From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska
May 10, 2012 - National Geographic Sea Bird
Juneau and surrounding waters
Alaska’s capital city, protected by towering mountains and shrouded by low clouds, welcomed us in a temperate rainforest, damp and chilly sort of way…. From our dock right in downtown, the Alaska State Museum was but a few minutes away and we spent an enchanting hour with their spectacular collection of native artifacts and the new display of WWII in Alaska. The large intricately carved Tlingit house front is especially impressive.
Like a number of Alaskan towns, Juneau got its start when gold was discovered here. In 1880 Richard T. Harris and Joe Juneau staked a claim and within a few years Juneau grew into a large scale hard-rock mining boomtown. These days government employs 1 of every 2 workers and tourism is the largest private employer.
Out at the Mendenhall Glacier, mists draped the mountains, the Sitka willows were in bloom, and mountain goats were browsing high in the alpine. Lucky for us, it’s early season so there were very few other visitors. We spent the afternoon exploring the protected inlets west and north of Juneau, watching the occasional humpback whale newly arrived from its winter in Hawaii. A large group of about 20 bald eagles and a hundred or so gulls were working an area we speculated could be a school of ooligan, a high-in-oil fish that is currently spawning in some of the nearby bays.