Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Water and ice are prominent features of Glacier Bay National Park. Photo copyright QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks, used with permission.
I celebrate the splendor and variety of the natural and human heritage with my photography. For the past twenty-five years, I have been privileged to travel, trek, and climb in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of the earth. Laying down in a colorful meadow dense with wildflowers, clinging precariously to a vertical icy mountain face, listening to the silence of desert sand dunes or to the calls of a bustling floating market might seem like very different experiences, however, I feel that they share the same life-affirming benefits.
For more of Tuan's national park images, visit www.terragalleria.com/parks
Though a harbor for the country's greatest collection of tidewater glaciers, Glacier Bay National Park is more than just ice and water.
The park's 3.3 million acres offer the adventuresome opportunities to trek through temperate rain forests, climb snow- and ice-covered mountains, paddle hundreds of miles, and experience the ruggedness of a landscape that John Muir described as "a magnificent picture of nature's power and industry..."
This landscape has passed through at least four major glacial periods. The last one, known as the Little Ice Age, began about 4,000 years and has been ebbing since the mid-1700s. The handiwork of those snaking rivers of ice are steep, towering mountains, slender fjords that reach depths of 1,400 feet, and a landscape that ranges from bare rock to thick, temperate rain forests moving in decline into muskeg.
And, of course, there are glaciers that will fill your camera's viewfinder. Seven of the park's glaciers run right down to the water, and you can pause before some of them to watch bergs calve off or search for harbor seals resting on ice flows.
Through this landscape you can travel by cruise ship, small tour boat, kayak or canoe, or overland with pack on your back. It can be demanding -- humpback and killer whales frequent the main bay and its fingers of inlets, brown and black bears roam its forests and beaches, self-reliance is foremost -- but the rewards are many for those up to the task.
From thunderous calving of tidewater glaciers and roaring sea lions to colorfully beaked puffins, emerald forests weighted with dangling mosses and meadows bursting with strawberries in summer, the park carries surprises around most corners.
Unless you're traveling by cruise ship, your adventure to Glacier Bay likely starts at Gustavus, a small town with a frontier feel that adds to the experience. Just nine miles from town lies Bartlett Cove and park headquarters and the Glacier Bay Lodge.
Traveler's Choice For: paddling, birdwatching, fishing, photography, geology
Lodging inside the park is quite simple -- you have one option, the Glacier Bay Lodge. Set in the forest overlooking Bartlett Cove, this small clutch of buildings offers simple, yet comfortable, accommodations. Its arrival in 1966 spurred tourism to the national park, as it gave visitors a place to stay.
Though the park's name focuses on glaciers, there is abundant marinelife, waterfowl, shorebirds and land-rooted wildlife to keep your eyes glued to your binoculars.
Squawking, chirping, and peeping fills the air but mist obscures the birds as we slowly paddle under a gentle rain through bergs cast off by the Marjorie Glacier. The ice drifts by in various sizes and shapes, some whimsical, others stable roosts for seabirds taking a break from the sky.
As our kayaks bob on the currents of Fingers Bay, a multi-fingered bight in Glacier Bay, we listen for the tell-tale streaming whoosh of a humpback whale's spout. We had seen the wispy spray moments earlier as we neared the mouth of the small bay and watched as the whale circled, its occasional spouting marking its progress.
Shiny silver on the outside, the cauldron's contents were a delicious contrast of bright orange.
Birding In The National Parks: Puffins, Murrelets And More In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
I wasn't really sure what to expect from Glacier Bay National Park, outside of glaciers, of course. But it didn't take long to realize this Alaskan park is a birder's paradise. From the "poor man's puffin" to dwindling numbers of Kittlitz's murrelets, I was rewriting my birding success.
And not in days, but in minutes.
Though its name inspires thoughts of massive rivers of ice, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is much, much more than glaciers. With its borders you'll find some of the country's tallest mountains, tangles of temperate rain forest that harbor brown and black bears, and rich waters that attract both birds and whales.
Curious about Glacier Bay's glaciers? The following paper was written for the National Park Service by Dr. Daniel E. Lawson of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 2004. It provides a good primer on the park's tidewater and terrestrial glaciers.
Half again as large as Yellowstone National Park, Glacier Bay can be a conundrum for visitors. If you arrive via cruise ship, how can you possibly get a good taste of this 3.3-million acre landscape of ice, ocean, and forest? And if you reach Glacier Bay via a flight into Gustavus, what's your best approach for exploring this expansive park?
This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.