|Northern Exposure: Juneau is Picture Perfect|
Most people try to leave work at home when on vacation. But I’m a photographer, and sometimes, try as I may, it’s just impossible to leave the camera alone. Perhaps nowhere has this been more true than on my first visit to Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is a place of such unique variety and incomparable beauty that within moments of my arrival, it became clear that it would be impossible to resist happily snapping away.
Surrounded by mountains and waterfront, Juneau is a delight to the camera lens. The view from the Mount Roberts Tramway is extraordinary. The tram, which leaves right from downtown, took me half way up the 3,819-foot Mount Roberts. I snapped a shot of the city; the buildings looking almost cosmopolitan as they tuck themselves into the Chilkat Mountains. Hiking trails lead up the remaining one to two miles of Mount Roberts, and it is well worth the excursion. Not only are the views even more amazing—glaciers, mountains, icefields and the cities of Juneau and Douglas all sharing one panorama, but the mountaintop is filled with wildlife. As I was taking another shot of Juneau’s cityscape, an unexpected visitor—a brown bear—invited himself into the frame.
Another fun way to take in Juneau’s scenery is the Bike and Brew, a bike tour I took that passes through Auke Bay—a great place for whale-watching—and Mendenhall Glacier, where I snapped a photo that looks almost otherworldly: a thrashing waterfall rushing into an iceberg-filled lake that pools around the bulk of the glacier. It seemed impossible that so much free-flowing water could be falling next to a slab of ice 12-miles long, but I have the photo to prove it! The nine-mile ride ends at Alaska’s largest brewery, the Alaskan Brewing Company, where I sampled several delicious brews, including those not yet released for sale.
Juneau’s downtown is equally intriguing. The streets are lined with hotels and taverns that hearken back to Juneau’s Gold Rush past—many of them are more than 100 years old. There is the famous Red Dog Saloon, where a pianist hammers out ragtime tunes and the walls are decorated with the likes of Wyatt Earp’s gun. The Alaskan Hotel, Juneau’s oldest continuously operating hotel, was once a bordello catering to miners. There is also the Goldstein Building, a former department store which served as the state Capitol three times; and my favorite, the Governor’s House, with a totem pole depicting the origins of the mosquito. The street-scene photos I shot here are what I can only imagine Gold Rush-era postcards would have looked like—except for the modern clothes and the cars parked along the streets, of course.
Juneau’s most fascinating architectural sight is the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Built in 1893 in Siberia, disassembled and shipped to Juneau in 1894, its services were originally conducted in both English and the indigenous Tlingit language. It’s an intriguing building, octagonally-shaped and quite small. Even so, it still has a quintessentially Russian gilded onion dome—albeit a shrunken one. In the photo I shot, with the mountains towering behind it, the church looks like a cathedral that has been miniaturized for frontier-town practicality’s sake. It’s a fascinating sort of time capsule, and a perfect image that encapsulates the unique blend of nature and the man-made that makes Juneau so ripe for exploration.