A Look at the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska’s Historic Newspapers

June 26th is Canoe Day, a time when many of us head to a lake or a beach and soak up the sun during the afterglow of the Summer solstice.

Recently, I paid a visit to one of my favorite places in Juneau, the iconic Mendenhall Glacier. This time, I kayaked across Lake Mendenhall to get to the Glacier. Docking from Skater’s Cabin, the ride across the lake over was still and peaceful- until I rowed closer to the glacier. The winds kicked up speed and I found myself rowing in circles.

Glacier Lake
Image courtesy of author.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Mendenhall Glacier covered what is now Mendenhall Lake. The glacier itself has receded sharply over the decades, hastened by climate change. Early photographs of the glacier render it nearly unrecognizable today.

 

Mendenhall Lake UAF
Photograph of the Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake circa 1949 or 1950. Image credit courtesy of the George A. Morlander Photographs Collection as part of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Identifier: UAF-1997-108-24

Visible evidence of shrinking glaciers as a result of climate change forces us to reflect on ways in which we can be more mindful of the resources we use every day and small changes we can all make.

However much the glacier has receded, it is a reminder of the vast ice field that still remains above Juneau. Historical Alaska newspapers have substantial coverage of tourism to the Mendenhall Glacier, billed as the only glacier navigable by automobile. Below are a collection of news items related to the Mendenhall Glacier:

Take a Trip to Mendenhall Glacier: [photo of Mendenhall Glacier] There are many people in Juneau who have never seen famous Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska's natural marvels that people have come a great distance to see, and perhaps the only glacier on the American continent that can be reached by automobile, in an hour's ride over good roads. The trip to Mendenhall over a splendid highway and past improved farms, dairies, and hay ranches, is one that will open your eyes to the scenery and resources at your back door. Spend Sunday At Glacier; Call up any of the drivers listed below and make reservations for the trip. The minimum charge is $10.00 for four persons and $2.50 for each additional person. The following drivers are approved by the Juneau Commercial Association, and fair treatment is assured.
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 24 July 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1920-07-24/ed-1/seq-5/>
Mendenhall Glacier: "Only sixteen miles from Juneau a splendid auto road, known as the Glacier Highway, brings you to the face of Mendenhall Glacier, the only glacier in Alaska that can be reached by automobile, and permits the visitor the opportunity of actually climbing upon this vast mountain of ice.
Image credit: The Stroller’s weekly and Douglas Island news. (Juneau, Alaska), 16 July 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn93049267/1921-07-16/ed-1/seq-1/>
Gastineau Hotel
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 19 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-06-19/ed-1/seq-2/>
Juneau People All Spent Sunday On Pleasure Bent: All Juneau took advantage of the sunshine Sunday and hied itself to Mendenhall, Auk Lake, Salmon Creek or some such place a-picnicking. Berries ripe along the roads attracted many people afoot. Delivery car auto-trucks, roadsters and touring cars, made traffic heavy on the Mendenhall and Thane highways.l Motor boats carried parties to Marmion Island, Grindstone and bays near Juneau. The largest excursion party out yesterday was the one assembled by the Odd Fellows which went to Eagle river on the Alma.
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 25 Aug. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-08-25/ed-1/seq-5/>
AK Daily empire 7 28 1919
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 28 July 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-07-28/ed-1/seq-7/>
Mendenhall Wolves
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 25 Jan. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-01-25/ed-1/seq-5/>
Prominence
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 18 March 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-03-18/ed-1/seq-2/>
Berry's Auto
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 June 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1920-06-02/ed-1/seq-3/>

The opportunity to kayak on Mendenhall Lake, with its breathtaking natural beauty, is one that I will always treasure, although it is hard to be confronted with the realities of our warming planet. I am often reminded of these dire environmental times while living in Alaska, and I can’t shake my guilt when I think about the fossil fuels burnt to drive to and from the glacier.

One can only hope that the Juneau Icefield will still replenish the glacier for generations to come.

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