Mark, Sagan and I went ashore in Juneau while Kailas stayed on the ship, building a paper volcano at Club HAL. For $579 per person we could take a helicopter flight and go dog sledding. For only $59 per person, a shuttle would take us right to the Mendenhall Glacier.
Instead of buying into one of these “shore excursions” we decided to take a local bus. There was a bus stop only a few blocks from where the ship was docked, so for a whopping $4 we went to see the Mendenhall Glacier.
It wasn’t a direct route; we got a tour of the real city while riding up close and personal with the locals. I felt like I was in an episode of Northern Exposure. The city of Juneau (as with many Alaskan cities) covers thousands of square miles with a population around 30,000. It is cut off from the world by mountains and glaciers, making it accessible only by boat and air.
The bus dropped us off about a mile from the Visitors Center. Funny how it doesn’t quite make it to the tourist attraction, eh? Capitalism won out there.
We’d prepared for the hike and dressed for light rain. After reading the warning signs, we decided to stick to the trail along the road. We have no desire to get up close and personal with a bear.
We passed over a bridge and stopped to watch the bright red salmon flopping over the rocks, trying to make their way up stream. Suddenly we turned a corner and – whoa! There it was! It was a breathtaking (and intimidating) site.
We climbed the stairs to the Visitors Center where live cams, videos, dioramas park rangers and even a big chunk of ice helped explain what was happening a few hundred yards away.
A huge portion of the glacier had given way earlier, leaving dozens of large icebergs floating in the lake.
Bruce Molnia, a research geologist and one of the featured Skeptic speakers was also around to answer Mark’s questions.
There was a path to the waterfall, and we took it.
It was time to go back to the ship, so we hiked the mile back to the bus stop and took the express back to town. After dinner, the kids went to a pajama party at Club HAL while Mark and I spent our usual evening on the ship in the Crow’s Nest. This room was at the front of the ship and offered a commanding view of the ocean as well as some decent live music.
My drink of choice was the Cosmo Cubana while Mark ordered the local brew.