Juneau, Alaska's isolated
coastal capital city, sits at the foot of the spruce-covered
Coast Mountains in Southeast Alaska. The downtown area, an
historic district with steep hills and brightly painted
homes, was built along the Gastineau Channel. A few miles
down the Egan Highway, or "out the road" as locals say, the
Mendenhall Glacier sprawls across the vast valley of the
by National Ocean Service, NOAA). Click
image for a larger view.
Weather: Wet, mild weather, with average summer
temperatures between 45 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit, and
winter temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees. Annual
precipitation averages 92 inches.
Juneau was originally a
fishing camp for Tlingit Indians who trolled the
salmon-rich waters of the Gastineau Channel.
In the 1880, George Pilz, a
German mining engineer, offered a reward to any Tlingit
coming forward with gold-rich ore from a local source.
The reward was considerable, and included one hundred
Hudson Bay blankets and paying work for the clan. When
Auk Tlingit Chief Kowee came forward with an impressive
gold sample and information on where to find more, Pilz
sent miners Richard Harris and Joe Juneau to investigate.
Chief Kowee led them up Silver Bow Basin to a stream
where, as Harris said, they saw "large pieces of quartz,
spangled over with gold." The stream, dubbed "Gold
Creek," runs through downtown Juneau.
That same year, on October
18, a day now known as "Alaska Day," Harris and Juneau
staked a mining claim and mapped out the 160-acre town
site of Harrisburg. Within a year, a gold-driven stampede
began, and hundreds of prospectors flowed into town. The
year-round population grew to 600, including 450 Tlingits
and 150 white miners.
By 1881, the town boasted a
bakery, a drugstore, blacksmith shop and several saloons,
and a new name: Juneau City. In 1906, Juneau became the
territorial capital, and in 1959, the state capital.
Pierre Erussard, a French
Canadian miner, found gold ore on Douglas Island in 1882,
on the site that eventually became the Treadwell Mine,
which operated until 1917.
When the Elder
steamed up the Inside Passage in 1899, there were several
mines in operation, but it was the steady din of the
Treadwell that caught the passengers'
On the recommendation of the
ship's mining engineer, Walter Devereux, the expedition
toured the mine, taking note of the mine's considerable
size and its level of activity. Several also remarked on
the effect the mine had on the surrounding forest, which
had been clear cut, in some cases the landscape scraped
bare. The air above the channel was clouded with haze.
The sound of the mine's new hard-rock equipment was so
loud, John Burroughs said Niagara Falls was "only a soft
hum" in comparison. Frederick Dellenbaugh mistook the
noise for cannon fire.
When the Harriman passengers
docked in Juneau, the town had a population of about
2,000, some of them Tlingits familiar with the spending
habits of tourists. Many offered Native art and craft
items for sale, and the Harriman group spent their time
in Juneau exploring these early tourist shops.
Dellenbaugh bought a small, carved model of a dugout
Almost 45 percent of
Juneau's adult population works for the state and federal
governments. This number climbs during the state
legislative session that runs each year between January
Another major industry in
the area is fishing -- over 600 Juneau residents hold
commercial fishing licenses and cold storage facilities
process over 2 million pounds of seafood yearly. A few
mines continue to operate in the area, among them the
Kennekott Green Creek Mine, the largest silver mine in
North America, which also produces gold, lead and
Tourism is a major factor in
Juneau's economy. This year, over 560,000 visitors are
expected to arrive in close to 400 cruise ships, tripling
the population on downtown streets and bolstering the
local economy by $80 million. The tourism industry
creates about 2,000 seasonal, primarily minimum wage,
Juneau, and many other
communities in southeastern Alaska are grappling with the
environmental problems of tourism and the ever-growing
cruise industry. The state government is looking at the
possibility of tightening its regulations of tour boats,
or putting a "head tax" on the tourists that visit.
One environmental worry is
ship discharge. Currently cruise ships are allowed to
empty "gray water," water from sinks and showers, and
"black water," sewage, directly into the Alaskan waters
if the discharged water meets federal standards for
bacteria levels. The Coast Guard enforces these
regulations, and many cruise lines participate in a
voluntary reporting system, but violations still occur.
In the past few years, more than one ship has been fined,
and at least one ship has been charged with criminal
neglect after releasing large amounts of gray and black
water with high bacteria counts and other pollutants. One
ship was charged with dumping black water 3,500 percent
above federal standards for fecal coliform.