Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but it's quite a small city. Due to the rugged terrain, the only way in or out is by water or by air. You can't drive in or out, but there are still a lot of motor vehicles around.
One of the first things that struck me was the tall mountains looming over "downtown" with very steep streams.
The geology of Alaska (particularly the panhandle) is quite young compared to the rest of North America. In a few million years these mountains should be worn down and the streams won't be as steep. Hopefully, I'll be able to retire by then and come back to see it.
We signed up for a combination city tour/gold panning/salmon bake. The tour guide picked us up at the dock and drove around the city for about an hour pointing out various points of interest and filling us in on local history.
The city consists of the port area and residential areas that creep up the hillsides away from the port. The tour guide drove us up and down some very steep hills that reminded me, somewhat, of Sausalito or San Francisco.
The tour guide talked about Alaska's young governor, who had just had a baby a few months earlier. This, of course, was Sarah Palin.
At the end of the tour, the guide took us up past the populated part of the city to one of the streams. There he showed us how to scoop up the sand from the streambed and use a pie tin to slosh the sand and grit out to uncover gold flakes. These are known as placer deposits
Both Ira and I were able to collect a total of about half a gram of gold over the next hour. That works out to about $15. It didn't cover the cost of the excursion, but it was fun.
This is me managing my only remaining retirement plan:
After the gold panning, the tour guide took us to a nice rustic outdoor restaurant where they had Alaska salmon and a lot of other food.
Once we were done eating, another bus driver picked us up and drove us back to the downtown area near the ship.
He talked about the Governor, too. He told us how she tried to get the head of the State Police to fire a trooper who was going through a nasty divorce from her sister. When the head of the State Police wouldn't do this, Gov. Palin fired him. The whole chain of events was being investigated by the state legislature.
Interestingly, this was on a Tuesday. On Friday of that week, John McCain named Gov. Palin as his running mate for president and she was thrust into the national spotlight.
The Juneau "business district" wasn't very interesting. It was some souvenir shops, a few bars, and a bunch of jewelry stores. The vast majority of tourists come via cruise ships, so there's no need for hotels or restaurants in town.
Here's an interesting shot showing the entrance/exit to the city's harbor: