Did you know...?

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2010

"You're kidding. I've lived here all my life and it's always been Lemon Creek Glacier," said Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, after I explain that Lemon Creek Glacier is really Thomas Glacier. It turns out Lemon Creek Glacier is on the other side of the ridge, connected to the Juneau Icefield, while the glacier we see from the highway is a hanging glacier called Thomas.

Sen. Egan had the same reaction I had upon learning this glacial tidbit during naturalist guide training for Gastineau Guides.

This is not the only surprising fact me and my fellow trainee Kathy learned. Kathy, who has lived in Juneau for 12 years, was stunned to learn that the rocky promontory in front of the Mendenhall Glacier where all the gulls nest is not a glacial moraine. It's just bedrock that the glacier moved over.

"I still am blown away by this. The way it sits, it just looks like a moraine." Kathy said, after taking her family out for a hike on West Glacier trail.

On the same training hike, we also learned that Mt. McGinnis, Mt. Bullard and Thunder Mountain all began in Fiji.

Fiji? Really? Now this was hard to swallow.

But it turns out these mountains are part of the Pacific continental plate that started slamming into the North American plate millions upon millions of years ago. They are part of a series of "island arcs" that brought mountainous regions here from the tropics as if they were sacks of potatoes on a supermarket conveyor belt. Like the sack of potatoes that is left on the counter, as the belt rotates under we are left with bedrock brought by the Pacific plate conveyor. Now, Kathy and I look at these mountains and think of Fiji, even when it's not winter.

Thinking about Fiji, I can't help but note the sweet symmetry of having our whales and mountains coming from the same region of the world. Every summer we all marvel in the arrival of our whales from Hawaii. Now, thanks to my guide education, I marvel even more.

I recently learned that only here in Southeast do the whales have this high degree of orchestrated cooperative feeding. Humpbacks in other parts of the world do bubble feed, but only with two to three other whales; never with a large group and never with a synchronized pattern repeated several times. Pretty cool to learn that we have such smart whales, and unique in the world.

On the forest front, I was most surprised to learn that on a biomass per acre basis, our old growth forest is more productive than the tropical rain forest. This is due to the lush carpet of moss that blankets the forest floor. I knew our forests were rich and productive, but not on a level with the Amazon.

On the negative side, however, was learning that we share a connection with Robert Shroud, the infamous Birdman of Alcatraz. The murder he committed here in 1909 is what sent him to prison and his insightful raising of canaries. Juneau has spawned many world class talents from NBA athlete Carlos Boozer to director Molly Smith, from Hillary Lindh to Paul and Linda Rosenthal; yet it is murderer Robert Shroud who manages to be the subject of a well-known feature film. Ironic to say the least.

I was already enthralled with Juneau before I decided to become a part-time guide. In fact, I came into this position thinking I already knew most of what I needed to be a competent guide. Now, thanks to a thorough training program aimed at educating our visitors, not only am I more knowledgeable but I am more captivated by all that Juneau is.

• Kate Troll is a Douglas resident.



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