The Last Frontier: Day 5, Juneau
Updated: Aug 27
Day five of my Alaska adventure took me to Alaska's capital city, Juneau. Juneau is nestled between the sea and peaks rising over 3,800 feet in elevation. Here are three other interesting facts about Juneau:
1) Juneau is big. In fact, it is the largest capital city, by area, in the entire United States.
2) Juneau can only be reached by plane or boat. There are no roads that connect this capital city to the rest of Alaska or North America; this is a fact that is true of no other U.S. capital.
3) There are about 32,000 people living in Juneau and about the same number of bald eagles. One brochure I read stated, "If you don't see a bald eagle in Juneau, you didn't get out of bed."
My first stop after reaching Juneau was at the Mendenhall Glacier which is less than 15 miles from downtown Juneau. This glacier is about 13 miles in length, and at its highest point above the lake, it reaches 2000 feet. Unlike the first Alaskan glacier I saw (the Hubbard Glacier) which is growing, the Mendenhall Glacier is currently retreating at the rate of about 25-30 feet per year.
To the left of the glacier are gorgeous mountains. To its right is Nugget Falls, a 377-foot waterfall which cascades into Mendenhall Lake.
After visiting the glacier and hiking to the falls, I stopped for a quick snack at Pel'meni, a spot highly recommended by locals for its traditional, Russian dumplings. There are only two menu items to choose from -- beef or potato dumplings.
Once you order, the dumplings are boiled on the spot and served to you in a styrofoam container with a generous slice of rye bread. Toppings include butter, cilantro, curry powder, hot sauce and sour cream. This is a bit of a departure from traditional toppings which are usually limited to vinegar, and butter.
After eating a few dumplings, it was time to explore more of Juneau. While hiking, I noticed quite a bit of moss on the trees. I learned that the moss blanketing so many of the trees in this state, is called Usnea or, more commonly, "Old Man's Beard." This beard lichen is highly sensitive to air pollution and will only grow in areas where the air is extremely clean, making Alaska a perfect place to spot it.
Looking off into the trees, I spotted my first bald eagle. I tried to zoom in so would be more visible. Do you see it?
These birds fascinate me. The bald eagle has been the U.S. national emblem since 1782. With a wing span of about seven feet, the bald eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. They can climb up to 10,000 feet, fly at about 65 miles per hour and reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour when diving for their prey.
At about four to five years old, bald eagles start "dating." Their courtship procedures include aerial displays and calls. Once they select a partner, these birds mate for life.
Bald eagles build their nests, called eyries, in sturdy trees. That is because their nests are on average five feet wide and two feet in depth. In many cases, they are much larger and have been found to weigh up to two tons.
My next stop was at the Glacier Gardens to see the "upside down trees."
Glacier Gardens is the most unique botanical garden I have visited, and I am not alone. A Reader's Digest poll once named Glacier Gardens the "Most Interesting Landmark in America."
The gardens are located in the Tongass National Forest, which spans over 16 million acres and is the largest forest in the United States. Walking through the thick forest, you will see all kinds of trees, ...
... streams, ...
... and ponds, but ...
... let's get back to those "upside down trees" I mentioned earlier. These trees have been buried top-down, into the ground. Their exposed root system is thus above ground and creates a basket in which flowers are planted. Of all of the "upside down trees" on the property, the one shown in the video above, that doubles as a fountain, was my favorite.
After my visit to the forest and the gardens, I headed back to downtown Juneau.
Deckhand Dave's Fish Tacos is one of the most popular restaurants in Juneau. This taco truck, that is owned and operated by a former commercial fisherman, catches their seafood daily from the cold, Alaskan waters. They are best known for their fish tacos of course, but if you are lucky enough to come on a day when they are serving shrimp, I highly suggest that as well.
Shrimp, Blackened Fish and Fried Fish Tacos
This is a must-try spot. After ordering your tacos, you can take them to go or sit in the partially covered patio, complete with a bar and heat lamps, to enjoy them.
My last stop in Juneau was at a salmon hatchery, not to be confused with a salmon farm. A salmon farm is a place where salmon are confined to large pens and given antibiotics to ward off infections like sea lice.
This salmon hatchery, on the other hand, is a place that provides clean, cold water, where free roaming salmon, voluntarily return to spawn.
The hatchery is located next to a salmon bearing stream where the fish naturally congregate.
It also has a fish ladder that mimics the natural conditions of swimming upstream. The fish swim up the ladder and then spawn at the top, in a pool of clean water. I did not know anything about hatcheries prior to this visit so this was a very interesting experience for me. I know there is still lots more to learn.
After an eventful day, I returned to the ship for dinner at Le Bistro, the French restaurant on board.
Pétoncles Dubarry, Huile de Truffe
Pan Seared Bay Scallops, Cauliflower Velouté, Truffle Oil
Cromesquis de Chevre
Goat Cheese Croquettes, Beets, Granny Smith Apple, Arugula
Filet de Canette Rôti'
Roasted Maple Leaf Duck Breast, Glazed Carrots, Sweet Peas, Mashed Potatoes, Orange Sauce
Strawberries with Diplomat Cream and Pistachio-Almond Sponge Cake
During an after-dinner walk on the deck, I was filming the scenery when, peripherally, I saw a killer whale jump out of the water. I was so shocked that I almost dropped my phone and wasn't quick enough to recover and capture the moment.
As you can hear from all the cheers in the video, I was not the only one who saw the whale. I kept trying to film the water to see if it would surface again but I didn't have any luck seeing the orca a second time. I did capture the gorgeous snow covered mountains however.
That's it for day five in Alaska. Next up is my final day in "The Last Frontier."