Thursday, July 24, 2014

Visiting Juneau and Skagway

Juneau has been the capital city of Alaska since 1900, when it was a US territory. Although at that time it was a thriving Gold Rush city, the population of the state now centers around Anchorage, 575 miles ( 925 kilometers) away. No roads lead to Juneau, as it is accessible only by boat or airplane and can boast of some of the rainiest weather in the US, raining 250 days and averaging over 62 inches annually. Actually it is tied for fourth place among the rainiest cities, behind Mobile, Pensacola, New Orleans, and West Palm Beach (in my own Broward County in Florida), but we have rain only 145 days a year. 

As our ship pulled into a dreary Juneau harbor on the fifth day of our cruise, the city was living up to its reputation as rainiest Capital in the US. 

SPOILER ALERT: Finny and furry creatures, but no bird sightings to report on this leg of our Alaskan cruise.

Juneau arrival 20140617

Juneau harbor 20140617

Rains had set in and did not let up, so it was a bad day for photography. We took a whale-watching cruise, then visited Mendenhall Glacier. I spent the morning protecting my camera from the rain and spray as we raced in a catamaran from one whale sighting to another. 

Humpback Whale 20140617

We were entertained by the frolics of a group of Steller's Sea Lions as they took turns climbing and diving on a bell buoy.

Steller's Sea Lions 2-20140617

Steller's Sea Lions 20140617

Despite the rain, our brief visit to Mendenhall Glacier was enjoyable. The glacier is only 12 miles from Juneau. Over thirteen miles (21.9 km) long, the ice is up to 1,968 feet (600 meters) thick and stands from 10 to 70 feet (3-20 meters) high at its face, moving into the sea at 223-305 feet (68-93 meters) per year.The glacier has receded almost 2 miles during the past 55 years, creating Mendenhall Lake in front of it. It replenishes itself as warm, moist air is drawn up to the glacier's point of origination, where it falls as snow to feed its ice field, but the glacier's progress does not overcome the melting effects of the warming climate.

Mendenhall Glacier 3-20140617

Our granddaughters enjoyed themselves despite the constant rain.

Graci Cari Mendenhall Glacier 20140617

The rain continued into day #6 of our Alaskan cruise, when we took the White Pass Scenic Railway out of Skagway. We boarded at our ship's dock at sea level and climbed over 2800 feet to the summit of White Pass and beyond, 64 miles one-way, then returned via the same one-track route. 

The ride was indeed scenic...

WhitePass Scenic Railway 07-20140618

...passing over trestles high above the mountain streams... 

WhitePass Scenic Railway 09-20140618

WhitePass Scenic Railway 15-20140618

WhitePass Scenic Railway 13-20140618

...and negotiating two tunnels.

WhitePass Scenic Railway 10-20140618

The views were breathtaking. Vegetation changed from coastal mixed woodlands to dense forests, and...

WhitePass Scenic Railway 05-20140618 we crossed above the timberline, to treeline taiga, meadows and sub-alpine tundra. 

WhitePass Scenic Railway 19-20140618

WhitePass Scenic Railway 18-20140618

WhitePass Scenic Railway 16-20140618

Mountain Goats browsed on distant rocky outcroppings, difficult to distinguish from the snow patches.

WhitePass Scenic Railway Mountain Goats 23-20140618

The skies cleared, and on our way down we could see our ship, looking like a white dot moored in the Skagway harbor.

WhitePass Scenic Railway 03-20140618

Next, on to see Hubbard Glacier and then to Seward, our port of debarkation.

Just as I was posting this, there was a news report that the train had derailed at the White Pass Summit on July 23. Two locomotives and four passenger cars left the tracks, and nine people were injured, none seriously.

Linking to Skywatch Friday and Saturday's Critters

 Visit these links to view the entire series of blogs on this Alaska trip:

Cruising to Ketchikan, Alaska

Cruising to Alaska's Icy Strait and Hoonah

Visiting Juneau and Skagway

Hubbard Glacier and Seward, Alaska

Denali National Park

Riding the rails from Denali to Anchorage


  1. HI Kenneth I am glad you and your family were not on that train that had derailed. Now the scenery is spectacular. I would have loved being on that train. I love train journeys and that one would have been brilliant.

  2. oh, dear! that train derailing is too close for comfort! i was going to say, those views are spectacular, but i guess they come at a risk, too.

    my brother and his wife live in juneau. they fish for coho salmon and run a cabin cruiser tour company, too.

  3. Spectacular scenery. The Seals know how to take advantage of anything that floats.

  4. Rain or no rain, the scenery is breathtaking. I would love to go there one day. Your granddaughter's photo shows two adorable little girls having a great time. I loved all your shots of the critters you saw, my favorite I think is the one of that Steller's Sea Lion climbing onto the buoy. The detail in its flippers is fascinating.

    Sorry to hear of the derailment but good to read that no one was seriously hurt. Must have been real scary to put it mildly.

  5. Beautiful photos! That train ride looks like something you only see in movies!

  6. Gorgeous scenery and photos from your Alaska trip. The train ride looks like fun, but I am glad you were not on the train that derailed.. Thank you for linking up with my critter party. Enjoy your weekend!

  7. Wonderful adventure and it's great that your granddaughters enjoyed themselves in spite of the rain!

  8. Gorgeous scenery! The sea lions are very cute.

  9. Wow! We just got back from CO and I thought our views were breath-taking! I would LOVE to get to AK someday! Beautiful photos! Loved the seals! And I wanted to thank you for your very poignant, sensitive comment about the loss of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow.

  10. love your sea lion photos and what fun to watch them playing. That white pass railway definitely has some amazing scenery , rain or not! Definitely have to have good rain gear in alaska!

  11. Not good to hear of a train derailing. Fabulous images!

  12. I heard about that derailing. Yikes, glad you weren't on that. We didn't see much of Juneau. Our ferry boat stop was not long enough to go to the glacier. (We've visited several others already and more to come though, so I'm OK with that now.) I bet the girls enjoyed the sea lions.

    It rains a lot in Alaska -- in our experience as well.


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