Saturday, July 15, 2017

Alaska - Day 5 - Juneau

Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It doesn't look very big, does it? I'm assured that we only saw one small part of it but still. I dunno. All roads may lead to Rome but not a single road leads to Juneau. If can only be reached by air or by sea. There is a 50 mile long highway that runs along the coast with roads jutting off of it inland. All of those roads end without leading outside of Juneau though.

My favorite story about Juneau I unfortunately have no personal photographic evidence of so I have "borrowed" someone else's picture of. You will have to forgive me for not taking a picture when the bus driver began his statement with, "On your left you will get a great view of our famous McDonalds."

Photo credit
OK, young man - thanks anyway, perhaps I'll focus on those four bald eagles on my right, thank you very much. Then, to my chagrin he told a pretty fascinating story about the golden arches and I wished I had taken the picture. According to the internet it was 1982 and according to my 17 year old tour guide is was 1984 but either way - it was in the early '80s when the Juneau McDonalds had their Grand Opening. It was a big do because this was the first franchise/chain business to open up in Alaska. The entire state. It's a big ol' state. The largest, actually. Obviously, they supplied the new store by barges. The barges were scheduled for once a week. The doors opened at 9 am. As long as the food lasted there was a one-mile long line for the drivethru. People came in seaplanes, boats and four-wheelers. They came and, being very ill-advised as to the shelf-life of McDonald's food (I think we'd all agree that after 20 minutes is the upper limit) filled suitcases and backpacks to bring back home to their remote islands and villages. Over 6 million hamburgers were sold and they ran out of supplies in 3 hours. 12 pm was the Grand Closing. Since then it's been open and they now supply the good people of Juneau by using two barges per week of the good stuff.

Our next tour was of a nursery in the temperate rainforest. The most interesting thing there (besides the awesome bald eagle flying 20 feet above us (we ended up quite high by the end of the tour) and the Sitka Deer eating three feet from our tram) were the dead-tree planters that are in the background of this picture. In the 90s the owner of this nursery suffered a massive rockslide that took down hundreds of trees and filled his land with dead trunks and other debris. He was moving trees around and recovering the landscape when he more of less accidentally discovered that if you turned the dead trees upside down and "planted" them into the ground you can make really large, interesting planters.

Cece got totally into her travel journaling here. And the rangers picked her all sorts of leaves and flowers and helped her identify them and press them in her journal. SO different from our rangers down here. "Don't TOUCH the nature! Grow up loving it, valuing it and protecting it for sure! But don't you dare move that stick or pluck that buttercup or climb on that rock." Just another reason that I love Alaska.

View from the top of Glacial Gardens. That lake is a glacial lake. I think everything is actually glacial somehow.

The most glorious "gift shop" ever. The entire place was a giant hanging garden.

Had to get a cheesy heart/Love family picture. Even though we were rather snappish with each other at this point (note Thomas's body language).

Our own personal "Rock-slide". Do you see me punning?

This is an important picture for perspective. See the Mendenhall glacier behind me? Look to the right and see that waterfall?

John and Cece and Gloria hiked over to the waterfall and got this view of it. Majesty is hard to capture with a camera.

These are our three main ports of call: Anthony is pointing to Skagway. Catherine to Juneau and Rosie to Ketchikan.

Thomas did this is every taxidermied bear that we saw. Yes, there are many, many taxidermied bears around.

After several minutes of attempting an everyone looking at the camera picture the unwitting tourist who'd offered abruptly gave up saying, "Well, that about as good as it's gonna get." He gets me.

See that salmon jumping up? He doesn't think this is the end of the journey - he's still battling the uphill streams as far as he can see. They were constantly jumping up against that wall. They can actually jump up to 12 ft in the air and so the workers are often putting fish back in the pool that flopped out.

OK. The following might be disturbing. Especially if fish gross you out the way they gross me out. However, this was actually my favorite tour that we did (besides White Pass in Skagway). This is the Salmon Hatchery.
Basic facts that were fairly vague in my mind:
*Salmon hatch in fresh water nests built by their parents and after a year or more travel out to the ocean where they live for 3 or 4 year.
*Salmon then, at the end of their life cycle, swim upstream to return to their birth-place/hatch-place. Here they spawn (meaning drop the eggs or sperm).
Basic facts that I didn't know ever:
*As soon as Salmon spawn they are within a week of death. They literally start to rot from the inside out. When they arrive to spawn sometimes they are already disfigured from the process. They are actively dying (like fins missing, eyes missing, etc.).
*Salmon are at the center of the ecosystem in Alaska. SO many different groups of creatures depend on their abundance. Where the salmon are so also will be the bears, eagles, humans, etc. Without this tremendous source of calories and income a lot of Alaska wouldn't function.
*The fishermen all agreed to pay a tax for the Salmon hatcheries to be founded. The Salmon population was descending and so, to augment the fish that are already naturally spawning the 26 hatcheries in Alaska also provide millions of Salmon to the seas each year.

This fish ramp is the end of the hatchery Salmon's long journey home to spawn and die. They arrive into their fresh water here and their last hurdle is an uphill series of pens where they fight and swim to reach the hatchery, their spawning territory.

The kids getting a good view of the Salmon in one of these small pens fighting their way "upstream".

We were then allowed in the restricted area (the boys felt pretty 007 about that) to see where the magic happens. Once that giant pool (in the first picture) is full (it's 7 feet deep and still had one foot to fill up while we were there) they start allowing the salmon to cross that one last hurdle. Once they have crossed it they slide down a chute and into a tank where they are electrocuted enough to stun them into stillness. The females are then slit down the middle and their eggs are harvested into a big white bucket (think Home Depot except not orange). The males are then squeezed hard and their sperm (I suppose it's called that) are shot out of them into the white bucket filled with about three females worth of eggs. The fish are dead at this point and their carcasses are assessed for use. Most of them are used for dogfood. The workers were very concerned that we believe that none of the fish go to waste.

These trays (there is a whole warehouse full of them are then filled with the egg/sperm mixture. Here, they are kept in total and complete darkness in order to mimic their conditions in the rock nests that their wild and free companions enjoy (redlights are used to to period checks on the equipment). Once they are hatched they are moved to a nursery setting where they grow until they are old enough to be put into one of these blue cases.

Here they live for one more year where the fresh water of this river is "imprinted" on them. They then make their way to the ocean but when they are ready to spawn they will return to this particular spot on this particular river. As you can imagine, bear spotting is particularly easy at the hatcheries.

We then returned to downtown Juneau and did a little browsing the tourist shops. We found this sign to London. Reminding us that in three weeks we will have travelled over four thousand miles and 11 time zones. BTW - we are still at least 2 hours off of our East Coast time - after almost a week. Alaska is 5 hour behind us and it's rough times getting back on track. We keep having three and four year olds wandering the house at midnight or 1 am after having taken what feels to them like a late-afternoon nap. At 8 pm!

This was also Pixar-day on the ship and since Inside Out is one of my favorite movies I had to snap this pic of Joy at the Pixar dance party. We also saw the guys from Up, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc.. As far as characters go-this was my favorite day. Although they also have Capt. Jack Sparrow and Captain America for the more male-ish members of a family. Not mine but others maybe.

By the end of this trip Thomas had tried Caribou, Wild Boar, Alaskan King Crab, Lobster Tail, and Venison. I capitalize those because that's how he thinks about them. He skipped the Escargot but will have another chance in France, no doubt. 


  1. These pictures are amazingly stunning! What a great trip!

  2. Oh, my goodness. Please tell Thomas to tell Symeon how awesome it was to eat those exotic meats. Symeon won't touch meat at all!