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Travel: The Capital City of Juneau, Alaska

TravelTrey Takahashi1 Comment

A view of part of the capital city of Juneau, Alaska. Photo: Trey Takahashi

The main stretch of road connecting the port with the central parts of town. The 'tourist' downtown. Photo: Trey Takahashi

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.

The gondola takes you from the tourist downtown district up to the dense woods of Mt. Roberts. Photo: Trey Takahashi

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).

While the museum is not the largest, the displays it has to offer are extraordinary. 

 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.

A view from Mt. Roberts. This place is spectacular. Photo: Trey Takahashi

Travel: The Pinball Hall of Fame - Las Vegas, Nevada

TravelTrey TakahashiComment

Rows of Pinball Machines, both new and old, line the walls of the Pinball Hall of Fame. Photo: Trey Takahashi

Las Vegas, home to some of the world's greatest resorts, a place where people come to blow their fortunes and live in excess. In a neon oasis, there is a flip side to all the glitz and glam, the underbelly of the facade. Everything here in Vegas is not about extravagance or excess, somethings just match the setting of an impossible city in the heart of wasteland.

Off the strip by several good miles and a couple blocks away from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a dimly lit warehouse stands along Tropicana Avenue. Lacking the stereotypical neon sign, there is not even lit sign with basic lettering. Rather, a plain text on yellow banner stretched over the front which read nothing more than:

"PINBALL HALL OF FAME"

It's not just Pinball, vintage arcade games from the 80s and 90s are also on display for play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

Despite being in this strange spot that would be entirely missed by any passerby, the parking lot remains partially full with the occasional small tour bus parked out front. Something good must be going on inside, and something good enough for people to seek out this odd little warehouse in the scathing desert heat. 

We approached the building, doors blacked out with few people outside and opened up the doors. With a sudden blast of cool air, bongs and bells blasting, and flashing lights coming from every direction. It was immediately what this whole place was about, and why so many people just had to stop by.

Inside there are rows of pinball machines by the dozen, new and old, rare and common. The Pinball Hall of Fame markets itself as a museum, yet it is a museum that walks the line between a place to see old artifacts from a different era, and a social place to play arcade games and socialize with friends. Essentially, the whole place is a museum, taking machines that date back to the 1930s and allowing anyone to stop by and drop a few quarters inside.

It is not the fanciest of places by any means, there are some panels missing from the ceiling; the bathroom door does not always close all the way; some of the stools scattered about are ripped and torn; and there are piles of junk and equipment stacked in the back on a workbench. Yet, despite all of this, I could not imagine it any other way. The Pinball Hall of Fame is something that the Las Vegas is not, where everyone there tries to sell itself as something picturesque, this place keeps itself authentic. It has undeniable charm and character. It is simply a place where people can come and enjoy what the machines were always meant to do, rather than seeing them behind glass.

The famous  Fireball  machine from 1972 in action, ready for a round of play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

The famous Fireball machine from 1972 in action, ready for a round of play. Photo: Trey Takahashi

This is not saying the place is a dump, after all, it still is a museum. While there may be a few roof panels missing the machines themselves are kept in astonishing shape. It's a good thing too, as some of the machines they have in the collection are astonishingly rare and in breathtaking condition.

One machine poised right up in the front row, as if a crown jewel of the collection, was one of only two ever produced. A pinball mecca that has several stories of play on the inside composed of winding metal ramps mimicking a circus trapeze. 

There is nothing quite like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, let alone anywhere. With many of the large arcades in the casinos closing their doors as Vegas shifts away from the days of a family oriented town, and the new Gameworks leaving much desired, there is something that the Pinball Hall of Fame offers that nothing else can: character.

Both tourists and locals alike try their hand at winning a replay and beating high scores. Photo: Trey Takahashi

-Trey Takahashi