I had a lazy morning for once, and spent most of it processing yesterdays photos and catching up on Facebook. The afternoon was thankfully dry, so my trip out to the Mendenhall Glacier was well timed.
Now, remember a week ago when I said that the wildlife seems to be hiding from me? That is no longer an accurate statement; Juneau has more than made up for the lack of wildlife in my early days of this trip. The Mendenhall Glacier is a prime black bear viewing point along the Steep Creek Trail. Steep Creek starts in the forest around Juneau and finishes in the Mendenhall Lake, and is one of the places where between July and September sockeye and coho salmon go to spawn. Brown and black bears are to be seen in abundance because of the salmon. Additionally, beaver and porcupine also call this home, not to mention the large amount of birds.
As I got into the car park I realized that everyone was looking into the trees and sure enough, a young black bear cub had clambered up a tree right by the car park. Moving on along the trail over some walkways it became apparent that my luck was in and I managed to watch first of all the black bear mum trying to hunt for salmon and then this brown coloured black bear arrived some time later to try his luck.
And here is what all these bears in Alaska during this time of year are after: salmon.
On my way round the trail I came across a crowd of people and some rangers. Seems that a little porcupine had decided to step onto the boardwalk and refused to be shooed back into the forest. The rangers kept everyone back to give the animal some space and then one of them radioed for a bucket and a shovel. What arrived was a bucket and one of those warning signs, both of which were then employed to get said porcupine into the bucket. After a little cat and mouse game between ranger and porcupine, the ranger won, got the little rascal into the bucket and put him back into the forest just by the side of the boardwalk. He look a little frustrated, as if he had planned to walk the boardwalk and was now being made to make a difficult detour.
After all that I made my way to the glacier and the adjacent Nugget Falls. The Mendenhall Glacier flows 13 miles from its source, the Juneau Ice Fields, into the Mendenhall Lake and has a half-mile wide face. Current estimates forecast that the glacier will retreat onto land in the next 5 years and will retreat completely out of view from the observation decks within the next 25 years. The Mendenhall Glacier is one of almost 40 glaciers originating from the Juneau Ice Fields and is the most accessible glacier in the US. The best time to see the glacier is actually when it is overcast, when the blue colour it transmits is at its best. Glaciers absorb all colours of the spectrum except blue, hence we get a spectacular blue colour display.
At the side of the glacier you can just see Nugget Falls emptying into the lake. This waterfall is fed by Nugget Creek, which in turn is fed by the Nugget Glacier, and drops 377 feet/115 m in two tiers into the lake.
Glacier water is the purest, most nurturing, cleanest water we have on earth, it’s a shame to think that global warming is slowly depleting this great source of water.
Along the pathway to the sandy bank you see in the picture above I found this plaque:
Back at the hotel I logged on to the internet to find out what the story behind this is. Seems that in 2003 or so a black wolf was all that was left of a pack of 13 wolves, which were culled by the authorities. This black wolf seemed to long for company and sought it from the humans and their dogs that would visit the Mendenhall Valley. There are a lot of pictures online showing Romeo, as he was named by the locals, playing with dogs being taken out for a walk in that area. In 2009 this lone wolf suddenly disappeared and eventually police charged two individuals for hunting wolf and bear unlicensed. They retrieved a black wolf fur, which helped to identify the dead animal as being Romeo. Residents were deeply affected by this, as they had all gotten to love this wild animal, and I guess his playmates the dogs must have missed him too. Local residents organized a memorial service for Romeo and had this plague made and erected in Romeo’s favourite hang out near the Mendenhall Glacier.
I think I like Juneau even more now.
I will be offline for a couple of days whilst I am on the 2 day ferry to Whittier, which is 1 1/2 hours south of Anchorage. So my next update will be from Anchorage in a few days time, Wi-Fi permitting of course.