In An Icy National Park: Glacier Bay

In An Icy National Park: Glacier Bay

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According to the Glacier Bay National Park Website,

“When Captain George Vancouver charted adjacent waters of Icy Strait in 1794, he and his crew described what we now call Glacier Bay as just a small five-mile indent in a gigantic glacier that stretched off to the horizon. That massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range.

“By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles forming an actual bay.

“By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.”

Modern-day visitors to the park can sail far up into the bay, either in their own craft, on a cruise ship, or a park concessionaire tour boat, and get fairly “up close and personal” with the remaining glaciers.

But not everything at Glacier Bay worth seeing and photographing is made of ice.

There is a surprising amount of green to be found around the edges of Glacier Bay, such as on this trail from the Bear Track Inn to the beach.

It’s best to don a pair of colorful boots which the inn thoughtfully puts on on its front porch for guests to use to keep their feet dry while making that walk through the marshy upland.

And when you reach the sandy shore along Icy Strait, you might see bears, or at least evidence that they have been strolling by a while before your arrival.

Ferns abound in this damp landscape.

You’ll find them along the rocky reaches of the bay, and farther inland.And while taking a short loop trail on a boardwalk that runs near the lodge at Glacier Bay you may encounter a moose grazing placidly on the green vegetation.

Fallen trees provide a “nursery” for plants and fungi.

A want-to-be totem pole carver practiced his art on this tree.

Flowers bloom brightly even under cloudy, sunless skies.

And pollinators share a single flower near the edge of Glacier Bay.

If You’re Going

Glacier Bay National Park lies west of Juneau, Alaska’s state capital, and the largest city in Southeast Alaska. Cruises ships traverse Glacier Bay, but if you want to stay in lodging around Gustavus near park headquarters, you’ll have to travel there by Alaska Airlines jet (in summer, one flight in, one flight out, at the end of the afternoon), small aircraft, or boat. The Alaska Marine Highway System provides limited ferry service from Juneau.

The Bear Track Inn rates include airfare to and from Juneau on a commuter airline, the fastest and most convenient way to get to Gustavus. Glacier Bay Lodge is located at Bartlett Cover at the head of Glacier Bay. Click here for a list of all lodgings near the park.

(Dick Jordan visited Glacier Bay during a two-week trip through Southeast Alaska in June of 2008 that a year later launched his career as a travel writer when the San Francisco Chronicle published his story about glacier touring in Southeast Alaska.)

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