Juneau abuts the Tongass National Forrest and there is so much to do for a short visit. Aside from being a hiker and a naturalist paradise, it is full of history as well. I never thought of the forests as a rainforest until a ranger at the visitor center described the Tongass National Forrest as a temperate rainforest. Receiving 92 inches of rain per year in 239 rainy days (and Ketchikan just south receives 142 inches of annual rainfall in 234 days) definitely qualify this region as a rainforest.
In our short visit we focused on two activities: Whale Watching and the Mendenhall Glacier.
The Mendenhall Glacier
We took a bus to the glacier’s visitor center. The weather was overcast. Many of the trails were closed due to flooding. However, in between cloudbursts we could see the area was teeming with life. With a short season, life must start, grow, and fortify in a short amount of time. These birds were hungry! and they let us know it.
We hiked several of the smaller trails, but in the rain, we spent most of the time in the visitor center.
On the way back to our hotel, the river was raging. The local news called it a Jökulhlaup. Essentially, a buildup of water blocked by a glacier generates so much pressure the dam breaks releasing a massive discharge of water. There was a powerful time lapse video provided by Extreme Ice Survey. This video took images of the Mendenhall glacier from 2007 to 2015. Given a limitation on our attention span we frequently do not get a chance to see glaciers move, not to mention disappear. However, this project helps people with geologic time vision.
We set out early in the morning in a small boat that fit nearly 20 people. It wasn’t long before the captain found a group of feeding humpback whales using a technique called bubble net fishing. They would dive deep, then come up from the bottom blowing bubbles that traps their prey in tiny areas, allowing them to gobble up the krill. Interestingly enough, not all humpback whales know how to do this, and only one other whale species does this.
I’d seen humpback whales before from land on their migratory path along Point Reyes National Seashore, but I had never been this close to them. Growing up, these majestic animals were on the endangered species list. A 1982 worldwide convention ban has taken nearly 30 years to take effect for these animals. We can make a difference, but it takes time and commitment. Nature needs time to recover. Will we give it, and do people care enough? Enough people did in the early 80s.