"Extreme" is the word that best describes Alaska. America's most extreme northern state (one-third lies in the Arctic Circle), offers a landscape of paradoxical beauty that is both pristine and perilous. It's the land of blue ice and white thunder. "Blue ice" is the pale turquoise ice floes that float passively upon midnight blue water at the foot of "white thunder,"gigantic glaciers that look like frozen tidal waves about to consume the watery landscape into its terrifying immensity. Although Alaska is the largest state in the Union, (two and one-half times the size of Texas), its troublesome terrain prohibits easy intercity travel, thus enabling each Alaskan city and town to preserve its unique charm and maintain its village-like quality, staked with ancient totem poles. Behemoth snow-covered mountains with menacing jagged peaks preside over charming little towns of humble, one- and two-story wooden buildings. American Bald Eagles soar over the onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches, reminiscent of the time when Alaska belonged to Russia. Although cruise ships and airlines try to penetrate this massive snow-fortified landscape, much of the land remains a vast wilderness that forbids man's taming or domestication. Alaska is full of awe-inspiring beauty and deadly danger -- the two extremes of Mother Nature's personality. As the state's unofficial nickname quietly states, it is "The Last Frontier."
STATE TOURIST INFORMATION (907) 465-2010
Since no major roads travel in or out of the city, Juneau is the only landlocked capital in the United States. Fortunately, frequent air and boat service makes this hard-to-reach capital a manageable trek that is worth every effort. Where else can you find state business going on at the foot of a snow-covered mountain, down the street from a moving glacier, near a lush rain forest, in a wilderness where bears still roam freely and Bald Eagles soar overhead, and where Tlingit totem poles, onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches, the remnants of 19 century gold miners mark their distinctive claim on the capital's history?
Statehouse (907) 586-2201
Built in 1931 as the Territorial and Federal Building, this modern, concrete structure was given to the new state in 1959 to serve as the State Capitol and has housed the State Legislature, Governor's office and Lt. Governor's office ever since. The exterior is brick-faced, reinforced concrete. Four exterior columns announcing the front entrance are Tokeen marble from Prince of Wales Island, south of Juneau. The Alaska State Seal in the lobby is made from pure gold nuggets.The doors to the Senate Chambers have handles of hand cast brass in a totemic design representing an eagle, a whale and a bear . . . still common sights in Juneau.
Check it out . . . Notice the portrait in the lobby of former state senator Bettye Fahrenkamp. The earrings she's wearing mean "in one ear, out the other," which she wore during all the sessions of the Senate.
Check it out . . . The map of Alaska on the third floor is made from a piece of pipe from the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
Alaska State Museum (907) 465-2901
Founded as a territorial museum in 1900 the Alaska State Museum presents the natural history, Native history, state history, art and culture of the 49th state with exhibits containing more than 23,000 artifacts and works of art.
Check it out . . . The Alaska Native Gallery includes a Northwest Coast clan house complete with totems, a 38 ft. umiak, a whaling boat made from driftwood and covered with walrus skins and the unique bentwood hunting hat.
Check it out . . . The Natural History Gallery exhibits Alaska's bald eagles in a a full-sized nesting tree which includes seven eagles at various life stages, from egg to adult.
St. Nicholas Church
Above downtown Juneau is St. Nicholas Church, the oldest original Russian Orthodox church in Alaska. A gilded onion dome crowns a humble, thatched roof cottage of white clapboard trimmed in Nantucket Blue; the bell in a small steepled doorway beckons all to enter. Inside are solemn, 19th century Russian icons and liturgical items.
Tip: Weekend services sung in English, Tlingit, and Old Slavonic are held Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.
A few miles from downtown Juneau is one of Alaska's most popular attractions, Mendenhall Glacier. So close to town, yet so far removed from civilization, this primordial mass of ancient ice stretches 12 miles long, spans a width of 1-1/2 mile, and is anywhere from 400-800 feet deep. Naturalist John Muir considered it "one of the most beautiful of the coastal glaciers."An easy trail along Mendenhall Valley and Mendenhall Lake leads to close-up views of this massive chunk of ice and rock, which is only one arm of the colossal Juneau Ice field, a 1500-square-mile block of ice larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
TRACY ARM FJORD
This magical, narrow waterway, 25 miles long, is hemmed in by jagged mountains with towering peaks that puncture a cloudless blue sky as the base of these mammoth mounds descend into the never-ending depths of a turquoise sea. White icecaps float by like whipped meringue on a aquamarine pie, with a crust of snow-covered mountains. Waterfalls spew out among the evergreens, cascading into an awaiting green sea, beautifully synchronized like the well-rehearsed leap of a ballerina into the arms of her anticipating partner. The wide-winged Bald eagle commands the skies overhead as whales, seals, porpoise, and other wildlife splash and splatter in their backyard swimming hole, fenced in by stone palisades. A thick wall of blue ice suddenly appears like a frozen fortress protecting an ice palace. Everywhere is life, energy, shivering and shimmering beauty. Glaciers, waterfalls, feathery pines, and perky ice floes of translucent blue and opaque white make this a wintry fairyland that dazzles the eye and sparkles the spirit.
Adventure Bound Alaska, (800) 228-3875 or (907) 463-2509
As far as we're concerned, there's only one way to see Tracy Arm Fjord: a daylong cruise on "Adventure Bound Alaska." For only $99, you get a personalized tour by a husband-and-wife team who have been doing this for 22 years, and whose love for this land is evident in their backbreaking desire to show you close-up views of Nature's most intriguing formations. The number of people on this 56-foot boat is limited so that all may ride in comfort and see unobstructed views. Their space-per-person is the best. And like their brochure states, "We're not out to set any speed records. We take our time for photos and detailed views." It's a cruise that's friendly and informal, yet extremely professional. For more information, call (800) 228-3875, ask for Steve or Winona Weber.
OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:
No roads lead to Juneau. So truck and trailer had to remain in Nevada while we fly to the Alaska capital. Stayed in a hotel, a disappointing establishment not worth mentioning.