Saturday, July 22, 2017

After the Glacier (with Patsy Ann)

Just me and Patsy Ann, hanging out by the docks in downtown Juneau
I think my favorite part of visiting Juneau, even more fun than the glacier, was meeting up with Patsy Ann, a bronze statue of a pit bull who lived in Juneau in the 1930s.

Today's rain in Juneau changed over from a light mist at the glacier to a steady drizzle.  Nevertheless, I did the second most touristy thing in Juneau after a chopper to the glacier:  I took the aerial tram up the side of Mount Roberts.

Weirdly enough, my fear of heights notwithstanding, I love funiculars and cable cars and aerial trams.

This one went up the side of a sheer cliff, conveniently right near the cruise ship docks in Juneau.

Once we got to the top, I was noticing (a) that the rain was getting progressively harder and (b) I was hungry after all the glacier walking, so I decided to get a bite to eat.

Right at the aerial tram station atop Mount Roberts is the Timberline restaurant.  I ordered an Alaskan beer.

It was a hoppy double IPA ("hoppy" in the herb "hops" sense, not the jumping bunny rabbit sense).  The name was a cutesy play on words with the word "hops."  I had to look up the name when typing this because my memory was calling the brew "hopothalymus" or something like that.

Turns out it's called "hopothermia," which is almost as bad.

I decided to go native with the dinner order.  Above is the reindeer stew.  It was heavier on the bacon than the reindeer, which was OK with me.  And then of course I got the Timberline's signature dish:

Crab nachos.  Everyone tells you you have to get the crab nachos here.  I felt like not doing so would be like going to Philadelphia and not eating a cheesesteak.  Or going to New Orleans and not having cafe au lait and beignets.  Or going to L.A. and not eating pastrami.  (L.A. is a huge pastrami town.  Trust me on this one.)

I ate all my reindeer stew and most of my crab nachos (which I would rate "not bad") and walked around the area at the top.

The views were nice even with the rain and clouds and fog.

They do have a bald eagle up top available for photographing.

Meet Lady Baltimore.

She can't fly because of a long-ago accident, so it's not a bad thing that she lives her life cooped up in this hut.  It beats the natural alternative.

Juneau is absolutely lousy with bald eagles, by the way.  They were hanging out on lampposts on the drive to the helicopter port.  Anyway, I opted out of walking the trails up at the mountain top because I was tired and over-stuffed from trying to put away too many of those crab nachos (could've been crabbier, just sayin').  So I trammed it back down to the cruise ship docks.  And when walking along the docks, who did I see?

Meet Patsy Ann.  The town dog of Juneau in the 1930s.  Rather than summarize and paraphrase, I'm going to post the plaque that tells her story.  Click on the pic to blow it up and read it, if you can.

Here are the highlights.  She was brought to town in 1929 by a local dentist.  She preferred wandering the town instead of living in a home, so that's what she did.  Although deaf, she had an uncanny knack for knowing when a steamship was about to arrive in town, before anyone else in town did.  When she knew a steamship was a half-mile away, she would trot down to the town docks and wait patiently.  She was declared the town's "Official Greeter" in 1934.

I love metal animal statuary.  And statues memorializing actual real former dogs are the best.  Here's a particularly pensive view:

And that concludes the Juneau tourism part of the mini-vacation.  Shall I post more pictures of Alaska?

Quoth the raven:  nevermore.

Vacationing at a Glacial Pace

We walk through the fields to the rivers of ice
(Obscure Simple Minds reference that no one will get)
Today I slowed down my Alaska vacation to glacial pace.  With a helicopter ride to a real glacier.

It all started with getting properly outfitted at the Coastal Helicopters international corporate office (above), in weather-proof boots (to improve traction on the ice) and rain slicker,

Soon we were off and flying.  This was my first time ever in rotary wing aircraft.

I was a bit nervous as I don't understand the physics of rotary wing aircraft.  I understand how fixed wing aircraft work, with the air pressure differential above and below the wing etc. etc.  And I understand how a helicopter goes up and down.  I just don't understand how a helicopter flies forward.

The pilot tried his best to answer my question about basic flight physics with an explanation about the angle of the front rotor blades etc. etc.  But it didn't matter whether I understood, we were moving, booming and zooming (another obscure reference to an obscure song by a kinda-sorta obscure band).

Over Juneau:

This is the area of the ferry terminal, north of the airport, on the way to glacier-land.

A better view without window framing:

After a short flight (10 minutes, maybe?), the destination came into view.  The Herbert Glacier:

Yes, we went to the Herbert Glacier, not the Mendenhall Glacier.  Everybody goes to the Mendenhall Glacier.  It's like the Grand Central Station of American glaciers.  So being the people of discriminating taste, we went to the much more exclusive Herbert Glacier.

And here I am:

Stylin' in my glacier boots.  Lookin' slick in my slicker.

The glaciers really are sky blue.  It has something to do with ice crystal structure, according to our guide and helicopter pilot.

I was glad we got the special boots for walking on the glacier.  That stuff was slick.  It was like walking on ice.

You could drink the water run off from the glacier, although they neglected to tell us to bring a cup or bottle.  I cupped some in my hands.  It tasted just like -- I kid you not -- melted ice cubes.

You can't really tell from the above photograph -- you'll have to take my word on this -- but down in that blue hole about 30 or 40 feet was a river of water.  You could hear it moving fairly loudly.  The good news is that I could see how thick the ice was and see that there was no risk of that thick of an ice sheet breaking loose.

The Herbert Glacier flows at a rate of about a foot and a half a day, which is faster than what I would've expected a "glacial pace" to be.  This means that all of the ice in the glacier is completely replaced about every 300 years.

We also saw some mountain goats way high up one mountain side.  I didn't even bother to try to take a picture because my little camera lacks the pixel power to zoom that much.

Soon play time on the glacier came to an end and it was time to fly back to base camp.

The helicopter held a maximum of six and we were at maximum.  Oh, and if you care, ask me someday to explain the "glacial pace" reference in the title.  There's a story there.

Juneau: Into the Heart of Alaska Darkness

Juneau is the Heart of Alaska Darkness.  And it has the mega-cruise ships in the harbor to prove it.
My first impression of Juneau is that it is a tourist town.  And not just a tourist town, but a cruise-ship-tourist town.

But, then again, on the trip on the high-speed ferry I kept thinking that I was journeying into the Heart of Darkness.

But, then again, anytime I'm on a boat/ship/ferry/watercraft going up a river/inlet/body of water, I think of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."  ("Apocalyse Now" is you're more of a movie than literature person.)

And soon I arrive at the very heart of Alaska darkness.

I'm staying at the Driftwood, because (a) it had a shuttle to pick me up at the ferry terminal way way north of town and, more importantly (b) it seemed to be the last hotel room available in Juneau when I finally got around to booking this trip.

Any place in Juneau has great views, with a giant wall of mountains on one side of the town.

And this one is for Daniil, the Russian-German exchange student ... look, in downtown Juneau, a pelmeni restaurant (called "Pel'meni") with Cyrillic lettering in the window.

Not being in the mood for Russian dumplings, and not sure what was open at this hour in downtown Juneau, I ate Mexican.

This is the heart of tourist darkness in Juneau:

Tomorrow I shall explore the city more.  Or maybe not.  I have a walk on a glacier to have happen first.

Time to Leave Sitka

So, yes, I did see a bear in Sitka. The only way I wanted to see one.
When you're a tourist, your time at each destination is limited.  And the clock was telling me that it was time to leave Sitka.  Good-bye Saint Michael's Orthodox Cathedral.

One last cool thing about my visit to Sitka is that I've set a new mark for my "farthest west" journey I have ever been.  At 135 degrees, 20 minutes, 19 seconds, Sitka is the furthest west line of longitude to which I've traveled, besting my old "furthest west" of Tofino, B.C., Canada, by a whopping 10 degrees of longitude.  I like setting new "furthests."

Time was limited in Sitka, but there was time for a walk through the Russian Cemetery.

This is basically an old cemetery.  In a forest.

And it's more forest than cemetery.  Which makes for a nice walk.  During the daylight hours.

But death symbolizes change and it was time to change locales.  On to the "high speed ferry" for the four and one-half hour trip to Juneau for the second half of this mini-vacation.

Taking the ferry from Sitka to Juneau is what I call "the poor man's Alaska cruise."

Farewell Sitka.

Farewell to you and to my new friends.

I wonder if a trip to see real actual live bears at "Fortress of the Bear" would have left me smiling like this more gentle bear encounter did?