Cruise Town, Ep. 6: Five Stars

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The Mendenhall Glacier is 9 miles from downtown Juneau as the raven flies. About 12 by bus. And Juneau’s suburb is the Mendenhall Valley, created by the 300-year retreat of the glacier. Recolonized first by moss, then alder and willow, and finally hemlock, sitka spruce, cul de sacs and ranch houses.

The glacier visitor center is a very 1960s building, designed by a guy with a New Deal background, so it feels like the Civilian Conservation Corp. meets Disney’s Tomorrowland. It’s rounded. With windows tilted out over where the glacier used to be. It’s a few miles away now, but the views are still spectacular.

You can see the real glacier right outside the window, but there’s a diorama of the glacier inside with lit up blue crevasses and a soundtrack playing overhead with the close up sound of the drips in the ice caves and the crashing sounds of a moving glacier.

Most of the people who visit Juneau by cruise ship are going to do one of two things when they get off their ship: take a bus out to the Mendenhall Glacier or go whale watching.

An Alaska cruise is all about the scenery. Sure, there’s plenty of fun to have on the ship, but the reason people come to Alaska is for the wild beauty of it. They come for nature.

And Juneau doesn’t disappoint.

But, this episode is about how Alaska can make some people squirm. Because climate change is so in-your-face here.

And the act of visiting Alaska and the Mendenhall Glacier is contributing to its demise. The whales might be starting to change their behavior after years of being chased by tour boats.

There’s an inherent irony in the fact that these attractions are being impacted more and more as they get more popular. And people tell their friends about getting up close and personal with a glacier or seeing humpback whales bubble feeding — which is something they only do in this part of the world– and then more people want to come!

And at some point, it’s just going to be too much, but no one knows when exactly that’s going to happen. And some people worry that we’re not going to know that it’s happened until it’s way too late to stop it.

Our theme music is “Juice Man” composed and performed by Whiskey Class. We also used “Taxi” from the band Revilla, “6 Faces, 1 Visage” by 11th Floor,  Shady Grove by Shake that Little Foot , “It’s alright” – Jenny Jahlee  “52 Hertz Whale” by The Mugris.

Jennifer Pemberton

Managing Editor, KTOO

I bring stories from the community into the KTOO newsroom so that all of our reporting matters. I want to hear my community’s struggles and its wins reflected in our coverage. Does our reporting reflect your experience in Juneau?

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