Glacier Bay National Park: A Highlight Of Alaska's Inside Passage
Out of everything I’ve seen in Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park remains the most engraved in my memory. Visiting the park is a little like going back in time as the glaciers that exist today are remnants of a glacial period which began about 4000 years ago.
Glacier Bay became part of a 25-million acre UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, and in 1994 vowed to work with Native American organizations to manage the area. Several thousand kilometers of the national park are also a designated wilderness area. A few summers ago I found myself on a cruise to Alaska, and on the day we slowly sailed into the national park we began to see the first chunks of ice floating past the ship. It was a slightly foggy morning, the water was very still and had a beautiful turquoise color, a sure sign of nearby glaciers.
Floating in front of Margerie Glacier, we were fortunate to witness the ice calving. In a place where there is only natural ambient sound around you, the thundering of the ice breaking off into the water was like a jolt to the system, a cracking and crushing so impressive that even the most nature-weary traveler is sure to be awed.
The ship continued on through the bay and we visited John Hopkins Glacier, Grand Pacific Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier, and Reid Glacier. It was explained to us that the jagged looking glaciers are faster moving and the ones with a smoother surface are slower. Glaciers flow forward about three to six feet each day.
Glacier Bay is closely monitored by the National Park Reserve and poses traffic restrictions on the area. Only two cruise ships are allowed into the park per day, and only a handful of tour boats. Several marine and land based animal species consider the bay their home. These include brown bears, black bears, moose, lynx, wolves, coyotes, marmots, humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, salmon, porpoises, and about 200 bird species.
I felt lucky to have witnessed these glaciers. Like many glaciers around the world, Glacier Bay has fallen victim to climate change. Throughout the past 50 years Alaska's annual average temperature has increased twice as much as the rest of the United States. I found this fact on the National Park Service website most interesting:
"Of the more than 100,000 glaciers in the state, 95% are currently thinning, stagnating, or retreating, and most of Glacier Bay's glaciers follow this trend. However, there are a few exceptions. Due to heavy snowfall in the soaring Fairweather Mountains, Glacier Bay remains home to a few healthy and advancing glaciers, a rarity in today's world."
These statistics reminded me of a fascinating documentary I saw a few years ago called Chasing Ice. The film follows National Geographic photographer James Balog as he documents changing glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland for a year using specially designed time lapse cameras. The results are astounding. Go check it out!
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About The Author
Elisabeth Beyer is a German-Canadian travel writer and blogger based on the west coast of Canada. She loves to explore different cultures and destinations, favoring natural landscapes to big cities. You can read more about her travels at her personal blog Sidetracked, or follow her on Instagram.