I have admiration of the serenity and beauty of the places where very time we visit Alaska and sail the Inside Passage, especially the narrow channels of the Clarence Strait. We awoke to very overcast skies because the clouds above us had thickened overnight. Despite the clouds gave a blue/green hue to the icy waters amazingly, if the skies above were clear we sailed through seemed more colorful than.
With countless small islands on either side of us, we sailed along with barely a ripple on the waters of the Inside Passage. Because the area in southeast Alaska is technically a rain forest, the islands and mountains surrounding us were thick with dense forests. The moss laden trees could be seen everywhere. The inlets and waterways that we passed were so calm, they appeared glass like; and the reflection of the surrounding mountains could be seen so clearly in the water that it was like a mirror.
What made the morning spectacular was all of the whale activity in the area. We were greeted by orcas and humpbacks for several hours. Someone (not us) even saw a black bear on Admiralty Island – which has the largest population of black bears in Alaska – more bears than permanent residents actually. The whales traveled together in groups of two or three. We saw whales spouting off in the distance and coming pretty close to the ship (within 50 yards or so). I got pictures of a humpback rising up above the water and slapping its fin. And, I have some fabulous pictures of a humpback’s tale that was spotted with white barnacles.
Although our original itinerary included a visit to Tracy Arm Fjord and the Twin Sawyer Glaciers, because of tide ranges, we were not able to do so. As pulled into Holkham Bay at the entrance of Tracy Arm Fjord, many of us noticed a huge hanging glacier on the left bank of the entrance. I do not know the name of the glacier, but it was spectacular. The colors of turquoise were quite noticeable. The turquoise color is the result of the density of the glacial ice. The darker the colors of blue and turquoise means the more dense the glacier is.
We began cruising along the Glass Peninsula of Admiralty Island and along Stephan’s Passage heading north. After a couple of hours, we arrived in Juneau at around 1:00 p.m.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is only accessible by air or by water. There are no roads leading in or out of Juneau that would connect it to the Alaska Highway because of the Juneau ice fields. Juneau is located in the Gastineau Channel of the Inside Passage. A century ago, two miners beached their canoes along the Gastineau Channel at the mouth of Gold Creek – the stream that now courses through the center of town. Prospectors Dick Harris and Joe Juneau found themselves a place in history – and founded a city. The mountains that surround Juneau were rich in gold ore and thus Juneau found its’ place among history and the gold rush.
The Gastineau Channel dead ends at Juneau; and so when the cruise ships leave to head north, they must re-trace their path around Douglas Island going south and then turn northwest at Bishop Point. When the Captain docked the Volendam, he pulled her right downtown along the pier directly across from the Red Dog Saloon. We have never docked so close to the center of town before – usually we are about half a mile south along another dock. But, as luck would have it, we were on the only cruise ship in Juneau! Great for us – because the crowds were insignificant. After having lunch on the ship, we decided to venture out and wander a bit through some of the shops along the dock area and down the main street before we had to go back to the pier to join the group for our float plane excursion over the Juneau Ice Fields.
Wings Over Juneau was our tour guide. At 4:00 p.m. we boarded our turbo prop Otter airplane and before we knew it, we were up in the air. There were 9 of us on the plane; and each of us had a window seat. There were headphones for us to wear and listen to a pre-recorded program for the duration of our tour. It was still overcast above us; but the clouds were high enough that it did not deter our pilot from continuing. We flew south out of Juneau to the Taku Inlet and then headed east towards the massive Juneau Ice Fields. Below us were the calm, tranquil waters of Taku Inlet. It’s difficult for me to describe the colors to you; but I’ll try. The waters are cloudy, not clear; but are the more gorgeous colors of light aquamarine with a grey hue. The color is incredible; and every time I see it, I am in awe of the beauty.
Much of the area below appeared to be exposed mud flats from low tides – which the pilot confirmed. The mountains were covered with a thick, dense forest of trees and bushes. The “tree line” was very obvious and noticeable with the pine tree forest coming up the mountain to a very distinctive point and then abruptly ending and nothing but thick brush above that.
As we flew further back into the Inlet, we began to see the enormous glacial rivers of the Juneau Ice Field. We flew over Lemon Glacier and Taku Glacier. Looking out my window as I looked down upon this river of ice, I could see the deep crevasses and cracks in the glacier. The crevasses were the deepest blue surrounded by skyscraper high frozen ice that went on for miles and miles and miles – back farther than we could see from the plane. The river of ice flowed towards the Inlet and ended in the waters below. Along the face of the glaciers, you could see where the ice had broken off or calved and the small icebergs or “bergie bits” were floating all around in the bay.
Our flight was over too soon from our perspective. We would have loved to have had more time in the air – but that wasn’t part of the program – and all too soon we found ourselves gliding onto the water and gently landing back in the harbor at Juneau. It was a fabulous flight and we highly recommend it to everyone.
Because the clouds had lifted and the weather seemed to be getting a little more pleasant, we decided to take the tram up to Mt. Roberts. The gondola raised us about 1,800 feet up the mountain to a platform where we exited and followed the path to the nature center and the gift shop/restaurant area. Unfortunately, once you leave the platform, you lose the entire view of the Gastineau Channel. It was very disappointing as that was the entire purpose of our going up there. We walked around a little and then decided to head back down the mountain. It wasn’t until we got back out to the platform to wait for the gondola that we realized you had to be out there to get any pictures. We rode back down the mountain with another couple who complained about the same thing.
After that adventure, it was time for dinner. We found this tiny Crab Shack directly across from the Volendam where we enjoyed a crab roll with cole slaw and some delicious crab chowder that tasted so good and warm after our day full of adventure in Juneau. Can it get more beautiful than this?
Owner of Carpenter Travel, Your “Enthusiastic” Excursionist
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