Black bears, blue ice and colourful characters!

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June 30th 2017
Published: June 30th 2017
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Juneau 23 June - 2 July

On the June 23rd we arrived in Juneau, our last stop in Alaska. When I planned the trip we had hoped to take a long ferry journey out along the Aleutian Islands but for various logistical reasons it proved impossible to fit in. So eventually I admitted defeat with that plan and decided we could come to Juneau for 9 nights and go out on more local ferries if we wished. However I hoped I had not made a mistake and that we would find enough to do here. I needn't have worried as we have loved being here despite it having certain challenges, the first one being our accommodation. By the time we booked there were only expensive hotels left and the amazingly cheap (for Alaska) Juneau Guesthouse.

Juneau Guesthouse is an acquired taste. We had received emails giving us entry codes etc and telling us which room we would be in. I thought that was very organised. It is the only thing that is organised and even then it did not work very well. Normally there is no-one around
Forest trail near Mendenhall Glacier, very mossyForest trail near Mendenhall Glacier, very mossyForest trail near Mendenhall Glacier, very mossy

Where we saw mother bear and cups. They keep cubs away from male bears.
to meet guests hence the detailed instructions, however they had changed the entry code and not informed us. We were lucky that another couple were just going out when they saw us arrive and waited to check we could get in and, I think, give us reassurance that staying there was ok. As the woman said, it is a strange place but clean!

Once inside she also said to beware the bear, one seems to be hanging about. We settled into the room and saw that the 'guesthouse' is basic, reminiscent of accommodation offered to early stampeders perhaps. Then I saw a man walking up to the door so thinking he might be the owner went to say hello. No-one came in. I opened the door and the man was sitting on the step so I said hello. He ignored me. I repeated myself but as there was no response I closed the door and went back inside. My first encounter with one of the long stay 'hidden' guests.

A couple of hours later the 'manager' arrived for a fleeting visit and while we were talking in the living room Jim spotted the black bear outside the window, about a metre away. I raced to the bedroom for my camera and Dani, the manager called to say I should stay there as the bear was walking round that way. I did and he turned around the corner in front of my bedroom window at the same moment Dina arrived like a whirlwind shouting, 'open the window!' This she did while I was trying to take a photograph around her. Then she suddenly remembered that her friend was sitting in the car on the drive, right by the bear. She stuck her head through the window and yelled, 'Tina, stay in the car', terrifying the poor bear who was probably still running half an hour later. I did not get the photograph but as Dina said, she had to save her friend. That was the second close encounter with a black bear but I was still without a photograph. I needn't have worried as a couple of days later we came home to see him lying comfortably in a neighbour's yard.

By then we had realised that the 'silent man' lived in the old RV at the side of the house and
First blue ice, our twin boat is hidden behind it which is why you can see 2 people.First blue ice, our twin boat is hidden behind it which is why you can see 2 people.First blue ice, our twin boat is hidden behind it which is why you can see 2 people.

We went to Tracey Arm with a sister ship, felt reassuring given the distance and ice.
was responsible for putting the dirty linen from each room into the washer and dryer each day before the cleaner arrived. On the second day I said good morning and he grunted. Day three, he started a conversation with me! It was a little hesitant but a big step forward. There are four letting rooms, three of which share a bathroom and one has what could just about be called an en suite. There are two other strange old men who seem to live somewhere under the house and according to Silent Man (who we now know is Robert) are always asleep. That is probably why one of them who looks like Father Christmas never changes out of his (very respectable) pyjamas. In addition, every few nights a worker from the nearby gold mine will stop over as they cannot make the journey out in one day. They usually sleep on a couch in the living room. We started to understand why it is so cheap and realise it is not everybody's ideal place to stay. Anyone of a nervous disposition could find the place intimidating and the lack of security worrying as strange people come and go. In many ways it has similarities with student accommodation so it did not worry us and we soon felt at home.Being able to use the limited kitchen facilities meant we could prepare food and avoid the fast food, high fat, high salt offerings that even 'good' restaurants produce here. One restaurant summed it up with their sign, 'Fine Alaskan Dining - Burgers and beer'.

The great benefit of the guesthouse (apart from the excellent washing machine and dryer) is it is within walking distance of Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Centre. In the Centre they show a film highlighting the changing environment around a glacier and every few minutes a Ranger gives a brief talk on a different animal or aspect of life in the Park. For three days we have walked the trails, spotting porcupines in the trees and looking for bears. I love to see the porcupine's teeth. They have two long teeth like the beaver but they are bright orange due to the iron in their diet. One female had a 'porcupet', a baby, tucked onto a tree which looked like a bundle of quills. On the second day as we walked back through the forest to the road we saw a large female black bear with two cubs. They were only 40 to 50 feet away walking parallel to us and then they veered off deeper into the forest. It was not scary and we felt very lucky to have spotted them.

Another day we went whale watching but that was not especially exciting. We saw lots of whales but they were all feeling lazy, lying on the surface for a few seconds but not lifting their tails or flukes into the air.

Then we took the boat to Tracy Arm, a long narrow fjord almost 3 hours ride from Juneau. We thought perhaps it might be a repetition of what we had seen from the boat out of Seward but the scenery was very different. The narrowness of the fjord means it is possible to look along the both shores where we spotted another 6 or 7 black bears. Their ability to climb what appeared to be sheer cliffs astounded me. Then we saw the ice floes from the tidal glacier at the head of the fjord. They are a brilliant blue. We watched the glacier calve and heard the thunderous sound as chunks of ice break away and fall into the sea. Seals have their pups on the ice floes because it is believed that the floes disturb the sonar of whales and other predators so the pups are safe. We visited both the Sawyer glaciers. The smaller one does not have as many seals around but surprisingly calves more frequently.

We took the bus back home after a long fascinating day. As the bus pulled up at the stop for the small hospital the very large driver switched off the engine and all was silent. A woman asked, 'what does that mean then?' The driver squeezed out of his seat and said, 'Ate something that disagreed with me. Might be a while'. With that he ambled into the hospital, whether to find a restroom or medical attention was unclear but everyone burst out laughing. The man sitting next to me said, 'Only in Juneau!'. Some 10 or 15 minutes later the driver returned and gave an update on his condition. Unfortunately (or maybe not) as my neighbour was still talking I missed the driver's comments. Jim was sitting next to another man of late middle age. He told Jim that he was really happy as he had met a beautiful young woman that day whom he had fallen in love with and he was messaging all his friends to tell them. He asked Jim how to spell, 'assatis'. It took Jim a while to work out he meant 'ecstatic'. Jim wanted to ask how old the 'young woman' was but decided that would not be polite. Everyone here is a character, very laid back and not afraid to just be themselves. Conformity is not expected or valued.

Finally, our last activities In Juneau involved a leisurely visit to the Red Dawg saloon for lunch, touristy but fun, and the State Capitol building where the public are allowed to wander round on a self guided tour. It is interesting to see the different areas where the State legislation is enacted and to read the history of Alaska and the capital Juneau. There is a lovely blue and gold frieze around the main entrance hall incorporating symbols ofAlaska such as bears and fish etc. and including igloos. Then there is a note to say that when the igloos were incorporated into the design people thought that Native groups lived in them but in fact that was never the case. They lived in the partly buried homes that were shown in the last blog. Igloos were only ever used as temporary and emergency shelters for hunting in the winter. The architects had not understood this! Although Juneau is the State capital, (and in case you forget the buses are called Capital Transport - all 3 routes, 2 of which are the same as one travels clockwise round the loop road and the other anti-clockwise) it is like a village apart from cruise ships and their passengers as the only way to arrive here is by boat or plane. It does not have a road out! So it has a very friendly feel. However it is important to choose your time to visit attractions. We made a mistake one day and went to the Glacier Visitor centre when 7 cruise ships were in and it was raining. Everyone was jammed in the centre like sardines - really unpleasant so we escaped quickly. But if that is your only experience of Mendenhall it is a great shame.

We have one day left so may well go downtown and try another restaurant or even revisit the Red Dawg. This will be the last Alaskan blog so hope you have enjoyed them. I am including a photograph from Kenai of the orca whales as at the time we could not remember how to take a single shot from the video recording but we have remembered finally, it only took 5 weeks!

Ps Just learnt that the ferry boat which sails to the Aleutians is out of service as is another one, the Colombia so ferries services are chaotic. Thank goodness we did not do the extended trip to Dutch Harbour!

Additional photos below
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Moning through ice is a little scary. Moning through ice is a little scary.
Moning through ice is a little scary.

No-one is allowed to speak to Captain when in ice!
Alaska imposed over lower 48 to show sizes.Alaska imposed over lower 48 to show sizes.
Alaska imposed over lower 48 to show sizes.

You can see the Aleutian Chain stretches to the equivalent of California. That was the trip we had hoped to do but given the ship has had to be taken out of service, just as well we didn't.
Looks like pine cone but grows up from ground.Looks like pine cone but grows up from ground.
Looks like pine cone but grows up from ground.

One of the bears favourite foods, a tuber grows under the plant a little like a potato.

1st July 2017

Last Alaskan
Great read and glad you got to see more Black Bears in Juneau, loved the orange toothed Porcupine too - happy onwards journey. P&S
2nd July 2017

Looks like you have had a brilliant time. Thanks for my birthday wishes. When you back in the uk? Love to you both. Jennyx

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