Alaska was populated by many indigenous people who came from Asia by way of the Bering land bridge thousands of years ago during the ice age. In the 17th century, Russia established several settlements in Alaska and claimed ownership of a large tract of land.
The United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for 7.2 million U.S. dollars. Alaska remained a territory of the U.S. until January 3, 1959 when it was admitted as the 49th state of the union.
Alaska has mountains, mineral resources, forests, and abundant wildlife. North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali, is located in one of the largest U.S. National Parks. Alaska is the largest and most sparsely populated U.S. state, although its population increased substantially starting in the 1890s when gold was discovered in Canada's Klondike river in the Yukon territory. The port cities of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan along Alaska's western coast served as gateways for the thousands of prospectors and adventurers who went to Alaska hoping to strike it rich.
Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906. It has about 33,000 inhabitants. Cruise ships bring hundreds of tourists to the city. The heart of Juneau is Franklin Street, which is packed with shops, bars, gold-rush theme restaurants, old-style taverns and saloons. The architecture looks like a Hollywood movie set from the Old West with wooden buildings decorated with clapboard balconies and Victorian-era flower boxes.
The Red Dog Saloon features chandeliers made from wagon wheels and rustic wooden tables and chairs. The walls are decorated with numerous hunting trophies.
Juneau is on the mainland along the Alaskan panhandle surrounded by rugged mountains. The city has an area of 3,255 square miles (8,430 km2), which makes it the second largest city in the United States. There are no roads that connect the city to the rest of Alaska or North America. All goods arrive and depart by airplane or by boat. Juneau has only one main road which is 16 miles long. One end of the road is at Mendenhall Glacier Park and the other end is along the coast three miles southeast of the downtown area. A bridge joins Juneau to Douglas Island, which has 12 miles of road. All the cars, trucks and buses in Juneau have been brought via the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, which is the floating roadway for Southeast Alaska.
Downtown Juneau is only a few blocks long. Most of the shops rely on tourism and have souvenirs such as key chains, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and warm clothing. There are also many jewelry shops.
Alaska is still a frontier between wildlife and human civilization. Fishing, glacier sightseeing, whale watching and kayaking are some of the most common tourist attractions in Juneau. The trail along the Mendenhall Glacier warns visitors about bears. All the trash cans have to be bear-proof. They are built of heavy metal and the lids can only be opened by a lid-release mechanism inside a metal shield that fits only human hands.
The air by the glacier is crisp even on a sunny day. You have to wear warm clothing.
The Mendenhall Glacier reached its maximum extent during the "little ice age" between 1600 and 1700. Much ice has been lost due to global warming. The glacier continues to retreat and it is possible that the glacier will be gone by the end of the 21st century.
Two brown bears came close to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center when I was there. A ranger warned the visitors to keep their distance and monitored the bears to make sure that they did not come closer to the area where the buses were parked.
Harvesting of Pacific salmon is a big industry in Alaska. The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery in Juneau rears and releases salmon into the wild to limit pressure on wild salmon spawning in streams and to enhance opportunities for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fishing. The hatchery is owned and operated by a private non-profit corporation, and it is funded by contributions from commercial fishermen who are interested in assuring sustainable fishing practices.
Alaska hatcheries collect millions of eggs from adult salmon returning from the sea. The eggs are placed in incubation trays after they are fertilized. In about a month, the embryos begin to develop eyes, and they begin to hatch after the second month. The young salmon in their "alevin" stage subsist off a yolk sac in their belly during the fall and winter in a dark environment. There is a constant flow of upwelling fresh water surrounding the developing salmon during their entire incubation period.
A fish ladder enables salmon returning from the sea to find their way to the hatchery where they were born. The eggs from the females are collected and mixed with sperm from the males to fertilize them. The salmon, which would naturally die after reproduction, are then sold.
A window in the side of the fish ladder enables tourists to see the salmon swimming back to the hatchery where they were born.