Alaska – Day 6 – Glacier Bay

 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Cruising into Glacier Bay Day

This morning we cruised into Bartlett’s cove and the National Oark Headquarters today, it’s huge dock looming over the water.

The refueling dock at Bartlett Cove National Park Headquarters in Glacier Bay

The refueling dock at Bartlett Cove National Park Headquarters in Glacier Bay

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Wet, wet, wet. It was fantastic! We southern Californians appreciate all exposure to the weather we don’t have at home.

We disembarked after breakfast, and climbed the hill to start on the forest trail loop walk, a short 1k hike through beautiful ponds, filled with lily pads lush with yellow teacup-sized flowers.

IMG_3671The dense rainforest floor covered with mosses and lichens sports this tightly packed gravel path. When the watery zones encroach on the land, the trail becomes a boardwalk with easy waist height rails. The rain continued to come down throughout the hike, but so dense was the canopy of trees over our head, that we were barely wet when we finished the hike. Our guide, Ken O’Brien, had read us a beautiful poem during breakfast that he had written about this area, which is his home. When he isn’t guiding groups, he retreats to the small town of Gustavus, near the NP headquarters.

IMG_3689There is a lovely lodge and the reconstruction of a much beloved  Humpback whale named Snow, who had returned to Bartlett’s Cove every year for 40 years, but in July 2001, was struck by a cruise ship going above the allowed speed. One of our guides, Lindsey, at the time was working for a fin whale Biologist back in Maine, who was hired with the proceeds of the settlement between the NP service and the cruise ship company to help reconstruct Snow’s bones to “bring her back to life” to teach guests to the NP Headquarters about the whales.

The bones were collected, and trucked across the country to Maine, where the team removed the heavy whale oil from the bones, bleached them and dried them in the sun over an 12 month period. Initially, Lindsey told us, there had been a debate about whether to display Snow as she was after the impact, where her jaw was damaged and shattered, or to present her as a whole skeleton. Each construction would, of course, elicit a different response from visitors, as well as teach a different story. It was decided that she should be remember in her whole state, which required a significant reconstruction of the left jaw, and the casting of the jaw bone, and covering of it with epoxy, and then clay, and then scenic painting to replicate the right jaw in color and texture. It was very successful.

This took the majority of the time spent on the project, Lindsey said, probably 75% of the time. The rib bones were very heavy – running to 80 pounds in the biggest ones. The jaw bones of the whale weighed over 400 pounds.

Lindsey explained how she and her professor Dan Dentin ? reconstructed Snow entirely and then carefully deconstructed her and packed her again, bringing her back across the country in the truck, arriving in Bartlett’s Cove to put her back together. They were in the midst of this phase of the project when an earthquake struck in Gustavus, rattling the rib cage of the nearly completed whale. They added structural steel posts to support the rib structure. It was extremely moving to here Lindsey speak about this process and then to see the display first hand.

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The other reason for our stop at Bartlett Cove was to pick up a Park ranger who would escort us throughout our two day visit to Glacier Bay. Ranger Nicole and the rest of us re-boarded the Safari Endeavor and continued on our way, out of Bartlett cove and up through the fog into Glacier Bay. We passed South Marble Island, where there were about a hundred Stellars sea lions, and gulls and tufted puffins adorned the rocks and played in the waters around the island.

IMG_3710The deck was crowded with passengers, all with their binoculars, viewing the wildlife. Ranger Nicole from the US parks Service gave a lecture on the birds just as we were arriving at the island.

We had another charming lecture by Jackie Hedgepeth, which was interrupted as we passed Gloomy Knob, a high granite hillside, where the keen viewers with binoculars could see a mountain goat and her kid high on a grassy lawn perched precariously on the granite face. The kid and it’s mother moved easily over the grass, oblivious to the drop off only feet away.

IMG_3770After dinner, the ship had arrived at its destination, the John Hopkins Glacier, standing 260′ tall and a mile and a half wide, the glacier was surrounded by icy Berge bits, or growlers, and a floating field of ice where dozens of seal pups lay. Periodically, the glacier calved off house-sized chunks, with a resounding crack. It felt like you were standing in a freezer, but no one could bring himself to go back inside, nor to take her eyes off the face of the glacier.IMG_3730

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My brother, Larry viewing the glacier.

Finally, after everyone had had their pictures taken in front of the glacier, the ship turned away and as we turned to go, most of the passengers had returned to the lounge when the largest piece yet fell. It was astonishing.

Tonight as I peered out the window of our cabin as I prepared to go to sleep, there was a lone bald eagle perched on a floe in the inlet. As I fumbled for my camera, he gathered his wings up and flew off into the distance.

This has been an amazing trip.

 

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