Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ice, Ice Baby... (Alaska trip day 3)

Our last day in Alaska was a long one. Our flight didn't leave until 8pm, so we had the whole day to explore. 

We woke up on the early side, and the miracle of ear plugs (combined with a Sunday night, I suppose) meant I had slept absurdly well. So we got up, packed our bags, dropped them at the front desk of the hotel, and were out by 8:15. Stopping at the omnipresent Heritage Coffee for another one of their roasted red pepper and feta scones (so good!), we then headed to the bus stop for our adventure. 

See, we *could* have taken a glacier bus at $30pp. Or we could hop on a city bus for $2pp and walk the last mile and a half. Since we had plenty of time -- and since the glacier buses wouldn't run until the cruise ships arrived around 11 -- we decided to travel like locals. 

The bus was spotless, the seats were comfortable, the service was designed to meet up at a central transfer point, and the route, though winding, was interesting as we saw a whole lot of Juneau's neighborhoods. 

The driver called out our stop and pointed us in the right direction, along a nicely paved bike path running along the road to the glacier. 

We were walking along the road, chatting, minding our own business, when we felt a cold blast. Looking up, there it was. GLACIER!

It still astounds me that the glacier is so close ... but we did learn that Juneau is surrounded by a massive ice field, so I guess that's no surprise!

A little farther along, near a trailhead next to a small lake, we saw this sign and giggled nervously.

A little farther along we reached the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which looks ever so slightly like the lair of a Bond villain, complete with downstairs tunnel entrance. Nice little center, with a movie about the glacier, some exhibits, taxidermy (of course!), and a really great gift shop.

We had hoped to hike to Kettle Falls (seen in the center of the photo above), but the trail was closed due to flooding. So we contented ourselves with the short walk to Photo Point. With only a handful of people there, and still having people in our photos ... imagine what it's like when the buses of cruisers come in?

I really liked the look of the rocks, all scraped and polished by the glacier. And, well, I like rocks in general.

And, indeed, the view of the glacier from Photo Point was amazing. Interesting fact: we were told that under blue skies the glacier just looks shiny white, but under grey skies you see the bright blue. Or maybe that's like saying it's good luck if it rains on your wedding day ... it's a consolation prize!

I did keep thinking how great it would have been to visit the ice caves, but even the weather today wasn't something I would want to spend 2 hours paddling a canoe in. 

We headed back to the Visitor Center for one last look...

And then we headed out on a smaller trail, the Trail of Time, which had callouts along the way showing how far the glacier extended over the 20th century. It was interesting -- and sobering -- to see how, in under 100 years, the glacier has retreated so far.

The path was quiet and lush -- and for the most part, we were alone.

One huge highlight ... we rounded a corner and saw three hikers. One of them made a scared, "Oh!" sound, then laughed -- she thought we were BEARS. Pity we weren't wearing our bear jackets!

Mmmm. Mossy.

But speaking of bears, we did come across this not long after.

yep, that's bear poop
A little farther along we crossed a stream that was FULL of salmon, all struggling to move up to spawning grounds.

Good luck, fishies. You're gonna need it. And then you're gonna die.

We then headed back to town, where we visited the Patsy Ann statue, a tribute to Juneau's "official greeter". This little bull terrier was deaf, but somehow always "heard" the whistles of the ships as they came in to port, and was always there to greet them. She had run away from two loving homes, and eventually slept every night in the Longshoreman's Hall, but refused to wear even the collar they gave her. She became the most famous dog west of the Mississippi, more photographed than Rin Tin Tin. She passed away in her sleep in 1942, and 50 years later this statue was commissioned of her.

Feeling peckish, we decided to check out Tracy's King Crab Shack. We found a nice spot along the rail, ordered some crab cakes, crab bisque, and local beers, and watched the cruisers get off their boats. We also watched the cooks prepping the crab legs in huge pots... and were amused that the crab legs were coming out of boxes marked "Trident Seafood" ... which is based in Seattle. (Yes, I know, it's CAUGHT in Alaska... but still funny.)

Then we really just wandered around town, poking around in shops looking at things we didn't care about and taking classy photos like this...

(Clearly, today's theme was "BEAR"...)

I bought a small fortune's worth of Glacier Silt Soap ... and then we went to the really handsome museum / archive. Though we were interested by a lot of things, this we loved this 3-story high eagle diorama in the lobby.

Finally, with only a little time to kill, we went back to the Alaska Fish & Chips Company hoping for another pint of the Cran-Spruce beer ... but no luck. So we consoled ourselves with an order of fish and chips and some Alaskan Ambers in the sunshine.

The trip home had a little suspense; we decided to take the bus to the airport, and were even taking an early one ... but it didn't turn up. I called the "help line" for the transit company and I think I might have actually spoken directly to the bus dispatcher... and he told me there had been an accident on the highway. Apparently a truck had overturned and spilled 21,000 pounds of salmon across the road. That's gotta be one of the most Alaskan traffic jams EVER.

We tried calling a taxi, and had just in theory secured one, when we finally saw a bus coming, and sprinted for it. Of course we made it to the airport in plenty of time, even picking up a bit of salmon there to bring home.

This trip was perfect -- we saw some good friends, ran a half marathon, saw beautiful nature, poked around in shops, went to a great museum, and ate and drank well. Already looking forward to our next adventure!

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