While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.
An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.
We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.
The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.
Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males. This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat. Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this!
Then we reached the more open waters of the Inside Passage and some pretty intense chop. The captain spotted some flukes far off, but was not able to find the whales, they apparently dove and swam away. These were humpback whales that can travel a great distance relatively quickly.
The Fjordland is a mostly enclosed boat with large picture windows in the comfortable and warm passenger cabin. Its only open deck area is in the back, the most protected area. Hector spent time there taking photographs, but when we started going over some big swells he alternated between being inside and outside (I was inside).
The water was coming over the boat’s windshield as we crossed the swells. Then the boat went over a particularly large swell, and the water went all the way over the top of the passenger compartment and poured out in the back. Two young women that were back there got completely drenched, much to their amusement. But that water must have been cooooold. Hector was inside at the time.
We reached Juneau and hopped on our tour bus to go into town. Juneau is the only capital city in the United States not reachable by road. The town is built on the side of a hill, and pretty picturesque. Our bus driver was surprised that it was somewhat “clear” since it rains there on most days. And, true to form as we reached downtown it started to sprinkle.
Downtown has lots of shops and restaurants, and we had just enough time for lunch – my usual fish and chips, go to a few shops, and pick up Angel’s refill at the pharmacy. The pharmacy was a one-man operation with a very sweet pharmacist.
There is a tramway to the top of Mount Roberts, but just like on our previous brief visit on a cruise the top of the cable was enshrouded in clouds, so there was no view from the top. So we skipped it once again.
It stopped raining, and we were hoping to combine a couple of short hikes during our time there. But we only got a little ways to a photography viewpoint. We got a pretty good view of the glacier and Nugget Falls. The rest of the trail, which continues to the waterfall was closed due to flooding. Darn.
A second trail we planned to hike was also partially closed due to bear activity. But we did get a close look at some sockeye salmon swimming upriver in the first part of that trail. It is so fascinating to see how they struggle against the current, especially since they should be exhausted after having traveled so far. These are some fierce fish.
On our way out of town, we were hoping to see bear alongside the road, but no bear. This was not a great wildlife day.
We set off again on the Fjordland, with hopes of seeing whales on the way back. The captain had spotted whales offshore about 30 minutes prior to our departure but was not able to find them.
We passed the picturesque Eldred Rock Lighthouse, built in 1905, one of three commissioned by the U.S. Lighthouse Service to aid navigation to the Klondike gold fields via the Chilkoot Pass.
Then another rainbow appeared and we saw splashes of Dall’s porpoise. The porpoise are so fast it is difficult to get a close look at them, unless they decide to swim by the bow of your boat, which they sometimes do.
We have been so fortunate with our boat tours all summer, we just cannot complain about this day. It was a beautiful ride and we enjoyed our brief time in Juneau. Now back to Haines and enjoying its more natural side.