it). It has a little trail you can follow to smaller monuments that represent key moments in the Savior's life.

Finally, I loved this view from the Good Shepherd Bridge.

Juneau also has a wonderful museum about Alaska. I loved learning about the struggles it went through to become a state, just over 50 years ago. Unfortunately, I ran out of time before I could fully enjoy all of the museum exhibits about Alaska's wildlife and history. As I left the museum to catch my ferry that day, I told myself that I would plan to come back sometime to finish looking around.

I'll end with some of my other favorite photos I took in Juneau...ones that remind me of my hope to fly or boat there again some day!