Sunday, August 18, 2019

Glaciers and whales in Juneau, Alaska

One of the most popular ports on Alaska cruises is Juneau. It’s a unique destination because there are no connecting roads to other cities, making it only accessible by water (such as on a cruise) or air.
Glaciers are plentiful in southeastern Alaska.
Nestled next to Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau is Alaska’s capital and second largest city. Mount Juneau rises above the city’s downtown area, providing a scenic setting of mountains and water. Boats from luxury cruise ships to local fishing boats and small floatplanes fill the waterfront.
Mendenhall Glacier
Above the historic downtown (included in the gold rush) is 1500 square miles of pure glistening glacier known as the JuneauIcefield. Having flown via helicopter over these magnificent glaciers on a previous visit---and landed for the quintessential Alaskan experience of dog sledding—we opted for a small group photography excursion during our most recent cruise.
This excursion combined two of the things Juneau is most known for—Mendenhall Glacier and Orca whales. We got good opportunities for pictures of both.
Waterfall on our hike
Because of the surrounding ice, many people don’t realize that Juneau is deep in a temperate rain forest. There are more hiking trails than roads, which makes it a perfect place for nature-lovers. So our morning began with a hike  on Steep Creek Trail to Mendenhall Glacier through a thick forest canopy. Located in the Mendenhall Valley 14 miles from the city center, the glacier flows 12 miles from its source and has a half-mile-wide face.
Dense vegetation in the forest
Along the trail were posted year markers showing how far the glacier had extended in the past. Since it loses about 75 feet a year, the signs and photos showed a remarkable story of glacier retreating. Yet, the geography and unique climate of the area has allowed Mendenhall Glacier to survive much longer than other glaciers in North America.

Mendenhall Glacier extends around the upper left corner.
Despite a report of a bear sighting on another trail, we didn’t see any, even though salmon were plentiful in the surrounding lake. Still we had a good look at the glacier and later spotted large, red salmon darting among fallen branches and leaves in the water.
Lots of sea lions
Following a short bus ride to the harbor, we boarded a small boat designed for photography. Large windows on both sides of the enclosed space opened fully to allow for unencumbered picture-taking. During the boat tour we spotted a dolphin, numerous sea lions, a sea otter floating on its back, and an eagle.

Whale tail as it descends into the water
When we arrived at the area where Orcas hang out, it didn’t take long to spot a female whale named Flame. She had a cub and ducked underwater to escape prying human eyes. Another female whale named Riddler was more accommodating, darting in and out of the water several times, allowing us to take numerous quick photos.
Tell-tale spout before a whale surfaces
Once the Orca’s tail has gone under water, it is generally 10 minutes or so before the whale will surface again. But you never know just where that will be. So we were all mesmerized watching for the spout of water that signals a whale about to surface.

Too soon it was time to head back to the ship where we heard about other outdoor adventures that cruisers had enjoyed including canoeing near the glacier, flight seeing, dog sledding, exploring native art, zip lining in the forest, river rafting, and salmon fishing.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



No comments: