Alaska Scenes

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Southeast Alaska from 30,000 feet 

Visitors to Alaska most often see Southeast Alaska from 30,000 feet while en route to Anchorage or from the deck of a cruise ship navigating the Inland Passage.

Southeast Alaska, Juneau and the Inland Passage

Juneau, Alaska's capital, is a city with multiple personalities and, as might be expected in such a city, just a touch of paranoia. Visitors encounter quite different communities, depending on the time of year when they arrive.

It is a tourist city in the summer, with many visitors arriving by cruise ship. The cruise ships dominate the harbor and their passengers fill the streets of the small downtown area looking for souvenirs and absorbing the local color. Some take helicopter rides to the nearby Mendenhall Glacier; some ride the tram up the side of one of the mountains overlooking the city.

From January to mid-May, Juneau is a political city. Legislators, their staff members, lobbyists and concerned citizens from around the state gather for the annual session, filling hotels and other lodging places. Some even stay in boats in the harbor.

The fall and early winter are Juneau's quiet season, when its 30,000 residents venture out. They include the employees of state government offices and students and faculty members of the University of Alaska Southeast, which is the smallest of the University of Alaska's three branches.

The touch of paranoia can be blamed on the occasional efforts of legislators from other parts of the state to move the capital to a more central location as well as to the fact that part of the city lies within an avalanche zone.

Southeast Alaska mapJuneau's weather ranges from pleasant to frequently rainy to very dramatic. A joke about Juneau is that houses are never painted because it's either raining, about to rain or has just rained. The rainiest season is in late fall. Taku winds that have been recorded at well over 100 miles an hour can provide the most dramatic weather.

Southeast Alaska is largely a collection of islands and archipelagos. Cruise ships wend their way among them to some of the state's oldest communities including Sitka, founded in 1804 and the capital of Russian America before becoming the territorial capital of Alaska in 1906. Several communities, including Juneau, Skagway and Haines, owe their existence to early gold strikes and to the Klondike Gold Rush. Haines and Skagway are the only communities in Southeast Alaska that are accessible by road, though there has been talk over the years of linking Juneau, too, to the Canadian road system.


Getting There

Only Haines and Skagway can be reached by road. Other communities, including Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka, can be reached by air. Cruise ships stop at several of these communities, as does the Alaska State Ferry System.

The Weather

Average temperatures are considerably higher in this part of the state than in the rest of Alaska. Southeast Alaska even has a rainforest: the Tongass National Park.

Rain gear can come in handy at any time of year though it's most likely to be used in the fall; annual rainfall ranges from 80 to 200 inches.

Southeast Natives

Three Native groups live in this part of the state: the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. The Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan includes 33 totem poles, the largest such collection in the United States; another totem pole collection can be seen at Wrangell.