United States, Alaska, Juneau
Early miners had no knowledge of the value of microscopic gold nor the means to extract it. They simply discarded waste rock into piles, known as tailings, and upon this they built what would become the capital of the State of Alaska, the city of Juneau. So when one says that the streets of Juneau are paved with gold, it is a literal statement.
The sparkle of Juneau is natural in its composition, a gem hidden beneath mountains blanketed in the dense greens of the largest temperate forest in North America and tied artistically with massive teal glaciers that make their way through silver meltwater ribbons to the calm waters of the Inside Passage.
Cold water diving in the centuries of shipwrecks is unforgettable. Be sure to visit the site of the Princess Sophia, her sinking was so dramatic the story was made into an opera. All lives lost in America’s worst shipwreck including the Lady named Lou featured in Robert Service’s classic poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew. Bones of the mine work horses trapped below deck are still in their heavy leather harnesses.
SHRINE OF SAINT THERESE
Surprisingly affordable and peaceful, private accommodation can be found in the cabins and cottages attached to the Shrine of Saint Therese. Inspiration to crush the most stubborn writer’s block is readily available in this quiet, tranquil space that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to appreciate or use.
A well-groomed trail with interpretative signage tells the story of the State of Alaska’s patron Saint Therese. The elegant stone chapel is secluded on its own small island and connected to the mainland with a several-hundred-foot-long causeway.
Light a candle, reflect on thoughts and prayers, abide by the honor code of the gift shop. Sunday Mass is held at 1:30 pm. The Juneau Lyric Opera’s Christmas performances will feed your soul and testify to the hauntingly beautiful acoustics of the space.
The Stations of the Cross for the devout dramatically cuts a pathway through the old growth forest. The stones of the thoughtfully-designed Merciful Love Labyrinth are punctuated by robust flower gardens and air filled with the music of shorebirds, seals, whales and eagles. Don’t miss Mary’s View and the Rosary Trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for the ridiculously cute marmot.
AUK BAY RECREATION PICNIC AREA
A walk on the manicured paths surrounding Auke Bay Recreation Picnic Area can take hours not because of the distance but because of the majestic viewshed of Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Mountain range.
Following the northern shoreline of a historic Auk Tlingit Indian village site, the hospitality of Alaska Natives to their honored guests is reflected in the well-kept picnic tables, fire rings, potable water fountains, and vault toilets. The trail and the amenities all are under a heavy canopy of spruce and hemlock, so even a day of heavy rain can afford a pleasantly dry experience.
Whales and porpoise can often be sighted close to shore, ravens and eagles live there. Wear rubber boots or water shoes for the tide pooling offers heavy rewards in limpets, hermit crabs, sculpin, sea stars, jelly fish, and anemones. Locals use the crystal clear 40-60 degree water for swimming, sea kayaking, and salmon fishing. Rock hunters are often rewarded with white quartz ribboned with gold, a reminder that Juneau Goldbelt mines were once a world leader in gold production and plenty of color has been left behind.
AUK BAY TLINGIT
The 78-acre Auk site is the first transitional cultural property in Southeast Alaska listed on National Register of Historic Places. The Aakʼw Ḵwáan Tlingit consider this area sacred territory, both because of its place in their traditions of gathering sustenance and as a burial ground. Indian Point, located between Auke Recreation and the Juneau ferry dock, is the original habitation site for the first migrates to the area - the Yaxte Hit Tlingit, who arrived around 1564.
The small nearshore islands of Auk Cape should generally be avoided out of respect for the power of the Shaman and important historical figures whose ashes have been laid to rest there in highly ornamental carved cedar boxes. Sensible people minimize disturbances and stay a respectful distance from these highly-charged environments as Shamanistic landscapes are potentially inhabited by powerful spirits capable of invading or injuring a person directly
IN BUCCO AL LUPO
Intimate atmosphere, great mocktails, and a well-curated menu of memorable offerings of seasonal Italian food made In Bucco al Lupo top choice for my first “Last Day of Being this Young” dinner party that is my new forever-substitute for birthday parties.
The Pork and Ricotta Meatballs appetizer has mild-but-flavorful seasoning and pleasantly staves off the Hangries. The Antipasto Platter is heavy on the pickled vegetables and plenty for four people.
Wood oven Roasted Cauliflower is not my favorite, nor anything that anyone else in my party wants to order again. It is a lot of food without a lot of wow. The egg yolk Fettuccine Alfredo with the roasted and black garlic cream sauce is simple yet delicious. My go-to is the Leeky Goat 12” pizza, a tantalizing combination of roasted garlic, bacon, leek purée, and soft goat cheese on a wood-fired crust fashioned from fresh Cairnspring’s stone-milled flour.
The choice of mocktails is refreshingly ‘grown up’ as the waiter’s offering of non-alcoholic drinks did not involve any Coke or Pepsi products. An oversized slice of bread pudding dripped with carmel sauce was happily not delivered by anyone singing Happy
The Worst Possible Gift competition was taken seriously by my guests, who bequeathed upon me a trashy novel, a crown announcing that I was “”DONE” with birthdays, a book to be delivered to my daughter upon my death that outlines where in the backyard I buried all the treasure, sporting equipment for a game that I will never excel at that was designed for children, a singing cats from space card with flashing lights that would send most into an epileptic seizure, and, the piece de resistance - a ratty beige bra purchased at a local second hand shop for fifty cents.
Used underwear wrapped in a rainbow/unicorn/sparkly gift bag, the undisputed winner in the bad gift competition. I am still smiling at the memory as I write this, I haven’t laughed that hard in years.