Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Skagway and Glacier Bay

I figured that Skagway would be pretty easy to write up since it was such a tourist town and that I would lump it with Glacier Bay. But the focus of this post is Glacier Bay, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. Skagway was a nice town, a interesting historic town but the focus was on shopping. The boardwalks were wood and all of the buildings were original wood and in many ways it was a unique look at how towns were formed. But other than a great rock shop off the main strip, it was filled with souvenir shops, jewelry stores, and curio stores. We never got a chance to get away from the tourist section. A nice town but like any other cruise port I've been through.


After spending the day shopping in Skagway the boat sailed off toward Glacier Bay. If you ever get a chance to go to Alaska, you need to see Glacier Bay. It was the highlight of my trip. Every single moment of our time there was awe inspiring and picturesque. We sailed between mountains covered with trees and snow, and through waters filled with puffins, sea lions, and whales. I saw more wildlife in Glacier Bay than I saw all the other days combined. This was the ultimate wild experience. Oh yeah and there were glaciers.

The first time you see a glacier you are in awe. And that awe doesn't ever really go away. When we parked the boat outside of Margerie Glacier (see below) I stood on the deck freezing my fingers off and taking picture after picture. The ice formations on the glacier are breathtaking. Each section of the glacier is different and unique, a work of art in ice. The blue was again prevalent although right after this glacier the sun came out and the blue disappeared. The cave like structure at the base of the glacier is just that. The cave had a small waterfall running through it, the fresh water escaping down the mountain and into the ocean.

Margerie Glacier

Another image of Margerie Glacier

After Margerie, we continued up the channel and came to the most amazing glacier I'd seen so far. This is Johns Hopkins Glacier. This is a steady state glacier, meaning that it loses 6 feet of ice a day and adds six feet of ice a day. There are very few steady-state glaciers left in the world and even fewer growing ones. Most glaciers have receded at unprecedented rates in the last hundred years. Someone going to Glacier Bay ten years from now, will see very different glaciers. I feel fortunate to have seen the ones I did. The snowy mountains rising up at the back of Johns Hopkins are Orville and Wilbur, although I'm not sure which is which.

Johns Hopkins Glacier from the front of the boat

As we were sailing away from Johns Hopkins, the naturalist on board called our attention to the side of the boat. Off in the distance (and I mean distance) was a set of three bears. Rather than the three bears of story, these were a mother and her two cubs down at the shore to eat mussels. They were nearly impossible to see with the naked eye but Jeff ended up getting some decent pictures using a tripod and our zoom lens. I've decided that I have to learn how to digiscope for just such an occasion. As we sailed by, the bears hardly noticed us. The whole boat (crew and all) stopped what they were doing to spend some time looking at them. I passed my binoculars to most of the members of the buffet staff so they could get a closer look. It was an incredible moment.

The Three Bears (the lighter colored things, in case you can't tell)

I tried to get photos of the puffins we saw but they were too fast (and far away) for my camera. I managed to get a decent shot of a whale breaching but it is too distant to share. As we sailed out of the Bay I sat on our balcony, huddled into my coat and gloves, and watched the islands slide by. Each seemed completely untouched. And that is one of the images I'll take away from my Alaskan experience. This is a wild place, a state with untouched land that just begs to be explored. This is a state where things are a bit more rustic. Where roads only cover a portion of the state. Where planes are your main mode of conveyance. Where the people and the animals are hardier, mostly because they have to be. Where every view is a postcard. It was a wild and untamed place. And if it wasn't for the weather, I'd happily spend years of my life exploring it.

Image from Glacier Bay itself

Heading out of the Bay


JeffB said...

Skagway is just another cruise town?? Hardly! Three words: Bacon topped cupcakes!

Cat B said...

So what you're saying is you might have liked those. I'm shocked. You hardly mentioned it. ;-)

Salt said...

I hope I live long enough to be able to say this:

"...but like any other cruise port I've been through"

Cat B said...

heh, yeah I probably shouldn't be so flippant. I haven't been in that many (7-8?) but you pick up on the patterns pretty quick.

Jewelry store...curios...t-shirt shop...jewelry store...curios... jewelry store...etc