Wednesday, January 4, 2017

SEWARD, ALASKA: KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

After spending a couple of days in Homer, we headed north, then east, then south towards Seward, a distance of about 170 miles
Traveling in Alaska in any way but on a cruise ship requires stamina. Distances are long, but the sights are worth the journey.

Seward is a cute little town of only 2,500 people. It was named after William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, who is famous for orchestrating "Seward's Folly," the best land purchase the U.S. ever made other than the Louisiana Purchase. It was William Seward who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, adding over a half million square miles to the United States. The price was $7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. (The Louisiana Purchase was almost three cents per acre 64 years earlier.)

Seward is a fun little town and, like so many of its Alaskan counterparts, if full of quirky "art," some of which once again reflects Alaskans' bizarre passion for ice cream:

The flowers all over Alaska were stunning. With such a short growing season, how do they manage this?


We had booked an 8.5-hour Kenai Fjords Cruise leaving out of Seward at 9:00 AM, so we made our way to the docks . . . 

. . . and boarded the Melissa Ann, a boat for 150 people. Luckily, there were just 34 passengers and 3 crew aboard:
 
Sgt. Baldy, the harbor master, carefully inspected each incoming and outgoing vessel, and we were allowed to pass:


. . . and headed out into Resurrection Bay. I just can't get over the rich green of the glacier-fed water. I felt like I was in the Emerald City of Oz all the time.

Even the lichen/moss is greener in Alaska. This selection was almost fluorescent: 
Resurrection Bay is 800 feet deep. Impressive.

These stone castles made navigation a little tricky:



It was so nice of the boat tour company to arrange this lovely water ballet act for us to watch as we headed out of the bay: 




This guy reminds me of Ned in the Dr. Seuss book One Fish, Two Fish:
Who am I? My name is Ned.
I do not like my little bed.
This is no good. This is not right.
My feet stick out of bed all night.
And when I pull them in, Oh, Dear!
My head sticks out of bed up here!

Well, that was the last bit of fun I had for a while. Once we hit the Gulf of Alaska, we were in open seas, and:
The water started getting rough; our tiny ship was tossed. 
And soon I was Alaska green, and then my breakfast was lost.

TMI? Okay, let's move on to the glaciers.  Lucky for me, the sea became glassy as soon as we entered the fjords.

We enjoyed some great wildlife viewing. There were seals sunning themselves on the rocks: 


And seals taking advantage of floating pieces of glacial ice:

A mama mountain goat with her baby were strolling on what looked like a vertical rock face:

We saw a whale:
 . . . or two:

 There was even a starfish--something I didn't expect to see in these frigid waters:

Our tour took us to  three active glaciers: Northwestern, Anchor, and Ojive Glaciers. "Active" means they are "calving," or dumping part of their snow and ice into the sea at periodic intervals. We saw (and heard!) some huge chunks break off. It was a spectacular example of Mother Nature's power.

I have pictures from two cameras, and I've given up trying to separate my photos according which of the three glaciers they are, so here are a few thousand of my favorites:

A close-up of the left side of the above glacier looks like the ruffled skirt of Marie Antoinette's ball gown:

And here is the right side of that first glacier:

It was a misty day, and the weather had the effect of creating an other-worldly feel to the glaciers, which seemed to disappear into the clouds. Can you believe the color of the water?

Or how about the blue cotton candy color of the glaciers themselves? Glaciers are incredibly dense because of the weight of all the layers of snow. That weight squeezes out any air bubbles. The result is that the glacier absorbs the longer red rays of light but reflects the shorter blue rays:

Yeah, I don't really get it either. It looks more like someone has been using millions of cans of spray paint to create a movie set for Disney's Frozen.

And then there is the shocking color of my hubby's purple coat. I have no explanation for that.

One of the crew members scooped up a few pieces of floating ice so that we could get a closer look:


The ice looks more like big chunks of dense glass than like frozen water:


The ice was a lot more transparent than the ice that comes out of my freezer. It is so clear because almost all the air was been pressurized out--unlike the ice formed in my freezer. But why isn't the ice blue like the water and the glacier?
 

A glacier AND a waterfall??? Wow.

Here is another glacier:


At first I thought the gray part at the bottom was rock, and then I thought it was pollution-covered snow, but it's really just the ground underneath the glacier that the glacier has brought up to the surface as it has crept towards the sea:



This next one just doesn't look real to me:

It looks like a snow-covered highway. Glaciers can move as fast as 30 meters a day, or as slowly as .5 meters a year, but the average is about a meter a day:


This would win a sandcastle contest on Pluto, don't you think?


Getting a photo or video of a calving glacier is about as easy as getting a photo of a whale. You have to have your camera ready and aimed at the right spot at exactly the right time. I didn't have much luck, aside from this picture at the very end of a calving event:

Some glaciers look more like a layer of weeping slime:

Looking backward as we putter out of the fjord:

The last iceberg hotel was filled to capacity:

Zooming in:

We had one last stop before heading back to the dock.  It is hard to believe we saw these tropical waterfalls on the same excursion that took us to the glaciers:


I was pretty sure we had found either Gilligan's Island or Shangri-La, although there was also a little voice inside my head telling me we were on the Lost island:


It looks like a tropical grotto, but I can assure you that you wouldn't last very long in this glacial water in your bathing suit:

There was a rocky cliff section . . . 

. . . and a forest section:


Well, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that to get back to my soft bed, we were going to have to cross that patch of open sea again. We said good-bye to our tropical paradise.

While we had been sliding along in the protected fjords, the waves had picked up steam in the open sea. We hit six- to nine-foot waves on our way back, and about half of the passengers on the boat were ill. "Lucky" for me, I'd already lost everything in my stomach on the trip out, but that didn't make it a pleasant trip back.  The effect was like bouncing around on a really big pogo stick. I sat on one of the benches, grabbed the bar in front of me, put my head down on my knuckles, and held on TIGHT. Maybe a little too tight, actually: 

Oh well. There are some things--and some experiences--worth making sacrifices for.

2 comments:

  1. Fun to see things through your eyes. I wasn't even aware of the ice on deck. Some nice photos of haystacks in the water and whales. I fared better than you in the rolling sees and really loved the trip.

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  2. "...bizarre passion for ice cream." What do you even MEAN?
    Two things surprised me about Alaska: the extreme colors and the variety. Somehow I expected brown and white and nothing-ness.
    Speaking of colors, those are pretty impressive colors on your fingers.

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