Sunday, January 15, 2017


Well, it didn't take us long to get into the cruise life as our Princess ship glided smoothly through Alaska's icy waters. We had been on the go for over a week, and a little bit of R & R was definitely welcome:

Our next destination was the coastline of Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses 5,130 square miles or 3.3 million acres on Alaska's southern panhandle. It's a little hard to see in the map below, but our cruise starting point at Whittier is the red oval on the left and Glacier Bay is the center oval:
I think we saw about 1/10% of the park, but it was a spectacular 1/10%.  No roads lead to Glacier Bay, so the only options are to get there by air or by sea. Most visitors see the bay by cruise ship (400,000 visitors/year), but the number of ships per day is limited, which made our viewing experience very nice.

There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park, and while we didn't see them all, we did see quite a few. One nice thing about this day at sea is that we had a park ranger on board talking on the ship intercom most of the day. I would never have guessed there was so much to say about glaciers. Honestly, this was our third trip to visit glaciers, and though every single one was gasp-worthy, they were all beginning to look alike to me. That is not to say that it wasn't a fantastic day of glacier viewing, because it was, but a second day of being on the ship all day was causing Cruise Ennui to set in.

And that is my excuse for not having taken better notes as our excellent park ranger spoke.

The Granddaddy of the day was Margerie Glacier. "Margerie" is the last name of a French explorer who visited it in 1913. About a mile wide and 21 miles long, Margerie has a total height at the terminus of about 350 feet, 250 above sea level and 100 below.

It is massive, impressive, and one of the more active glaciers in the park. The whip-cracking sound and dramatic splash of big chunks of ice breaking off (called "calving") is a frequent occurrence. 

Stratified layers on the "snout" (the end of the glacier) testify to the pressure and time that have molded these surreal sculptures:

The powerful formations remind me of similar creations by Mother Nature, including crystals:
Picture borrowed from here
. . . and stalagmites:
Picture borrowed from here
. . . and the mountain peaks themselves where the glaciers were born:

Some formations look like sand castles:
Picture borrowed from here

Some look like sci-fi cityscapes:
Picture borrowed from here

. . . and some look like the three wisemen:

Other glacial fields had a less impressive snout but a more impressive head. For drama and sheer magnificence, this one is hard to beat:

. . . except, perhaps, by this one:

As we cruised along the vitreous highway, we began to anticipate ostentatious sights around every corner, and we were rarely--if ever--disappointed:

Bob's favorite glacier was Johns Hopkins Glacier:

It was named by geophysicist Harry Fielding Reid, a descendant of George Washington and a graduate of (you guessed it) John Hopkins University. Now THAT'S a tribute to the alma mater! The glacier travels twelve miles from its mountain origin . . .

. . . down a zig-zaggy path to the bay:

The dark debris in the glacier creates what almost looks like freeway lanes. Each line more or less represents a different tributary glacial field:

In the poor quality photo below, you can see (maybe) Johns Hopkins Inlet, the multi-lane racetrack-style glacier, and at least four ice fields that contribute to it: 

The variety of glaciers is mind-boggling:

Here are a couple of random shots of the most handsome guy on board:

How about this beauty? If you look closely, you can see that there are actually TWO glacial roads leading to the sea, one on each side of the center mountain. That's Ferris Glacier on the left, and Grand Pacific Glacier on the right:

Hey you! Yes YOU, Holland America! Get out of our way!

MUCH better:

The spectacular contrasts in Alaska always took me by surprise:

Poor, lonely little glacier baby:

Oh, wait! Here are all your cousins! They look like they are sitting on a sandbar, but they are floating on top of the water:

. . . just like the local wildlife:

So long, Glacier Bay. You are magnificent.


  1. Amazing country! It would be fun to take a helicopter tour over Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers and visually see them from above.

  2. One of my favorite cruises was up the Inland Passage to Glacier Bay. Did you know that George Q. Cannon visited Glacier Bay with Wilford Wiidruff and Joseph F. Smith in July of 1895? (a lot more ice in the bay back then).

  3. I must say, this was my favorite day of our cruise. I was blown away by the beauty of the glaciers. You've got some amazing pictures.