PURE GOLD

Alaska’s top vis­i­tor port of­fers a rich vein of his­tory, scenery and ex­pe­ri­ences whether in town for a few hours or a few days.

Where Alaska - - Where Calendar 2014 - BY ABBY LOW­ELL

Ar­riv­ing into Juneau’s port is noth­ing short of breath­tak­ing. Mounts Juneau and Roberts tower above the down­town grid as the small-town streets wind up hill­sides and me­an­der over their slop­ing flanks, tak­ing up the last space left be­tween the ocean and steep bedrock.

Alaska’s cap­i­tal city, nes­tled on the north­ern end of Alaska’s panhandle, is pounded by rains for most of the year — roughly 15 feet to be ex­act. But what the rains leave be­hind is much more than a mud hole. The tem­per­ate rain­for­est of this re­gion, made up pri­mar­ily of the vast Ton­gass Na­tional For­est, is a sat­u­rated land­scape rich in flora and fauna. On nearby Ad­mi­ralty Is­land, for in­stance, there ex­ists the largest con­cen­tra­tion of brown bears in the world with a pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mated at around 1,500. Hump­back whales fre­quent the wa­ters near shore, gorg­ing on krill and her­ring, which in turn feed on the al­gae blooms found all sum­mer long. There are bald ea­gles perched on Sitka spruce wait­ing for the ag­i­tated sal­mon that leap sky­ward. There are black bears that wan­der on neigh­bor­hood trails and or­cas that pay a visit to down­town Juneau each year.

It’s fair to say there’s plenty to see, do and ex­pe­ri­ence in this quaint his­toric town. Tal­ly­ing in at more than 32,000 res­i­dents, this is a city built — quite lit­er­ally — on the rock left over from gold min­ing ef­forts in the early 1900s. The city is also the heart of Alaska’s govern­ment, with orig­i­nal build­ings and relics that date back to the days the state was just a ter­ri­tory.

But for the vis­i­tor, time is limited. So, whether it’s a port call of four to six hours, or per­haps a few days, how does one go about mak­ing the best of this ex­pe­ri­ence?

Men­den­hall Glacier

Get it, while it’s still good.

That’s the motto many are tak­ing when it comes to Juneau’s home­town glacier — the Men­den­hall.

Like most in the world to­day, this glacier is re­ced­ing at a rapid clip. Many lo­cal re­searchers and ex­perts be­lieve that soon the glacier will re­cede so far, it will no longer be vis­i­ble from the Men­den­hall Glacier Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, an ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity man­aged by the U. S. For­est Ser­vice. When first un­der con­struc­tion, the cen­ter was lo­cated only a stone’s through from the face of the glacier. To­day, the face still looks mas­sive and the deep blue ice pris­tine, but it’s now more than a mile away from the cen­ter, sep­a­rated from up- close views in the sum­mer by Men­den­hall Lake. It’s still a visit worth mak­ing, how­ever. Hop a cab in down­town Juneau to avoid the masses ar­riv­ing in busses and walk one of the many ac­ces­si­ble trails that ra­di­ate from the park­ing lot near the vis­i­tor cen­ter. The Nugget Falls Trail was re­cently com­pleted in 2011 and fol­lows the con­tours of the lake to­ward a rag­ing Nugget Falls; the end of the trail also of­fers unique views of the glacier’s ac­tively calv­ing face. For a longer and more am­bi­tious hike, check out the East Glacier Trail, which winds hik­ers roughly 3.5 miles into the rain­for­est, of­fer­ing breath­tak­ing views of the glacier, Nugget Creek and the moun­tains that sur­round the area.

When sal­mon ar­rive in nearby Steep Creek,

try the Steep Creek Trail, be­cause the black bears emerge from the rain­for­est to feast. This board­walk trail is built off the ground to pro­vide safe pas­sage for the bears and wildlife be­neath. Vis­i­tors can watch a sow lead her cubs up a cot­ton­wood while she fishes, or watch the por­cu­pine come out of the shad­ows to nib­ble on wil­low tips. Even the beavers, which build dams in the area, come out once in a while to watch the show.

Whether it’s moun­tain goats on the slopes of Mount Bullard or black bears feast­ing in the creek, there’s never noth­ing to see at the Men­den­hall Glacier. And, while there’s a fee to en­ter the vis­i­tor cen­ter, which is open most days in sum­mer, the trails at the site are al­ways free.

Quick tip: Make sure to use the bath­room be­fore head­ing out; fa­cil­i­ties get crowded quickly and 20-minute waits are com­mon.

Mount Roberts Tramway

Vis­tas cer­tainly abound in Juneau. But get­ting to some of the most mem­o­rable isn’t easy.

Take the Mount Roberts Tramway for the eas­i­est ac­cess up the steep slopes of Mount Roberts for an above tree­line view of the Alaska land­scape that sur­rounds this nes­tled com­mu­nity.

The reg­u­larly- de­part­ing tramway lifts off from the down­town dock — it’s a hard site to miss — and car­ries folks up to a tan­gle of trails, ameni­ties and ex­pe­ri­ences atop the alpine ridge. Here, nat­u­ral­ists are on hand to talk about the ecosys­tems that ex­ist above tree­line, the an­i­mals, such as mar­mots, that live year round in the harsh en­vi­ron­ment. There’s a bar and grill, two gift shops, re­stroom fa­cil­i­ties and an ea­gle. Yes, that’s right.

Miss Bal­ti­more is a bald ea­gle that was gravely in­jured years ago when one of her eyes was dam­aged. She was res­cued and re­ha­bil­i­tated by Juneau Raptor Cen­ter vol­un­teers and has since worked each sum­mer as an ed­u­ca­tion bird at the top of the tram.

It’s best to fol­low the short loops of trails that me­an­der from the top tram sta­tion for views of wild­flow­ers, weather-worn peaks and misty val­leys. For the most ad­ven­tur­ous folks, fol­low the sin­gle­track trail all the way up the ridge to the sum­mit of Mount Roberts. This ad­vanced trail is for only the most sure-footed, but also of­fers some of the great­est re­wards.

Lo­cals can of­ten be found hik­ing from the based trail­head to the top tram build­ing. Pop­u­lar too with vis­i­tors, the more than twom­ile hike is a steep one, but one that fol­lows a well- trav­elled trail that’s wide enough in spots to walk side by side. For most, it’s the food and drink at the top that proves to be the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor. And if you spend more than $10 at the top, the ride down in the tram car is free with re­ceipt.

Taku Glacier Lodge

Need to get out of the hus­tle and bus­tle of down­town? Look­ing for a true Alaskan ex­pe­ri­ence? A short flight out to Taku Glacier Lodge for their glacier tour and lunchtime feast is a must for any vis­i­tor to Juneau look­ing for an ad­ven­ture that makes the most of a short port call.

When the weather is right, Wings flies guests in DeHav­il­land Turbo Ot­ter float­planes from

the down­town docks out to the Taku Glacier Lodge, a lo­cally- owned day lodge on the banks of the Taku River, lo­cated south­east of Juneau.

Only ac­ces­si­ble by boat or plane, this his­toric lodge has many sto­ries to tell and was made fa­mous by one en­ter­pris­ing Alaskan woman, Mary Joyce, who was re­cently in­ducted into the Alaska Hall of Fame for her solo dog sled ex­pe­di­tion from Juneau to Fair­banks across the Juneau Ice­field, among other feats.

But these days, the lodge is per­haps best known for it’s fre­quent furry vis­i­tors — the wild black bears — that saunter in af­ter the grill is turned off to lick up the last bits of sal­mon grease.

Eat and drink like a lo­cal

Lo­cals are quite proud of their home­town Alaskan Brew­ing Co. that has made it­self known in the craft brew­ing in­dus­try. Don’t take my word for it, how­ever, taste for yourself at their lo­cal tast­ing room.

Hop a cab from down­town or hitch a ride in their shut­tle to the quaint brew­ery for a tour of the fa­cil­ity and free tast­ings. Also on tap reg­u­larly are some of the brew­ing crew’s fa­vorites, as well as any rough draft brews the com­pany may be test­ing.

En­joy the gift shop, chat with brew­ers or wan­der through the me­mora­bilia of the build­ing; no mat­ter how much time vis­i­tors spend at the brew­ery, few leave with­out a smile on their face.

Juneau’s down­town is in the midst of a re­vi­tal­iza­tion — new restaurants are open­ing reg­u­larly, quaint cafes have be­gun to fill niches and food carts are com­mon.

When din­ing in Juneau, there’s lots of sum­mer op­tions. Don’t miss Tracy’s King Crab shack, a lo­cally- owned eatery spe­cial­iz­ing in king crab, in her new lo­ca­tion on the docks; she’s just a lit­tle far­ther south, but still right on the wa­ter. Also check out new restaurants Saf­fron and Salt, fea­tur­ing In­dian cui­sine and Mediter­ranean bistro fare, re­spec­tively. Lo­cated slightly off the beaten path is an­other lo­cal­ly­owned spot called Coppa, serv­ing espresso, light lunch fare and home­made, whole fat ice cream and baked goods.

Other pop­u­lar spots with lo­cals in­clude Her­itage Cof­fee Com­pany, with two lo­ca­tions down­town; the Alaskan Fudge Co., which is eas­ily lo­cated by the scent of choco­late; the Twisted Fish, El Som­brero and Rain­bow Foods, to name only a few.

There’s much to do and even more to see in Juneau. Many lo­cal tour out­fits of­fer ev­ery­thing from whale watch­ing to kayak tours, guided pho­tog­ra­phy ad­ven­tures to zi­pline ex­cur­sions through the rain­for­est. Even for the walk­ing ex­plorer, Alaska’s cap­i­tal holds his­toric relics around ev­ery cor­ner and lo­cal knowl­edge that’s easy to come by and given out for free.

Mount Roberts and Mount Jueanu tower over the state cap­i­tal, which re­ceives about 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors per year.

Hump­backs are a com­mon sight in the wa­ters around Juneau

Whether it’s moun­tain goats on the slopes of Mount Bullard or black bears feast­ing in the

creek, there’s never noth­ing to see at the

Men­den­hall Glacier

Alaskan Brew­ing Co.

prod­ucts are now avail­able in 17 states.

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