Alaska: Mt Roberts Tramway and Whale Watch

I have a lot to say about my time in Alaska; it was a fabulous trip and expect to break my report into several parts to be published digitally at and here on my blog.

I arrived in Juneau, checked into the Driftwood Motel and since it was such a gorgeous day (and it had been rainy) I decided to take the Mt Roberts Tramway to enjoy the Panoramic views taking in the stunning vistas of sea and mountains, over to the Chilkat Mountains to the north, the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and Silver Bow Basin.

This gave me an overview of the city I’d be exploring for the next week. I expected the weather to be rainy but had gorgeous blue skies all but one day while in Juneau (of course, the day I went on a Whale Watch). After disembarking from the Tramway (one of the most vertical tramways in the world and 1800 feet from the base) I took some of the hiking trails and enjoyed the views, the foliage and saw some Mountain Goats, wildlife we don’t see in the Hudson Valley. The walk back to my hotel led me past stores and galleries that I knew I’d visit in subsequent days.

Signposts in downtown Juneau, Alaska

Signposts in downtown Juneau, Alaska

The next morning— Met with Christy Ciambor at the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. Turns out Christy’s mother lived across the street from the Jr. HS I attended in Queens. Talk about a small world. This, as Alaskans refer to “2 degrees of separation” continued throughout my time in Alaska. We spoke about the industries that support Juneau, the population, the history and the vast number of cultural events including 3 opera companies, a community symphony orchestra, theater companies, museums and art galleries. Apparently when the last Cruise Ship leaves in late September and before the state legislature goes into session in January the town goes Artsy and school starts. Christy was able to obtain press passes for me to museums, theater and music events, all of which I am very thankful for. I deliberated on what to bring as a thank you gift for Donna and for Christy. What is unique to the Hudson Valley and something not produced in Alaska? Maple Syrup. I practically put myself over the weight limit by bringing several containers of maple syrup produced within a few miles of my home.

I headed downtown to meet up with representatives from Juneau Tour and a whale watch trip. Whale watching is one of many trips that they offer in Juneau: along with helicopter rides over the glacier, fishing trips, bus rides to a glacier, visit to gold mine, rafting, bear viewing, dog sledding, walking story telling tour and more.

Keith, our bus driver took us to Auke Bay to get onboard the whale watching boat. He was quite knowledgeable and I learned several things. There is 18 hours of sunlight in June and 5 hours in the winter. Quite a difference. There are Black Bears and they are not aggressive. They get anywhere from 4-50 feet of snow each winter. The main road in Juneau is just 40 miles end to end.

View from Whale Watching boat on Auke Bay, Juneau, Alaska. Can you see any whales?

View from Whale Watching boat on Auke Bay, Juneau, Alaska. Can you see any whales?

Whale Watching The boat ride was choppy and it was raining as we headed out into Auke Bay. It was the first and last day of rain while I was in Juneau. By the time it registered that we were seeing a whale breach I missed the photograph. It was still an exciting trip and we were given a talk by the captain about the North Pacific Humpback whale that grows to be about 52 feet long, weighing 30-50 tons. The females are slightly larger. These are baleen whales and will eat 4,400-5,500 pounds of plankton, krill and small, schooling fish each day during the feeding season and have a life span of up to 60 years. There are 130 glaciers around Juneau and the melting gives up nutrients that end up in Auke Bay where we were searching out the Humpback Whales. As the weather becomes colder, the food becomes scarce; whales migrate to warmer water swimming practically non-stop for nearly 6 to 8 weeks before reaching their Hawaiian winter home, where they mate, give birth, and nurture their calves. Since, in Hawaii, there isn’t the same degree of zooplankton and marine organisms that humpback whales feed on adults go for months without eating, losing up to one-third of their body weight.

Their annual migration of up to 6,000 miles is one of the longest of any mammal. And then during the warm season, whales migrate to cold waters where food is abundant.

Check back next week as I take the ArtWalk and see the public art and some of the artists in Juneau.


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