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Juneau, Alaska's capital and third-largest city, is on the North American mainland but can't be reached by road. The city owes its origins to two colorful sourdoughs (Alaskan pioneers)—Joe Juneau and Richard Harris—and to a Tlingit chief named Kowee, who led the two men to rich reserves of gold at Snow Slide Gulch, the drainage of Gold Creek around which the town was eventually built. That was in 1880, and shortly thereafter a modest stampede resulted in the formation of a mining camp, which quickly grew to become the Alaska district government capital in 1906. The city may well have continued under its original appellation—Harrisburg, after Richard Harris—were it not for Joe Juneau's political jockeying at a miner's meeting in 1881.
For some 60 years after Juneau's founding gold was the mainstay of the economy. In its heyday the AJ (for Alaska Juneau) Gold Mine was the biggest low-grade ore mine in the world. It was not until World War II, when the government decided it needed Juneau's manpower for the war effort, that the AJ and other mines in the area ceased operations. After the war, mining failed to start up again and government became the city's principal employer. Juneau's mines leave a rich legacy, though: before it closed, the AJ Gold Mine alone produced more than $80 million in gold.
Perhaps because of its colorful history, Juneau is full of contrasts. Its dramatic hillside location and historic downtown buildings provide a frontier feeling, but the city's cosmopolitan nature comes through in fine museums, noteworthy restaurants, and a literate and outdoorsy populace. Here you can enjoy the Mt. Roberts Tramway, plenty of densely forested wilderness areas, quiet bays for sea kayaking, and even a famous drive-up glacier.
Along with the Alaska State Museum and Mt. Roberts Tramway, make time for a tour to Mendenhall Glacier and the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Douglas (which at one point was a bigger outpost than Juneau) is across the Gastineau Channel to the west. For goings-on, pick up the Juneau Empire (www.juneauempire.com), which keeps tabs on state politics, business, sports, and local news.
Juneau at a Glance
- Alaska State Capitol
- Alaska State Museum
- Evergreen Cemetery
- Governor's Mansion
- Juneau Visitor Center
- Juneau-Douglas City Museum
- Last Chance Mining Museum
Sports and Outdoors
- Alaska Folk Festival
- Alaskan Brewing Company
- Alaskan Hotel Bar
- Imperial Saloon
- Juneau Jazz & Classics
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