Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mendenhall Moods–Juneau, AK

June 28th-July 6th

Thursday, June 28th- We boarded the ferry, scheduled to leave Sitka at 2:45 pm and arrive in Juneau at 7:15pm. The ferry riding has been a relatively easy and fun experience, but the weather has been so variable with rain and fog making it difficult to enjoy the views. It was pretty weather, however, when we left, so we enjoyed watching the scenery as we passed through this very winding, narrow section of the Inside Passage.

The rain caught up with us by the time we got to Juneau. We were staying at Mendenhall Campground, one of the nicest Forest Service campgrounds, with large sites and full hook-ups. We set up camp in a steady drizzle and then dried off and fixed a quick bite of supper.To tell you the truth, we were so focused on finding our campsite and getting set up that it was morning before we noticed that we had a stunning view of Mendenhall glacier just a short walk from our site!


This picture was taken Friday morning from the campground, just across Mendenhall Lake from the glacier. The sky was not exactly clear (I  think that almost never happens here), but the rain had stopped, and the clouds had lifted.

Two years ago when we had visited Alaska, we had ridden the ferry from Haines to Juneau for a short overnight visit. We had stayed at the Silver Bow Bakery and B & B downtown, and just had time for a little downtown sightseeing and an early morning whale watching tour. We never did make it out to the glacier.

This time, in addition to taking a few days to go out to Glacier Bay, NP, we had plenty enough time planned to see the glacier and explore the shops downtown, as well as take care of a few chores such as a postal stop, laundry, and grocery shopping, while we were in the ‘big city’. We enjoy the older section of downtown, but do not really like all the shops which are set up for the cruise ships. We did, however, make the Silver Bow, one of the oldest bakeries in Juneau, a regular stop. The combination of a good mocha, a toasted bagel, and Wi-Fi is irresistible…..    : ) 

By the time we left Juneau, we felt like we had really gotten a ‘feel’ for the area. We had driven from the campground into the downtown, and around the suburbs. That is the real advantage of traveling with our own transportation.

One of our favorite parts of staying out at Mendenhall Campground was being able to see the glacier whenever we went for a walk. The glacier has its own presence……and you sense its many ‘moods’. You feel like you are looking at something ancient….a powerful force of change.


The water was still….the lighting (sun?) just so……


Friday afternoon, we drove around to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center to get our first up-close look at the glacier. We watched the visitors center film on glacier, and felt that this was the perfect  start for our ‘glacier experience’. Saturday, we would board the ferry to go to Gustavus and on to Glacier Bay National Park, where we would spend 3 nights at the Glacier Bay Lodge. Note – We had made arrangements to kennel Jade for this time with a wonderful woman named Martha at Canines Unlimited, which worked out very well.


Mendenhall Glacier……1/2 mile wide and 100 feet high at the base… is difficult to appreciate the size without perspective.


And, of course, that wonderful blue ice…….


The color is so beautiful……



The floating icebergs from freshly ‘calved’ chucks off the glacier. These floating icebergs began their life on the glacier as snow which fell at the top of the glacier two-hundred years ago. The snow compressed into glacial ice and, over time, made its way down the mountain to the foot of the glacier. As the glacial ice meets the water, warming and cracking occurs, causing the chunks (anywhere from small to house sized) to break off, or ‘calve’.


Nugget Falls…..glacial run-off beside Mendenhall Glacier.


The falls are huge! And the roar from the falls could be heard across the lake at our campground.

We happened to be around for an example of the forces of change that occur from the glacier. We were walking around the campground and noticed the rising water levels in the lake.


This walkway goes down to a beach, which was not underwater on Friday June 29th……then on July 4th, the bottom of the ramp was getting wet……and on July 5th the water covered the whole ramp.


We had heard talk about flood waters……And noticed the sign……


We were witnessing a glacial lake outburst…..where water which builds up in a basin behind the glacier, with the glacier acting as an ice dam, which suddenly ‘lifts’ and allows the water to drain…..causing the water levels in the lake to suddenly rise. This happened last year, and the rise in water level was 11 feet, causing the campground to be evacuated. Fortunately, the water level in Mendenhall Lake only rose 6 feet before receding, and we did not have to worry.


The sudden release of water under the glacier caused a good bit of new calving. The picture on the left is Mendenhall Glacier and the lake before the outburst…..and on the right….after the outburst.


We noticed much more ice in the lake……Evidence of the continual changes occurring in what we like to believe is an unchanging and solid landscape.

1 comment:

  1. I had the same view of Mendhenall Glacier when I stayed at that campground two years ago. Also had the same type of weather ;-) although I did have one day of good weather for my "cruise" to Stacy Arm. Really enjoyed my visit to Juneau in spite of the five cruise ships that showed up one day!