Welcome back to the tenth installment of the Bucket List: Alaska series. If you are just joining us, you can go back to read the start of our Alaska adventure in Anchorage at this link. There will be links at the bottom of each post to take you to the next one.
Our second day aboard the Star Princess was one of the highlights of the entire Alaskan trip, an entire day spent in Glacier Bay National Park, which is unique among the treasures that make up the National Park system in its inherent impermanence, as well as, that it can only be visited by boat or plane.
From the National Park Service brochure for Glacier Bay:
“Tlingit people had occupied the area for countless generations, living in the shadows of glaciers, prospering from the bounty of the land and sea. Captain George Vancouver had sailed the area in 1794, and created a rough map that showed the bay filled with a single great glacier. Eighty-five years after Vancouver, naturalist/preservationist John Muir had visited the bay by canoe, and found the glacier receding as fast as a mile per year.”
“To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” …”it seems as if surely we must at length reach the very paradise of the poets, the abode of the blessed.” John Muir, Travels in Alaska
Beginning with the efforts of a plant ecologist from Minnesota named William S. Cooper, who first came to Glacier Bay in 1916, the preservation of this untamed wilderness was won in 1925 when it became a National Monument. Fifty-five years later, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. If only we had such enlightened leadership in this country today. 😦
Glacier Bay is a wilderness, a national park, a United Nations biosphere reserve, and a world heritage site. Just 250 years ago, Glacier Bay was all glacier and no bay; 100 miles of ice, which was thousands of feet deep. Today, that glacier is gone, having retreated north, and fewer than a dozen smaller tidewater glaciers remain. Though you will see the remaining glaciers are still impressive, if seeing these wonders is on your bucket list, I recommend you do it sooner rather than later.
Princess does a fabulous job of making information available to guests, and this morning was no different. A team of rangers from Glacier Bay approached and boarded the ship early in the morning, using the same process as the local ship pilot in Yakutat Bay. At 10:00AM, two female rangers shared a presentation in the Princess Theater on the history, logistics, and operation of the park, as well as, the flora and fauna, and most importantly, the glaciers. One ranger also shared, in words, photos, and video, her two-week solo kayak trip into the wildest areas of Glacier Bay, accessible only by small craft such as a kayak. Suffice it to say, she is one BAD ASS woman! Facing bears, extreme weather (even in summer), exhaustion, and overwhelming beauty makes for a very captivating presentation! There was a ranger station open all day, providing maps, souvenirs, children’s presentations, and Q&A as we made our way up to the furthest point in Glacier Bay at Margerie Glacier, which we reached about mid-day. The Glacier Bay experience was further enhanced by the Rangers’ running commentary over the deck loudspeakers during our visit, drawing our attention to glaciers calving, marine life and bald eagle sightings, and other points of interest.
Within the 3.3 million acres of the National Park and Preserve are portions of the Fairweather, Takhinsha, and Chilkat Mountain ranges, the Brady Icefield, ~ a dozen named glaciers, countless islands and coves, the Bay itself, and several inlets. Our cruise through the Sitakaday Narrows into the bay covered 65 miles each way, and views of the famous Margerie, Johns Hopkins, Grand Pacific, Lamplugh, and Reid glaciers.
Here are a few shots from our cruise toward Margerie Glacier.
Margerie Glacier, at the northwest end of Tarr Inlet, is the star of the show, at over a mile wide, and soars a mindblowing 40 stories in height. I will just let the photos do the talking from here.
My husband Jerry came up with the AMAZING idea of taking a photo through the lens of our incredible Swarovski binoculars. The following three photos are his, and show a level of detail that blew us away!
The ship then cruised up into Johns Hopkins Inlet, but not as close to the glacier this time.
The following are photos from the cruise between Margerie and Lamplugh Glaciers.
Last, but not least, a few shots of Lamplugh Glacier. It was probably the afternoon light, but these photos get a lot closer to showing the actual crystal blue color we were seeing in person.
From the Princess guide to Glacier Bay: “Why does the ice look blue? When light hits highly compacted glacier ice, long wavelength colors (reds) are absorbed, while short wavelength colors (blues) reflect back through the ice to your eyes.”
The dirty look of some areas of the glaciers comes from avalanches, rock slides, tributary glaciers, and the scouring of the valley causing accumulation of dirt and rock within the ice.
It was an incredible day in one of the natural wonders of the world! Later, we relaxed on the balcony with an adult beverage, watching the scenery and the rangers departing the ship back to their park headquarters.
On a sad note, the ship’s departure from Bartlett Cove, where the rangers disembarked, was delayed. We found out later that the delay occurred while an airlift was arranged to a hospital due to a medical emergency. We wish all the best for the patient and family.
Thank you for bearing with me through lots of words, and even more photos! I hope you enjoyed the virtual visit to a national treasure!
Join me next time for a visit to Skagway, with its Gold Rush-era history, and a couple of fun excursions. Click this link to go directly to the next post.