Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Juneau, Alaska, Whale-Watching, and Mendenhall Glacier

As a child growing up in the Midwest, I never gave much thought to glaciers nor whales, much less trying to connect the two. Being able to travel to different places, see the people, and see different parts of the country can open one's eyes. There is so much to see and even more to be learned!

Connecting a Whale to a Glacier 

The glaciers in Southeast Alaska alone discharge enough water to fill 40 million olympic-sized swimming pools. Glaciers grind mountains into fine particles, providing oceans with nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorous and unique organic carbon. These all contribute to the marine food webs. Whales at Auke Bay and the Juneau area swim at the top of this food web. Excursions to see whales were available at other ports as well, but the tour on Juneau worked best for us.

Whale Watching 

Fast forward to Auke Bay. Our excitement heightened as we neared the place where we saw whales swimming in the water. When whales were spotted in the water, boats slowed up, sometimes stopping, to allow passengers to watch the whales. The longer we sat watching, as the boat captain maneuvered the craft ever so slight, we noticed they swam closer to us.

Watching the whales - how incredible! They were beautiful. Even more beautiful was seeing them do a type of dive where they went under water, head first, and while still under water, their beautiful tail rose above the water. One whale did just that to the left of our boat; he was huge, sleek, and his tail was a sight to see! I was hoping for a photo opportunity, but even though I saw the whale as I turned, my camera was not in the right position to get the picture.

The Photo

Then I saw it! It was a little distance from us. A whale dived! Breaching, I think, is the name given to this action. I pushed the shutter button.  Success! We had come to see the whales, the whale's tail, and to my delight, I caught it on camera when he raised his tail! Wow! What a thankful, fantastic feeling to photograph this incredible sight!

Whale's Tail
Day 5 - Friday, June 10 

What a day to remember!  The Norwegian Sun arrived via the Gastineau Channel. We had a lot of sightseeing to do in Juneau, but our time would go fast. We docked at 7 a.m. and had to be back on board by 12:45 p.m. Upon arrival, we got off the ship, walked a short distance, passing this resting bear.

Resting bear
When we docked in Juneau, one of the first things that caught my eye was a red tram car from Mt. Roberts Tramway.  This beautiful flowering bush was left of the opening for the Tram car, across from the central parking area where we boarded the bus for our tour on Juneau.

Flowering bush with red tram car at back right
We boarded the boat to watch the whales at Auke Bay. On our way, this lighthouse appeared to our left.


Whale watching
After viewing the whales, we also saw glaciers...

Herbert Glacier was one of several glaciers we passed.
...as we continued back to Auke Bay where we exited this boat.When we were stopped for viewing whales, we were allowed to step on to the front deck as well as the back deck for better views.  Our bus was waiting to take us to Mendenhall Glacier.

This is the boat from Auke Bay that took us whale watching.
Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier
It is one of 38 large glaciers that flow from the 1500 square miles of snow and ice known as the Juneau Ice Field.

The first Forest Service Visitor Center in the Nation was dedicated here in 1962. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is in the Tongass National Forest.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Sign
From the visitor center at Mendenhall Glacier there are five trails from a 1/4 mile loop to a 3.5 mile loop ranging from easy, paved to challenging, gravel, rock and stairs.

An elevator takes visitors from sidewalk level up to the visitor center, where they can view a 15-minute movie, visit an Alaska Geographic bookstore and take photos from the glacier observation area.

View from Observation Area reached by the elevator.
Nugget Falls is to the right of the glacier.

Nugget Falls is to the right of Mendenhall Glacier.

No roads connect it to the rest of Alaska or North America because of the rugged terrain surrounding it, but it is on the Alaska mainland. It has a population of about 30,000 with an area of 3,255 square miles. By area, it is the second largest city in the United States. In 1906 it became the capital of Alaska when the U.S Congress dictated in 1900 that the government of the District of Alaska be moved there from Sitka.

Goods arrive and depart by plane or boat. Cars arriving in Juneau come via the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, the floating roadway for Southeast Alaska.

Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier

When we leave Juneau, we cruise the Tracy Arm Fjord from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Tracy Arm is the heart of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, designated by the U.S. Congress in 1980. We saw even more beautiful scenery as we cruised toward Sawyer Glacier.

While cruising to Sawyer Glacier, we encountered many scenic turns. It was hard to tell which direction the ship would turn as we wove through the scenic passageways to reach the glacier.

Walls of rock with vegetation growing on it

Ahead of us, we could have turned left or right.

Ahead we first go right,then left...

Still more turns ahead

A peek at the glacier...

Rocks of many colors...

Sawyer Glacier
The ship turned around at the glacier, after which we retraced our steps along the Wilderness area on our way to Ketchikan. There is still more beautiful scenery to come in the next post and more fun things onboard to share, so stay tuned.

Thank you everyone for visiting and following this adventure with my sister and me. Feel free to make comments. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog. Be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

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