There have been many places that I have traveled to, which have taken me through the great wildernesses in North America, urban metropolises in Europe, and bustling spaces in Southeast Asia; however, despite all these places nothing has truly come close to rivaling the natural beauty of Alaska. It stands as an untamed wilderness in time when so much of the world has already been explored. In every part of the state to visit, including the famed inside passage, there is a profound beauty that leaves any onlooker entirely breathless. As the famed survivalist Les Stroud once said, Alaska offers landscapes so captivating that you can point a camera anywhere and get an excellent shot.
Sailing in from the Inside Passage along the southern stretch of the remote state, we sailed into the capital city: Juneau. At the base of the Robert’s mountain and placed on two sides of a small channel, the city itself stands in isolation surrounded by mountainous terrain or the ocean seas. An “island” city by all accounts, with no roads leading in or out of the entire city leaving it in isolated without land connections. Despite being tucked away and split among the little available land at the base of the mountains and the channel area, Juneau is one of the largest cities in America covering 3,255 square miles (approx. 540 of those are water). And while the city itself is not densely populated, it is home to just over 30,000 people, making it second to Anchorage in population.
Stepping off the docs and into the city it is immediately clear that Juneau has heritage. The mountains that it sits at the base of were host to booming mines in the early days of the territories history, having been mined and settled by Europeans and Americans with help from the local Tlingit tribes. Aside from the dense downtown area which remains populated with many seasonal tourists shops (to which many locals are not too keen on), there is a bit of historic charm in the city. Old government offices remain landmarks to see, and there are of course many historic buildings and saloons scattered about the city for those who are truly looking for them. When I entered the city, as I always usually do, I simply walked past the tourist district and moved right into the heart of the city itself, exploring all the different things that the place could offer that remains off the beaten path. Often moving by foot to slowly appreciate what there is in the area, Juneau was a town of homeliness and honesty. People were friendly and the town seemed to be one of local pride. With obvious reason, outside of work in the outdoors, mining, or government most of the remaining jobs are seasonal work for tourism. That is—the old bread of people have a unique connection to their little island city.
One of the first destinations, as touristy as it may be, was to venture up to the top of the sounding mountains via gondola lift that takes you right up to Mt. Roberts, high into the thick mist that covers her peak. Almost as if out of a fairy tale, the whole place seems to come together in some spectacular way. Lush green trees, accompanied by thick fog, and of course glaciers to drive the view home. Of course, one of the things that makes Alaska so beautiful is the amount of precipitation the region gets, providing the perfect cloud cover and ideal conditions for brilliant colors to simply pop out and grab you. Juneau like much the inside passage and the Pacific Northwest is home to a large rainforest which brings about 60 inches of rain a year with rain trickling down for 230 days in a calendar year.
After some long hikes to see the lush landscapes and breathtaking beauty of the wilderness surrounding the city, it was time to head into the heart once more to explore some of her other offerings. I headed down, though this time by bus rather than gondola, and pressed into the city. Having studied history the first item on the list that was a ‘must see’ was the Alaska State Museum. As with any other capital city in the United States, there is a desire to ensure that every one is explored, just to see the unique perspectives about the statehood of any particular state (especially the more contemporary ones).
Unsurprisingly the state museum was small and quaint. A friendly host of older volunteers greeted us before taking our fares and pointing us to a little area to stow away bags, boots, and rain jackets before heading off into the museum itself. It stretched two stories following the standard narrative of the ancient history of the area, indigenous people, European settlements, and then of course the whole US purchase and subsequent statehood situation. With a host of impressive artifacts including a lens from a lighthouse and a complete eagle nest, the museum was well worth the several hours inside, and consumed the bulk of the day.
Now tired, and calling for a much deserved break we headed out of the state museum and back into the cool summer air. The sun beginning to set, with the city lights slowly beginning to flick on. Rain beginning to fall quite heavily, we made back through the suburbs before heading to our room for the night. Usually travelling on an empty stomach, we often found ourselves eating only when the time called for it after hunger really set in at the end of the day. And after an exhausting day the pains were growing deep inside my gut wanting to rip me apart.
My companions and I passed through several neighborhood blocks before finding ourselves looking at a very odd site. Hidden behind several buildings was a colorful little building with a sign that read the Silverbow Bakery and Inn. Decorated to the brim with welcoming artifacts and your stereotypical ‘local coffee shop’ décor, we glossed over the menu, placed orders for a few veggie beagle sandwiches and some much deserved coffee, and took a seat. Finally, a bit of rest in the legs and mind. We slowly ate and talked over coffee, watching the sun slowly fall and darkness come over the windows. This was a lovely city in the heart of one of the most beautiful places in the world. While the window to see this magnificent place was short, it remains a destination that an adventurous spirit could spend a week or more exploring all that the city has to offer. But for just one day? I think we did alright.