Friday, May 20, 2011


Juneau, taken from one of the cable cars that transports you to the top of Mount Roberts

It is a five-minute ride to the top of Mt. Roberts. From there the view is breathtakingly beautiful.

I was a young girl when I first heard that back in 1867 the United States bought Alaska from the Russians. I marveled at the total cost--7.2 million dollars--thinking that was a huge amount of money. What I did not realize at that time was what a bargain that was when you consider how enormous Alaska is. Did you know that you could fit 470 Rhode Islands or 14 Virginias in Alaska? In spite of its enormous size, less than one million people reside in Alaska.
What eventually became our 49th state was a huge mass of land filled with natural resources. But in spite of Alaska’s great value, many Americans thought the purchase was a bad deal and referred to Alaska as “America’s Icebox”. Alaska remained a United States territory from 1867 through 1959 and became our 49th state in 1959. The first capital of Alaska was Sitka, but in 1900 the capital was moved to Juneau.
In 1880, gold was discovered near Juneau and the Klondike Gold Rush was on. Hoping to get rich quickly, more than 100,000 prospectors flooded into the area. It was a hard life they lived, but some were rewarded for their efforts. It is believed that there is still gold in the mountains surrounding Juneau, but mining stopped in the early 20th century. It is expensive to mine for gold, but some of the local residents believe that in the future, the mines could again become active.
Another view of Juneau from atop Mount Roberts
Juneau is situated in Southeast Alaska and straddles the Gastineau Channel. For a capital city, Juneau is fairly small with a total population of about 30,000. Yet, in land mass Juneau is the second largest city in the United States. There are no skyscrapers in Juneau; the tallest building is about twelve stories high. Hemmed in by two majestic snow-capped mountains and the Mendenhall Glacier, it is not possible to reach Juneau by car. To visit, you must arrive by airplane or ship. Small floatplanes can be seen landing and taking off on the water in the Gastineau Channel several times each day.

Floatplanes were a common site. It was fun to watch them take off and land on the water.

The climate in this part of Alaska is similar to that of Washington and Oregon, because Mount Roberts, Mount Juneau, and the Mendenhall Glacier offer natural protection from cold winds and permafrost. However, above the Arctic Circle the weather can be frigid. During the summer there are more hours of daylight in Juneau than in the lower 48 states. In fact, according to the tour guide who provided me with much information about Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, there are about 79 days in a row of sunlight with the sky never growing dark. Then, in the winter there are about 79 days of darkness with very little light in a 24-hour period. This occurs because the earth is tipped on its axis. Atop the mountains is the Juneau ice field where more than 100 inches of snow fall each year.
Tourism is a big industry in the Juneau area and accounts for stability in the local economy. However, across Alaska there is very little manufacturing (no factories), so 95% of the goods, including building supplies, must be shipped in. Because of this things are much more expensive in Alaska.
The massive Mendenhall glacier. In a future post I will provide information about glaciers and how global warming is affecting them.

I love the serenity in this photograph. You can see the waterfall spilling down the side of the mountain.
Finally, I could not leave Juneau without having this yummy dessert--Baked Alaska. Believe it or not it is ice cream covered with meringue and then popped into an oven until the meringue browns. Surprisingly, the ice cream does not melt.

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