"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alaskan Dream Cruise: Glacier Bay National Park

Day two of our cruise took us to part of a "25-million-acre World Heritage Site - one of the world's largest protected natural areas," according to the US National Parks. Only 250 years ago, Glacier Bay National Park was one immense glacier. Now that glacier has retreated, but massive remnants of it can be seen by traveling up Glacier Bay and to the ends of many of the inlets and narrows.

Our ultimate destination was the Margerie Glacier, at the furthest northwest corner of Glacier Bay. We started our journey docked offshore of the tiny town of Gustavas, in the southeast corner of the park.  We had a long way to go, so a very early departure was necessary. Fortunately, because of the approximately three hour night, the sun was already up.

After our hearty but bleary-eyed breakfast we loaded on the DIB for a short ride to the ferry dock... 

...where we boarded the National Parks bus that took us to the Park Headquarters at Bartlett Cove. There we waited about an hour for the tour boat that would take us up Glacier Bay. Evidently scheduling our transportation into the park was complicated, and the timing was not working in our favor that day.  It was the only hurry-up-and-wait experience we had during the whole cruise.

The wait time gave us an opportunity for a much appreciated walk in the rainforest along the Forest Trail. Getting exercise is a must with all the great meals and lots of sedentary shipboard time. 

Today's boat ride took all day, but we were blessed with beautiful weather, spectacular scenery and wildlife sightings all along the way. This area near the mouth of Glacier Bay is a marine life hot spot. Our first sightings were sea otters all around us, individually, in small groups, and in "rafts" (below).  We've heard that sea otters, once near extinction, are actually more than abundant in some areas of southeast Alaska.  

By this time the sun had come out in full force and the fog had retreated into the valleys and smaller inlets. Our next sightings were our first humpbacks, in small groups, at some distance.  I caught just a few backs and fins in my photos.

We'd been seeing birds all along. You can't miss the ever-present bald eagles and ravens of course, but we also saw seabirds new to Rick and me: Kittlitz's and marbled murrelets, pigeon guillemots, pelagic cormorants, kittiwake gulls, and best of all, tufted puffins!  We saw them both swimming and flying. This picture provides proof, even though they're pretty small. They're sure unusual looking birds.

When we passed Marble Island, home to kitiwake and cormorant colonies, we had lots of time to watch hundreds of Stellar sea lions staking out territory and basking in the sun on the warm rocks.

 The scenery just kept unfolding…



and amazing.

At last we reached the glaciers!  There are two at the end of the Tarr Inlet. The one pictured below is the Grand Pacific Glacier, a "dirty" or rock glacier at the north end of the inlet. It contains so much rock and dirt that it can hardly be distinguished from it's surroundings. If you can zoom into the photo below you can see the glacier winding along its valley, coming in from the upper left, passing the mountain in the middle, and curving around it from the right. The Grand Pacific is not actually an active, or "healthy" glacier.  I believe that means it still contains some ice but is no longer moving like an active glacier would be. 

On the west end of the same inlet is the Margerie Glacier, a very healthy and active glacier indeed. To get a sense of the hugeness of this glacier, see if you can find the large yacht in the lower left of the photo below.

We pulled in as close as we could to the face of the glacier to watch for any calving.  This was our first glacier, and we were duly impressed by it's color and grandeur. We were also incredibly fortunate to see it in the sunshine, and to see all the snow peaked mountains surrounding it! This is not a common occurrence in Alaska.

The sun sparkled on the blue-green glacial water and the icebergs floating by.

After gorging on the glacier, we still had room for lunch, which was the next order of business. Satiated in every way, we had a long, peaceful and scenic ride back to Bartlett Cove.  The park ranger on board provided us with lots of interesting information and helped us sight wildlife. We did see a brown bear who was looking for snacks along the rocky shoreline, turning over boulders like they were paper mache props. 

Our long day ended with a wonderful supper, good company and sound sleep.

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