Did you ever read the book Into Thin Air? Krakaur describes the journey to get from one base camp to another and when it’s time to summit there’s gridlock – a traffic jam – of eager mountain climbing conquerors that have emerged from other base camps on that one good summit day. We’ve slowly plodded, albeit eagerly, to Juneau by way of road and dawdling ferries over a three and a half week period leisurely stopping at quiet scenic campgrounds and small cities. Only to arrive at a congested little town flanked with monstrous multistoried feats of transport engineering: the cruise ship.
After a 29 hour ferry ride we made it to Juneau, Alaska. The Taku (Alaska Marine Highway ferry) left Prince Rupert 4 hours later than the original scheduled time of 645am. The skies were clear the majority of the first day but as the sun set, around 1030pm the clouds moved in. We (and a few others) opted to sleep on deck under the solarium which had heaters aiming downward to keet us warm. However, the sound of the rumbling ferry motor was a trade off to sleeping below on the floor with hormonal teenagers running around.
Bruce slept as I awoke in the middle of the night hoping to see the Aurora Borealis. No luck, just some rain drops in my face at 2am. A fitful sleep until 6am I decided to get up and on with my day. It was foggy with islands peeping in and out of view. A large cruise ship off the stern looked like a ghost ship. After a nice hearty oatmeal breakfast Bruce headed below for a comfortable seat and more sleep. He was not feeling well. I stayed on deck reading, watching the rain, hoping to see some wildlife swim or fly by.
We saw whales sounding and birds perched on icebergs as we puttered by.
Arriving in Juneau was good and bad. The good is we loved BC but were glad to be back in US territory. Gas is in the 4.60s (vs 5.50s in BC) and food on the ferry was half of what it was on the BC ferries. Although, the Taku was 45 years old it was just as high quality as the BC ferries…..good ole US prices made things appear reasonable again.
The bad is Juneau appears to be a mega tourist trap, it was cold, rainy and Bruce was not getting any better. There were 2 large cruise ships docked and the streets were abuzz with shoppers. We stopped at the information office (unable to park in their empty parking lot reserved for buses, they directed us to drive to a parking garage) to inquire about a hotel. We scrapped our original plans to camp due to the weather and Bruce’s queasy stomach. It’s been more than 2 weeks since we’ve slept in a real bed and there’s no better time than now. The information ladies told us we’re the 4th ppl to walk in needing a hotel and there are none available in Juneau.
I was here 14 years ago with a botany/geology group and recall tourist activity but nothing like today. Back then the government was the main economic support (and still is) as Juneau is the capital of Alaska. Tourism is second and fishing is third. As of this moment, summer time – that one good summit day - there is gridlock with cruise ship and foot traffic. I guess we expected to find a town with hole-in-the wall restaurants, quaint coffee shops and fisherman, kind of like Prince Rupert.
As we’ve traveled to various places (especially natural scenic destinations) over the years we’ve come to realize you can never go back. To go back is to go to a place in time….we need a time machine. It changes as avenues open by way of ease of transportation, usually driven by economic gain. However, there is no one to blame as it is what most of us strive for: financial security to travel and see all these wonderful places. After all, we're here, right? However, there are 2-6 cruise ships in every day during the summer. Maybe a limit should be put on the number of ships and a forewarning of crowding, just like climbers summiting Everest.
The Juneau I visit 14 years ago has “progressed” and now there is not even a hotel room for us, no parking places and the streets are jammed. We drove toward Mendenhall Campground and along the way found a Motel 8. Now, there were the days when Motel 8 was for the thrifty traveler…well, here we are revisiting this wonderful chain. For only $150/night we have a room……out of town, past the airport. Yep, times have changed.