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January 8, 2013

Juneau -- Small in size, big in attractions

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With a population of less than 31,000, Juneau is the nation’s sixth smallest state capital. But what it lacks in population it more than makes up in attractions.

Accessible only by air and sea, Juneau’s major thoroughfare runs only five miles to the south and 40 miles to the north. High towering mountains block further travel  and make Juneau only one of four state capitals not served by an interstate. By area, Juneau is the nation’s third largest municipality (3,225 square miles) and the only state capital to border another country, Canada.

With Elizabeth Arnett, tourism marketing manager of the city’s CVB leading the way, I managed a leisurely look around the area while my Holland America cruise ship, the ms Oosterdam, sat in the harbor.

"All of the legendary Alaskan experiences are about 20 minutes from the docks," said Arnett as we made our way to the famous Mendenhall Glacier, a short ride from downtown.

The Mendenhall is one of 38 glaciers that feed off the massive Juneau Icefield, which is almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The glacier is currently about 12 miles long, considerably less than its greatest most recent length back in the mid 1700s. From the new and modern visitors center, glacier watchers can walk down a trail that leads to a panoramic view of the ice sheet that spills into a lake.

Average snowfall on the Juneau Icefield is a whopping 100 feet, and Arnett pointed out that it takes 200 to 250 years from the time a snowflake falls to the ground to make its way to the lake.

Something I found most interesting was the trail that took me by a salmon run, full of fish making their way to their breeding grounds. From a raised boardwalk, I saw numerous salmon, thick in the water, and even caught an upclose look as a bear emerged from the woods and snatched an easy dinner.

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