Friday, September 13, 2013

Glacier Bay, Alaska

usbackroads destination-Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Glacier Bay was one of those lifetime destinations for me.  I could do without Paris, but Glacier Bay was on the list for a long, long time.  So the only requirement for the Alaska cruise, was that we needed to go to Glacier Bay.  The Park Service has put limits on the number of cruise ships per day that are allowed into the park at two per day.  So check your Alaska cruise itinerary carefully to make sure it includes Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay was once totally filled with glacier all the way to Icy Strait in 1750 when it was first discovered. The glaciers have been in retreat since that time.  The National Park Service brochure is quite good and shows the extent of the glaciers during the past 250 years.

There are copies on the cruise ship, but I would download a copy here prior to your trip:

John Muir wrote the definitive story on Glacier Bay and you can download a public domain copy for your Kindle from Amazon for free:

If you do not have a Kindle or the app on your IPAD you can still do a search for John Muir Travels in Alaska public domain and get a version that will work on your ebook reader or laptop.

The glaciers are in retreat and Glacier Bay is totally different than it was just 150 years ago.  So go now. Don't wait another 150 years!!  You will miss it.

I made the mistake of NOT having my camera with me for the morning cruise up to Glacier Bay since it was cloudy.  However, in the afternoon the light was not as good.  The other issue with photography in Glacier Bay is there is no sense of scale.  Here is a picture of the famous John Hopkins Glacier from FIVE miles away.

This is as close as the cruise ships can come to this glacier.  Even at five miles what a spectacular site.

The ship does spend more time at Margerie Glacier.  Though once again that issue of scale comes into play. I do recommend that you take binoculars with you to explore the glaciers up close and personal.

The Margerie Glacier is where the "calving" takes place.  That is the glacier ice dumping directly into the salt water.  This is really what most folks want to see on the trip to Glacier Bay.

Be forewarned it is crowded on the ship railing when viewing the glaciers.  And it is easy to miss a front row seat by being late to the party.

The views up and down the bay are very interesting and I would remain above ship for the entire trip up and down Glacier Bay and through Icy Strait.  It is the most interesting part of the entire cruise visible from the ship.

This is the view of the Grand Pacific Glacier moraine.  As recently as the early 20th century the glacier dumped directly into salt water  Moraine's are interesting and all you that have hiked in alpine country out west have experienced them.  On many alpine lakes, that last steep pitch of trail to the lake is usually crossing a glacial moraine.  Right on top of the moraine is Canada.  I suspect the border crossing is unmanned.

This is the NPS map of the cruise up Glacier Bay with times as you past certain landmarks.  The National Park Service provided interpreters that clambered up a rope ladder to reach the cruise ship and then they provided running commentary on the area and set-up interpretive tables in the lobby of the cruise ship.  Get the route and times to make your trip up Glacier Bay more rewarding.

The cruise ship will announce when the interpreters are boarding the ship.  The cruise lines pay a fee for entering the Park and the use of the interpreters services.  This must be one of those profit centers for the National Park Service.

As we were leaving John Hopkins Glacier I spied this fellow leaving the area.  Enlarge the photos and you can see that the top of the ship has rafts and kayaks.  Wait, I would trade our swimming pool for those rafts and kayaks.  It was at this moment that I realized that National Geographic also runs cruise trips to Glacier Bay.

Here is a link to their trips:  Much more expensive but they spend more time on the Tongass National Forest so it must be a better trip!!  Oh, check to see if shore excursions are included.  The price is spendy, but if it includes all those day excursions it is might only be slightly more expensive than Princess.  So if you would rather have a smaller cruise ship there is one alternative.

There are other small cruises to Alaska and you can find a brief summary of them here:

The important thing is to go visit south-east Alaska by boat.  The only way you can really do it.  A camper on a truck and passage on the Alaska Ferry system will get you back into some destinations rarely visited by the average traveler.  But no matter how you go you will enjoy your trip.  Just match your interests to the various offerings.


Carol K said...

Good advice and wonderful pictures of Glacier Bay!

Pam said...

I would love to do that National Geographic expedition! But at over $12000 for my husband and I...I'm sure it's worth every penny, maybe if we win the lottery, right?