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Off-the-clock

Off the Clock: Alaska

Whether it’s for business or pleasure, Moira and I love to travel. And it’s been a lifelong goal of mine to visit each of the 50 states. I’ve been stuck at 49 for the better part of a decade and my white whale (Alaska) has been very near the top of my travel wishlist for some time now.

But with our wedding photography business, it can be difficult to find time to travel just for fun, especially this time of year. As luck would have it, however, when I opened up my summer calendar to figure out if we could squeeze in some time on the road, there it was: a nice little opening in the middle of June. So I did what any responsible travel bug would do and hopped onto Kayak Explore to quickly scan the globe for cheap flights. My eye immediately went to The Last Frontier, where a $270 flight to Juneau had our names written all over it.

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We stayed in a spacious garage-top apartment in Auke Bay, a tranquil area about 15 miles north of downtown Juneau. For anyone planning to visit Juneau in the future, we highly recommend looking up Tom and Nelda on VRBO.

air bnb in juneau
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On our first day, after a few short hours of sleep (the bright night sky affected us more than we’d expected), we hiked to Nugget Falls in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreational Area, took a scenic drive out to Douglas Island, and rode up the Mount Roberts Tramway for an evening hike on Mount Roberts Trail and dinner at the Timberline Bar & Grill.

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nugget falls in juneau
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gondola view in juneau
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drinking beers at the gondola bar in juneau

On day two, we were up at the proverbial ass-crack of dawn to board the Captain Cook for a ten-hour boat tour out to the awe-inspiring Tracy Arm Fjord. It was a long, slow journey, but the views of the icebergs, waterfalls, wildlife and, of course, the North Sawyer Glacier, were breathtaking.

When we returned to harbor that evening, we took a stroll through downtown to the world famous tourist trap Red Dog Saloon for dinner and an unforeseen country-western singalong lead by a local musician.

touring the tracy arm fjord
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On to day three.

We drove north up the coast to the Shrine of St. Therese, which is a quaint little chapel perched on the end of a narrow peninsula. The highlight here was walking among a flock of bald eagles out on the rocks. I kicked myself a bit for not bringing a lens longer than 70mm, but when you don’t have a wedding to shoot, it can be freeing to not have a bunch of camera gear to schlep around.

Then it was back to town for a beverage at the Alaskan Brewing Company. We paid for the guided tasting, but ended up doing a sort of impromptu private tour with  two of the brewery’s brewmasters, who let us try their new experimental Cream Ale (not yet available to the public). They told us not to tell anyone, so be sure to keep this between us (wink, wink).

We capped off the night with dinner at Chan’s Thai Kitchen, which was nothing to write home about (certainly no U.S. Thai [our favorite place in the Denver metro area]), but hey, Juneau’s a small town and I applaud the fact that they have a Thai restaurant at all.

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bald eagle near juneau
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misty mountains surrounding juneau

Day four.

Rain, rain and more rain. We suited up in our non-absorbent attire and did a nice hike around Auke Lake, followed by a walking tour of the University of Alaska Southeast. Then it was on to the DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, where, being the only ones there, we were treated to a private tour during which we learned a lot about what goes into masturbating male salmon… among other things.

Afterward, we headed down to the Gold Town Nickelodeon, a small art house theater in the middle of downtown Juneau, for a showing of High-Rise. I give it a 3/10, but will spare you the full critique.

A walk around downtown, highlighted by a book purchase at Rainy Retreat Books, a beverage at the Alaskan Hotel Bar and halibut tacos at Hanger on the Wharf concluded the day’s itinerary.

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cool old book store in downtown juneau
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cool old movie theater in juneau
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The climax of the trip came on the afternoon of day five: a helicopter tour of the Juneau Icefield complete with a landing on Herbert Glacier. It was short, but well worth the expense and, in my humble opinion, resulted in some great photos of one of the most impressive ice fields in Alaska.

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helicopter tour in juneau
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helicopter tour of the juneau ice field
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nugget falls at mendenhall glacier

So there you have it: Jesse and Moira’s trip to Alaska in a nutshell. Now that I’ve reached my goal of visiting all 50 states, I’m open to suggestions for a new goal. Visit 50 countries? All seven continents? Or possibly patronize every Starbucks in the Denver metro area? Nah. The 50 countries thing would be much easier. And cheaper.

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