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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > We're On a Road to Nowhere

Juneau, AK  10/18-20/06 (Day 176-178)
We're On a Road to Nowhere

When our Alaska Marine Highway (AMH) ferry from Haines arrives in Juneau we get off and have three days on our hands to explore the state capital before we have to board our next ferry and continue our journey down Alaska’s Inside Passage.

Juneau may be the capital of the state, but it looks, feels and behaves more like a charming, outdoorsy small town. We check into The Silverbow Inn partly attracted by the quirks of the 11-room hotel, but mostly because it’s attached to a proper bagel bakery.

Our corner room is enormous with one double bed and two singles. There’s a rubber duckie next to the bathtub and a lint brush is part of the bathroom amenities. If you need other toiletries, there are baskets on each floor that contains products left behind by previous guests. Just help yourself. There are coat hooks outside the door of each room for wet coats (a very real possibility in Juneau) and the do not disturb sign is a picture of Marilyn Monroe in a towel.

The inn also has a screening room and it’s showing “Being Caribou” so we check it out (you should too). Entertainment of a different kind comes in the form of Gus Messerschmidt, the original owner of the building, who is rumored to haunt the place (in a “friendly” way, we are assured). One night we think we hear someone rattling our toothbrushes around, but we figure it’s just the current owners getting up early to start making the bagels so we go back to sleep.

And what about those bagels? Absolutely awesome. Boiled then baked (as it should be) they’re chewy and come in all the classic varieties (plus the now-requisite “gourmet” variations like pesto). And we wouldn’t expect any less. The folks who currently own both the inn and the bakery, which is the oldest continuously operated bakery in Alaska—going strong since the 1890s—are from New York City.

All fueled up on bagels (which we eat at every meal like they’re the last bagels we are ever going to see in our entire lives), we head to the Alaska State Museum where we are impressed with the displays—which give a nice crash course in Alaskan culture, history and art—but not so impressed with all the typos in the write-ups accompanying these displays.

Less than 20 minutes from downtown is Juneau’s biggest attraction, the massive Mendenhall Glacier which is part of the 1,500 square mile Juneau Icefield. Like most glaciers, the Mendenhall is retreating—experts estimate it loses between 100-150 feet a year. But, for now, it’s the most easily accessible glacier we’ve ever been to.

In a light drizzle (remember those hooks for wet coats outside our room?) we pass the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center and head for the East Glacier Loop Trail, a 3.5 mile mossy, lush amble through 100-200 year old forest with awesome views of the glacier below. Back at the Visitors Center we get an awesome view (as in 10 feet away) of a young grizzly (one of three resident bears) as it roams around the grounds looking for fish and roots. Rangers tell us there’s also a wolf that’s frequently sighted near the glacier and the trees are full of bald eagles even this late in salmon season since the fish remain in the streams here through November.

But what’s been in the local news a lot lately isn’t retreating ice or delicious bagels or late-breaking salmon. It’s a road. Right now, the only way to get to Juneau is by water or air. To remedy what he saw as an embarrassing lack of road access to Alaska’s state capital (and, some say, to increase the value of his own businesses and investments in the area), the former governor of Alaska got $15 million in federal money to begin work on a 68-mile road linking Juneau to Skagway and the existing Alaskan highway system.

The project, which has a full estimated price tag of nearly $300 million and has not even been approved yet, is opposed by a majority of Juneau residents and many other Alaskans. One concern is that there’s just no way to economically and safely build a road through the proposed route which presents daunting engineering challenges that we clearly saw as our ferry pulled into town (think steep, sheer, rocky cliffs dropping straight into the water).

But the main beef seems to be widespread concern that construction would damage ecologically sensitive areas around Juneau. One afternoon we drive our Silverado out to the end of the existing road to see for ourselves. Now, we’re not fancy botanists or anything, but the flora and fauna looked pretty awesome to us—and the Environmental Protection Agency seems to agree. In an extremely unusual move the EPA has publicly stated its opposition to the road to Juneau project.

Some locals are reportedly stating their opposition to the project by removing road survey markers at night.

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