Only a few miles outside of Alaska’s capital (on the only road out of town) is the blue-white icy travel wonder of Mendenhall Glacier. As a poster-child for global warming, this river of ice has receded almost three kilometres in just fifty years, creating Mendenhall Lake at the front of the glacier. Slowly bulldozing its way down the valley, creaking and groaning, it’s beauty among the trees and lake, masks its sharp decline. Smaller bergs having carved off the main glacier float serenely in the lake.
The area includes a number of excellent short walks where salmon, glistening red in the icy pure waters, struggle their last distance upstream to their spawning grounds. In one of nature’s great mysteries, salmon return from the oceans to where they were hatched for their first and only time (science cannot explain this extraordinary feat of memory) laying or fertilising eggs, before dying. They also survive the transition from fresh to salt water, living their entire lives in the open ocean except for birth and reproduction.
If you are fortunate, you may see a black bear or two feverishly hunting the water to prey upon the salmon thrashing their way through the shallow stream beds. The bears’ skills vary dramatically, some able to comfortably pocket a salmon with a simple strike of a paw while others awkwardly pounce in almost comic attempts to satisfy their boundless hunger. Excited whispers ripple through the gathered walkers as they eagerly view the frenzied feeding as the lumbering black bears continue to fill their stomachs in readiness for the pending winter slumber.
While Juneau is a picturesque and petite capital packed with government buildings, its highlight is undoubtedly the Mendenhall Glacier. After all, not many cities can boast a neighbouring glacier in its list of things to see.