Juneau – The Capital City of Alaska

Our ship’s next port of call was Juneau on 02 August early morning.  Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906.  Juneau is rather unusual among US state capitals (except Honolulu, Hawaii) in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of state or to the rest of America. The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city.  All goods and persons coming in and out of Juneau must go by plane or ship.  Downtown Juneau is located at sea level, with tides averaging 5 m, surrounded by steep mountains about 1,200 meter high.

Even though Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska and is well connected by rail, road and air network, how did Juneau become the capital of Alaska?

Sitka was the Alaskan capital when the US took over Alaska from Russia. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1906 because the gold rush had made it and other towns in the Northern Alaska much more economically significant than Sitka. When Alaska officially became a territory in 1912, Anchorage did not exist. Anchorage came into being during the summer of 1915 as a construction depot on the Alaskan railroad. It wasn’t that important of a town until the US Military moved in before World War II.

After the war Alaskans considered moving the capital out of South-East Alaska to a more central location. Anchorage was considered suitable with its central location, but poverty and lack of agreement prevented any action from being taken. The resolution to move the capital was put to vote in 1984 and 1996, but was defeated and is unlikely that the state government will ever physically move.

We got off our ship and headed on a bus to Auk Bay, about 20 km from the port, for whale watching.  We were ushered into a boat captained by  Emily.  John, a university student pursuing his pre-medical degree was her assistant.  Both Emily and John were very knowledgeable about the Auk Bay and the surrounding areas and also about whales.   We were a group of 12  in the boat and after everyone boarded, Captain Emily gave out the safety briefing followed by a talk about what we were expecting to see.  After leaving the jetty, Emily went full throttle, skimming over the water to locate  the whales.  During this journey John gave a detailed briefing on whales.

After about an hour, we sighted Sasha, a humpback whale. The whales located in  Auk Bay are given numbers and names.  Alaska is only a feeding area for the whales as there are lot of fish to feed on and is not a breeding ground due to the cold temperature. We watched bubble-net feeding by Sasha as she dived down and released a ring of bubbles from its blowhole beneath a school of fish. As the bubbles rose to the surface, it created a net, trapping the fish.

The next whale we located was Flame.  The humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation and scars on the underside of their tails or flukes that are unique to each whale.  These black and white patterns are their bio-metric identification akin to our fingerprints.

After watching the whales, Emily steered the boat to an island where over two hundred sea lions were sunbathing.  The males had their heads up while the females and the cubs were all lying down like an arrangement of sausages on the beach. After watching the sea lions, Emily dropped us at the jetty to board a bus back to Juneau.

Back at Juneau, we drove on the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway,  a five-minute ride through the rain forest, from the cruise ship pier to the  Mount Roberts at an elevation of 600 meter.  It offered a breathtaking view of the cruise ships, the port and  downtown Juneau as depicted in the images at the top. The Mount Roberts Tramway is one of the most vertical tramways in the world.

 

We came down on the tramway and decided to enjoy lunch at Juneau’s Twisted Fish Company, rather than going on board our ship anchored 100 meters away.  This place was recommended to us by locals and it was worth it. We savoured a menu of salmon, halibut and clam, sourced straight from the docks.

At the dock stood a plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice by the 690 member crew of the Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser Ship USS Juneau.  The ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarines on the morning of 13 November 1942 in the Pacific Ocean.  Only 10 crew members survived to narrate the tale.  Aboard USS Juneau were  George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert – five brothers from the Sullivan family.  Even though US  Navy’s policy of separating siblings was in place,  it was not always followed and the five brothers enlisted to serve together and were assigned to USS Juneau.  The two oldest brothers George and Francis had served in the Navy before World War II and both had been discharged in May 1941. When war broke out, the older brothers with their three younger siblings volunteered to serve in the Navy but only if they could serve together.

After the sumptuous lunch, we boarded the ship and we sat in the balcony enjoying the breeze and the view outside on the waterfront.  There were many sea planes taking off and landing on water and a fishing boat crew were spreading their nets to catch salmon between the cruise ships and the ‘runway.’

The day for us ended with dinner and our ship bid goodbye to Juneau on its onward journey to Ketchikan, our last port of call in Alaska.

Next : Ketchikan – The First City of Alaska

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