Alaska's Capital
The Alaska State Museum and the Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska

July 10th to 13th 2002

Back on the ferry, we struck out for the Capital of Alaska, Juneau. This is a long 12 hour ride up the inner passage from Petersburg. Leaving a little after noon, we watched the islands of the inner passage slip by. Wonderful little rocky points in the water, covered by the great spruce trees with a proper number of nesting eagles. After a while the monotony set in and I found a wonderful echo chamber near the stern on the 7th deck. Here I settled in with my favorite harmonica as the sound reverberated between the bulkheads. After a few moments several of the crew stuck their heads out to investigate the new sound. Shortly thereafter, Chief mate Brian Flory (second in command) joined me. I was expecting a request for me to relocate but instead he asked me to join him outside the lounge for an impromptu jam session, as he was a banjo player. It turned out to be a great time. With the crowd thinning, the music came to an eventual end and we were off to bed in our cigar box roomette. By 1 PM the next day we were pulling into Juneau. Now I love those little trivia questions so here is one. How many state capitals cannot be reached by car?  It you said none, your not a geography student, if you said 1, you're average as no one has driven to Honolulu Hawaii, but if you said 2, then you may have been to Alaska. The town is named after one of the early prospectors named Joseph Juneau who found gold in what is now known as Gold Creek. Soon, a prosperous mining town sprung up and the rest is history. Again, there is no land route to the city even though it is the Capital. The road leading north out of Juneau and the one leading south out of Haines were never connected. The town is a cruise ship stop, so downtown is a mass of populations all walking in every direction. The trinket and gift shops are prevalent. I had to wonder about some of the things I had heard about; the ever-reducing number of totem poles, while standing in a shop which literally had hundreds of them of all shapes and sizes. It was obvious that they were not expertly crafted by ancient Indians using only primitive tools. What can I say? We took a driving tour of the major sites. The Governor's house was a bit of a surprise. It's a house, not a mansion. It is wood framed and quite large for the surrounding area but with no apparent security. Anybody can simply walk up and bang on the front door. It has practically no yard. We stopped by the Alaskan State Museum to see if there was anything new or different from those we had already reviewed. Here the history of Alaska is told in artifacts and stuffed animals. The Indian life of ancient times is well done with many examples of art and other workmanship. Especially intriguing was the basket making out of wood strips, some so fine as to look like fishing line. There are two floors packed with cases displaying everything from kayaks and spears to rocks and minerals. Boats made of wood and skin have been used throughout the world for thousands of years.  The hunting kayak is the most sophisticated and highly developed of all these crafts. Subsistence patterns and sea conditions affected kayak design in general, all Arctic people required a boat that could be made of available materials, was fast and maneuverable, could be paddled in strong winds and rough seas, and was light enough to carry. The origin of the kayak is not known,  It probably evolved  from another skin boat, the umiak.  It is difficult to date kayaks because few of the delicate skin and wood craft have survived.  Archaeological evidence for kayaks shows them to be at least 4000 years old.  Further evidence may date them back as far as 10,000 years. The kayak developed as a silent means of getting within hunting range of seals, walrus and whales.  They also served to hunt caribou and birds, fish, gather wood and transport people. The kayak was a hunter's most prized possession and a symbol of manhood.  It not only provided him with the means to gather food, it was important in his cultural and ceremonial life as well. Several have stuffed animals such as moose and bear. Many of the displays were too poorly lit to get a good picture. The next day we ventured out to the real attraction for this area. The mighty Mendenhall Glacier, which is only a few miles out of town. Reaching down to Mendenhall Lake, huge blocks of ice break off regularly, to float out into the lake. There is no walking on the Glacier but boat trips are available right up to the edge. We spent most of the day checking out different angles to get that perfect picture. Determined to get a photo of the glacier with an ice floe floating in the foreground, I spent time cutting through the woods at different places trying to pin down one particularly picturesque chunk of ice floating near the shore. The glacier is a slow moving river of ice 13 1/2 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide and at least 100 feet deep. Snow that fell 200 years ago is just now reaching sea level. The scarred walls of rock around the ice are testimony to the strength and destructive power of the earth that holds it. Each year the continuous melting process reduces its size. At one time the entire lake area was solid ice. The whole area is a splendid place for hiking and picture taking, and if you happen to have the fortitude of a local, swimming.  All in all quite spectacular.

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