Our flight back from Wrangell to Seattle had an 8-hour lay-over in Juneau and we were excited about the extra time in Alaska. We took a city bus from the airport down to the harbor. Although we feel it gave us a true perspective of city life, we would have been better off renting a car at the airport for the day since the bus ride took an entire hour of our limited time. The bus dropped us off at “The Harbor”, which is a big shopping mall located right where passengers disembark from the humongous cruise ships. We saw at least three big cruise ships docked while we were there and hordes of tourists. The Harbor has a few over-priced restaurants, souvenir shops, and tons of jewelry stores which are not local to Alaska at all but come from the Caribbean; a fact the locals resent and will let you know unequivocally. The street is lined with souvenir shops and even more of those Caribbean jewelers. It is well kept and bustling but definitely a tourist trap. Once you leave the ocean front, the city takes on a much different feel: quieter and real. A short walk uphill got us to the Capitol Building.
The town, away from the bustle of the tourist trade, acquires a sad air.
What saves Juneau from being a total bust is the Mendenhall Glacier.
You would think we’d had enough of glaciers already but it wouldn’t be true, watching a glacier throw chunks of ice into the water doesn’t get old. There are several hikes surrounding the glacier, ranging from easy to moderate, and the waterfall is accessible from the longest one. The visitor center has specimens of bears and wolves to look at, a short movie on the history of the glacier and of course, souvenirs.
After a few hours spent here, we made our way back to the airport and our flight to Seattle.
Once back in Seattle we toured the Chittenden Locks which allow for boat traffic between Pugent Sound and Lakes Washington and Union. The locks were built to ensure that the salt water of Pugent Sound doesn’t mix with the lake water with devastating consequences for the ecosystem. Observing the gates open and the boats pass by is very interesting
as is also watching the salmon use the fish ladder to return to their spawning grounds by looking thru windows as they swim thru.
We had missed visiting the Space Needle on our way to Alaska so we made sure to visit it this time around. It seems to me that us people are always drawn to climb the tall structures of wherever we may be. The views of the city from the Needle are nice
but in hindsight, I wish we had spent our time visiting the Science Museum (located beneath the Needle) instead. Once we climbed down, we found a festival taking place on the grounds so we had dinner and spent some time listening to music here before driving down to Portland, Oregon.
We loved Portland. The city has a vibrant feel to it without the traffic congestion of other, similar sized, cities.
We visited the Science Museum here and although it seems to be geared to the under-12 bunch, we had a hard time pulling the boys away.
We also did a whirlwind tour of the Oregon Historical Society Museum and the 9-story tall mural depicting the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Portland is nicknamed “The City of Roses” due to its enormous collection of roses at the “Rose Garden”. As soon as we left our car, the scent of the roses hit us, this is a very nice place to have a picnic or simply take a walk.
We left the next morning headed east and followed the Columbia river and the trail of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
There is a small museum in Lewiston, ID (right across the river from Clarkston, WA) and it even has a wooden statue of Seaman: Captain Lewis’ dog.
We stopped at a few historical markers where the expedition made camp and imagined what it must have felt like for them to be traveling on this river.
There are so many markers though that eventually we just had to look at them from the road or risk taking a couple of years, just like they did, to get home. This route brought us north once again through Washington and then east to Idaho. The landscapes in both states were a surprise to us. We expected Washington to be green but instead found fields of wheat everywhere
and while we expected Idaho to look arid, we found beautiful evergreen forests lining the road.
In Idaho, we drove through the Clearwater National Forest and found it so beautiful we wished we had time to explore more of it.
This must be one of the most under-rated parks in the nation since it is located close to Yellowstone and thus easy to overlook. We could have spent a couple of weeks camping in its many sites and not get bored, that’s how great it is. We didn’t have time for that though, so we added it to the list of places to come back to and pushed on to Yellowstone.