Onboard Holland America’s Noordam: Visiting Juneau & Skagway

Helicopter landing on Taku Glacier, Juneau, AK
Helicopter landing on Taku Glacier, Juneau, AK
ABOARD NOORDAM-Shortly after docking in Juneau Monday afternoon, we set out on our glacier tour by helicopter.  Since I’d done a similar tour to Mendenhall Glacier some years ago, we switched to the “4 Glacier Adventure by Helicopter” excursion that featured a landing on Taku Glacier.  Like Mendenhall, Taku is part of the expansive 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield, although more remote and less visited.
Relatively clear skies and warm temperatures made for a near-perfect day of glacier viewing as we soared above several of the Icefield’s more than a dozen glaciers – looking from the air like massive rivers of ice – and then settling down near the terminus or toe of Taku Glacier for a 30-minute walk-about.
Strolling on the crunchy, crystalline surface of a glacier – said by our lady pilot/guide to be more than 100 feet thick – is an otherworldly experience to be sure.  One can almost imagine it to be like walking on the moon or a vast desert of ice.  Aquamarine rivulets and streams of melt-water thread the surface – and because it is probably among the purest and most potable water on earth, we all gave it a sip.
Back to reality, we paid a visit to Juneau’s crowded Franklin Street shopping district – busier than usual this day with four cruise ships in town.  We passed through the swinging doors of the legendary but touristy Red Dog Saloon for a brew, and ogled the latest bling from brands such as Cartier, Safi Kilima, LeVian, Raymond Weil and Hublot in Juneau’s increasingly chic and pricey shops – aimed of course at the summer cruise ship trade.
The well-worn swinging doors of the legendary Red Dog Saloon, Juneau, AK.
The well-worn swinging doors of the legendary Red Dog Saloon, Juneau, AK.

Yesterday was Tuesday and so it must have been Skagway where brother Al and I teamed up on a rivering adventure, journeying into the wilderness of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines onboard specially designed jet boats.  This tour, operated since 1991 by locally owned River Adventures, found us skimming for a couple of hours along the fast-flowing Chilkat River in search of resident wildlife — primarily moose, bears and eagles.  While the scenery was enthralling, wildlife was surprisingly scarce.  All we spotted were a few nesting eagles and the rump end of a fleeing moose.

Wildlife watching on a Chilkat River  adventure, Haines, AK.
Wildlife watching on a Chilkat River adventure, Haines, AK.
On the other hand, Mel and Joy, who opted for a “Musher’s Camp & Sled Dog Experience” — utilizing wheeled sleds pulled by teams of huskies along a summer training course in Tongass National Forest — experienced a close-up encounter with a huge grizzly.  The beast was nonchalantly foraging for skunk cabbage, providing tour members plenty of photo ops.
On the agenda for today: cruising the incomparable Glacier Bay where, alas, it has dawned rather dark and dreary…but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

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