Alaska Cruise Report: Glacier Bay National Park

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska August 5, 2010

Fog. Dense fog. This was our introduction to Glacier Bay National Park. At first, it seemed that the lack of visibility would dampen our enjoyment of our day in this magnificent land. This was not to be, however. Our patience paid off with some clearing skies, our constant searching for wildlife brought us some wonderful surprises, and our wonderful National Park Service Rangers brought Glacier Bay to life.

We departed Bartlett Cove and the National Park Service headquarters at 6:00am. Cruising up the length of the bay, through the misty skies, we were given an introduction to our first stop along the way: South Marble Island. As we approached, the bellowing and growling of the resident Steller’s sea lions greeted our party. Rafts of tufted puffins and common murres floated silently on the water. These two alcids, premier divers and lovers of the open sea, spend the summer months near shore, nesting and diving for fish to feed their hungry chicks.

After departing South Marble Island, our Rangers, Marylou Blakeslee and Marieke Slovin, gave us an introduction to the park, its history, and its present. Marieke took our kids on a journey, to become Junior Rangers and stewards of Glacier Bay National Park. Marylou took on the enormous task of teaching the rest of us about the changes that have occurred in this wide waterway, in just the last 200 years.

We hugged the shoreline into Geikie Inlet, Shag Cove, Hugh Miller Inlet, and finally up toward the Gilbert Peninsula. We paused at Reid Inlet to hear the story of Joe and Muzz Ibach, and then continued along to the face of beautiful Lamplugh Glacier. The skies parted a bit, giving us a much-needed glimpse of the majestic Fairweather Range. We followed the base of these mountains into Johns Hopkins Inlet, skirting numerous small icebergs along our path. Johns Hopkins Glacier, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the park, rewarded our patience by calving several times. All around, timid harbor seals watched through glassy, black eyes.

Returning as we came, we decided to take a close look at the humpback whale carcass that has become such a focal point this summer. As we approached, the call was put out: WOLVES! There were 5 inky-black pups dancing on the beach, followed closely by two adults, one also black and the other silver gray. They stayed in our view just long enough for some of us to get a quick look, then trotted back into the thick vegetation at the top of the shoreline.

We, ourselves, trotted back down bay to the park headquarters at Bartlett Cove, just in time to enjoy some short walks ashore. The misty, mercurial day gave us glimpses of this mysterious place, enough to continue our fascinations with Alaska.

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