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Seaward The alaskan coast

We’ve really enjoyed traveling on the Alaska State Ferries. The experience is totally pleasant, from boarding with the van, to the hot showers, to the spectacular 360-degree moving scenery. Not to mention having someone else doing the driving.

The MV Tazlina leaving Skagway. Glad we didn’t have to back into the hold like this motorhome driver (at top left). We’ve seen all shapes and sizes on the ferries.

We weren’t thrilled about the cold rain beginning in Juneau on day 2 of the Inside Passage, until we met 3 local women who were very grateful their drought might have ended. We also heard there were fires and smoke near Anchorage and Wasilla just after we left.

In the rain we explored the city of about 31k, where the main attraction may be the Mendenhall Glacier. About 14 miles long, it’s fed by the Mendenhall Icefield above it, but retreats 400 - 500 feet per year.

Scenes from the Mendenhall Glacier area, including sockeye salmon and a young black bear

We took the MV LeConte, another state ferry boat, northwest to the town of Gustavus, population 532. It’s the gateway community for Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and seems to exist solely for that purpose. If you ever wanted to live in a small and remote place, Gustavus might fit the bill. (Remember that TV show Northern Exposure?) Without exception everyone waves to each other in passing.

Location Location Location

Generally, 90% of the 500k annual visitors to Glacier Bay NP see it from the deck of a cruise ship. The other 10% of visitors are land-based and access it from the park’s day boat. We spent all day aboard the Baranof Wind, traveling to the furthest reaches of the 3.3 million acre park and back, a distance of about 100 miles.

We left Bartlett Cove early in the morning under low clouds and rain, but had some relief from the weather at the northern end of the park where the biggest glaciers are.

We’ve visited many national parks but for us, Glacier Bay is in a special category for its wildness and beauty. Rick says it’s like being at the end of the earth.

One of many glaciers in the Y-shaped waterway. The rangers we spoke with here are deeply concerned about the rate they’re seeing these glaciers retreat. If you’re inclined to visit here, don’t wait.
Margerie Glacier calving a small piece of ice
Johns Hopkins Glacier, (so named for glacier research conducted by that University about 100 years ago) flowing 12 miles down the Fairweather Mountains, the highest peaks in the park.

Wildlife sightings from the boat included otter, sea lions, mountain goats, brown bears, seals, humpback whales and lots of birds, including kittiwakes and puffins.

Steller Sea Lions like to hang out far from land predators like bears and wolves. But they make enough noise to attract attention in any location.
The salmon “run,” here, delayed by a warm dry summer, is in full swing now, so brown bears were feeding at some of the streams.

We had a couple days to hike and explore Gustavus. There are no campgrounds, but we found a great spot on the coast near the mouth of the Salmon River, where we watched seals, otters, bald eagles, and 25-foot tides come and go. It rained off and on, mostly on.

Our overnight spot, and a trail overlooking Icy Strait
National Park scenes in Bartlett Cove, Top: Glacier Bay NP Lodge, the bones of a humpback whale preserved after it was struck by a cruise ship, and Tlingit Totem. Bottom: They’re prepared for big tidal swings.

Back in Juneau we were very grateful when sunshine returned. We stayed near the Mendenhall Glacier while waiting to catch the MV Malispina south to Prince Rupert, B.C.

Early morning at Mendenhall Glacier and sunset at one of the ponds it created a very long time ago. Kayaking to Nugget Falls on Mendenhall Lake.

We’ve had a great time in Alaska and it had us wondering why Russia ever sold it to the U.S. The price for all 586k square miles, in 1867, was 2 cents per acre, or $7.2 million ($109 million in today’s money). It’s an involved story about geopolitics - and apparently it wasn’t an idea favored by the citizens of either country at the time. But it seems to have worked out pretty well.....

Created By
alison blakeslee
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