DAY 5 – JUNEAU AND THE ICE FIELD
By the time we left the ship, it had turned into a pretty, albeit slightly chilly day. We had plenty of time before our flightseeing excursion at 1:30 p.m., so the first thing we did was walk across to the tramway station for the ride up Mt. Roberts. There was no line at all at the station and we were able to get right onto the first car.
As I noted in the review of my May cruise, Mt. Roberts is over 3800 ft. high and it’s literally right across the street from the dock and just east of downtown Juneau. The tramway landing spot is 1800 ft. up. They say around 200,000 people ride the tramway every summer. The cars (there are two of them) can hold up to 60 people each.
At the top, the views were just as spectacular as I remembered, but there was a lot less snow on the mountains this time. The photo on the left was taken on May 9th and the one on the right is from the same spot on July 5th.
We first visited the raptor center, which had been closed when I was there in May. This time, there was a lovely lady eagle who had been found with a gunshot wound and rescued. I don’t understand the kind of person who would shoot these beautiful, majestic birds that have so long been the symbol of our country and of freedom – not to mention the fact that it’s a federal crime with penalties of
up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. At least this girl was safe now.
Just outside the eagle’s habitat, there was a “wingspan chart” that really puts into perspective the size of these birds. The bald eagle’s wingspan can be over six feet. Tom couldn’t stretch quite that far. According to the chart, his wingspan was equivalent to a Canadian goose. I’m not sure what the underlying significance of that is, but mine was the same as a red-tailed hawk, which somehow seems appropriate, given my hair color and (occasional) temperament.
Unfortunately, Tom’s back started hurting and we didn’t make it to the top, but one of these days I’m going to get all the way up there.
Since there was a sign saying that the restaurant (the Timberline Grill) was closing at 3:00 – presumably for a private event – we weren’t going to be able to come back after the sea plane tour and have dinner up there as Sharon and I had done, so we went ahead and had lunch there instead. This time we got a seat right by the window, and service was considerably better than it had been in May.
The food was just as good (or better). I love their menu because it includes halibut everything – burgers, tacos, wraps, fried, grilled, etc. I got the halibut tacos and Tom got the three-fish and chips (halibut, cod and salmon). For dessert we indulged in cheesecake.
We lingered over lunch, until it was time to go find our excursion guide in front of the pier. As usual, we had to wait a bit but soon he showed up and we walked down to the docks of Wings Airway and after a short talk by the tour organizer, met our pilot and boarded our float plane.
This one was a de Havilland Otter, which is a little bigger than the Beaver I’d flown in on the Misty Fjords tour in Ketchikan. Personally, I liked the Beaver better but anything made by de Havilland Canada is good in my book.
I had seen glaciers before – from the ship in Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm Fjord and from land at Mendenhall – but seeing them from the air, flying down so close in the little plane, that was a whole different experience.
This is Mother Nature at her finest. It’s like something out of the tales of Narnia. It’s something that’s beyond the control (and maybe the comprehension) of humans. It’s certainly beyond my ability to describe with words, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
The Juneau ice field is the fifth-largest ice field in the Western Hemisphere, extending through an area of 3,900 square kilometres (1,500 sq mi) in the Coast Range ranging 140 km (87 mi) north to south and 75 km (47 mi) east to west.
The Taku glacier is presently advancing while the others are receding. Other glaciers include the Herbert Glacier, Eagle Glacier, and the East Twin and West Twin Glaciers. There are 20 major glaciers in the ice field. The ice field is also the source of the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau’s “drive up” glacier that is only 12 miles from downtown.
The Taku Glacier is known as the deepest and thickest glacier known in the world, measured at 4,845 feet (1,477 m) thick and about 58 kilometres (36 mi) long.
The Taku Glacier converges with the Taku River at Taku Inlet. Historically, it advancing until it blocks the river, creating a lake, followed by a dramatic break of the ice dam. Taku is the name the local Tlingit natives gave to the glacier.
There was only one thing wrong with this excursion: It was over far too quickly. The time passed in a flash, and soon we were touching down again near the dock in Juneau.
There was still plenty more to see before we headed back to the ship, so I’ll cover the rest in Part 6.