Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is an incredible experience. Having visited both as a specific destination and as a part of an Alaskan cruise, I can attest that there are advantages to both.

Flying to Gustavus and staying at Glacier Bay Lodge, we had the chance to hike in the rainforest surrounding the bay and experience the bay itself from a boat tour with a naturalist park ranger onboard. Since the boat was considerably smaller than a cruise ship we could enter some smaller areas of the bay and get much closer to some island and shoreline wildlife.

At South Marble Island, we saw – and heard! – Stellar sea lions. All jumbled up together on the rocks and the shore, they look so terribly awkward but manage to move around readily. At Gloomy Knob, mountain goats posed beautifully for pictures. How they can scramble up rock faces the way they do is pretty amazing.

William S. Cooper, a botanist, arrived in Glacier Bay in 1916 to study plant succession: how land changed and how after an event such as a glacier or volcano, the land could be resilient. The entire bay has proven to be a living laboratory for the process of succession. Virtually all the vegetation has returned in the past 300 years following the glacial retreat making this park one of the premier sites on the planet to study plant re-colonization.

The cruise ship, although different, was also a terrific experience. From the time we entered the bay, naturalist park rangers boarded the ship and served as guides to the bay. I was impressed with the reverence shown the bay by those who lived and worked there as well as by the ship’s crew. It was very apparent that this experience was highly valued by everyone, no matter how many times they had been there.

There are restrictions imposed on the number of vessels that can enter the bay any given day and how close they can approach the glaciers. This contributes to the feeling of a truly personal experience and insures minimal disturbance to the environment. At the head of the Tarr Inlet, the Grand Pacific Glacier presides with Margerie Glacier, hidden to the west until you are well toward the end of the inlet. Margerie Glacier is one of the most beautiful and oft-photographed glaciers of all and is roughly a mile wide and 250 feet high. As we idled viewing Margerie, we could marvel in the shapes and colors exhibited in the glacier. We were treated to “calving”, large chunks of ice breaking off the glacier and plunging into the water of the bay, and heard the “white thunder” as the ice cracked and shifted.

Glacier Bay has a profound impact on one.