Three weeks in Alaska yielded a huge species list. That it happened to come out to exactly one hundred identified species is a coincidence. Although by the time our count was in the mid-nineties, I went back and checked and double-checked to see if we could get the satisfaction of one hundred. It’s a good thing that I did, since I’d have forgotten the Steller’s Jay if I hadn’t. Obviously, we saw a great many more species than this (particularly plants), but these were the ones we could identify successfully. The one hundred breaks down as follows: nineteen mammals, thirty-eight birds, no reptiles or amphibians, one fish, eight mollusks/jellyfish/etc., one insect, four blooming wildflowers, twelve trees, and seventeen other plants or non-blooming wildflowers or fungi.
Saturday morning, September 5 marked the beginning of the end of our time in Alaska. At noon, the ferry LeConte would depart Gustavus, and on it our two-say journey home would commence.
But first, we had some last-minute things to do at Glacier Bay National Park.
Standing here, with facts so fresh and telling and held up so vividly before us, every seeing observer, not to say geologist, must readily apprehend the earth-sculpturing, landscape-making action of flowing ice. And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation; that mountains long conceived are now being born, channels traced for coming rivers, basins hollowed for lakes; that moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants,—course boulders and gravel for forests, finer soil for grasses and flowers,—while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening out to sea in the draining streams, is being stored away in darkness and builded particle on particle, cementing and crystalizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other predestined landscapes, to be followed by still others in endless rhythm and beauty.
– John Muir, 1879, from Travels in Alaska, published posthumously in 1915
Friday, September 4 dawned overcast at Bartlett Cove. We were taking the 7:30 am boat tour of Glacier Bay, which lasted eight hours and traveled 146 miles roundtrip from the dock at Bartlett Cove, up into the end of the Bay’s West Arm and back again.
The morning of Thursday, September 3, we’d spent paddling Bartlett Cove. After lunch that afternoon, we decided to take a walk along Tlingit Trail on the southern shore of the cove. Tlingit Trail heads east from Glacier Bay Lodge and runs a mere half mile one way. The walk took us a touch over an hour out and back.
While we were getting ready for our walk, the Red Squirrel who lived in the stump just outside the window of our room was taking an afternoon break from busily building a winter’s cache of food and defending it from all comers with loud chirps and barks. I took the opportunity to capture an image.
On July 16, 2001, a Humpback Whale was found dead, its bloated carcass floating near the entrance to Glacier Bay.
The carcass was towed to shore and examined. The whale had died of what amounted to blunt force trauma to the head from being hit by a large cruise ship. Researchers identified the whale as Snow (#68), a forty-four year old female, who had been pregnant when she died.
Thursday, September 3 was sunny at Glacier Bay National Park. It was the second sunny day in a row after some six weeks of clouds and drizzle, according to the staff at the lodge.
Back in early July, while we had been planning this portion of the trip while sitting on a veranda in southern Wisconsin, I’d turned to Sean and asked which of our two full days at Glacier Bay did he want to do a half-day paddle and which did he want to do our full-day boat tour. He’d replied that we should do the paddle the morning of our first full day. Now that we were actually here, his instinct could not have served us better. The forecast was for it to be sunny and warm on Thursday, and the drizzle was supposed to return on Friday.
It was sheer luck, but we’d be paddling Bartlett Cove’s waters while they were completely calm and shimmering in the sunshine.
Glacier Bay, at the northwest end of Alaska’s Inside Passage, was established as a National Monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925. Coolidge acted at the urging of the Ecological Society of America. One of their members, William Skinner Cooper, had realized the area’s unparalleled potential in the study of forest succession, the development of a complete forest ecosystem from newly exposed bedrock to mature forest.
Skinner had been drawn to Glacier Bay, as many before him had, by the writings of John Muir, who “discovered” Glacier Bay in 1879 and returned in 1890 and 1899. Muir publicized the wonders of Glacier Bay in contemporary magazine articles and eventually the posthumously published Travels in Alaska (1915).
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter enlarged Glacier Bay National Monument in anticipation of the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which would eventually pass Congress in 1980. ANILCA enlarged the protected lands of Glacier Bay to over 3.2 million acres, establishing Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
The vast majority of Glacier Bay’s 500,000 annual visitors experience the Park exclusively by boat from the deck of a cruise ship. Only five percent of visitors actually set foot on the land of Glacier Bay National Park. We were among this small fraction. Continue reading
Wednesday, September 2 we departed Juneau via the Alaska Marine Highway System and journeyed to Gustavus (population 442), the gateway town to Glacier Bay National Park. Gustavus sits on the shores of Icy Passage, thirty-seven nautical miles west of Juneau. Our ferry ride would take just over four hours to reach it.
Our sailing was at 7am, but we woke at 4am because the Alaska Marine Highway System website stated we needed to check-in two hours before. The Juneau ferry dock was not on the Gastineau Channel in downtown Juneau, but rather near the northern end of the Juneau road system in Auke Bay.
We were bleary-eyed but excited as we loaded our bags into the taxi at 4:40. Our driver was a gruff, but friendly older fellow with a big beard. We chatted with him about our trip, Chicago, and that we had failed to visit “Juneau’s glacier,” the Mendenhall, while we were in town.
We arrived at the ferry terminal right around 7am, and we were the first one’s there. So we settled into some seats near a window that looked out at the water and waited for dawn.
Unlike the previous day, Tuesday, September 1 was rainless in Juneau, perfect weather for a hike up Mount Roberts, which rises immediately east of downtown. The Mount Roberts Tramway takes visitors on a gondola ride to a point 1,800 feet up the 3,800-foot mountain. We decided that instead of taking the tramway up and hiking down that we’d hike up and take the tramway down. Although the trail was only about 1.4 miles, the trailhead was about a mile from downtown, making the total hike 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. Continue reading
On Sunday, August 30, we embarked on the final stage of our trip by traveling southeast to Juneau, Alaska’s beautiful capital city. Tucked between coastal mountains and the Gastineau Passage of Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, Juneau is inaccessible save by air or sea. Its population is small, only 32,000 people. Yet it is a cosmopolitan city that feels like the ultimate extension of the Pacific Northwest vibe of Portland and Seattle (and presumably Vancouver).
We decided that we could definitely live in Juneau. Continue reading