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Thursday July 18 2013- Whittier- 26 Glacier Tour

Alaska fact- State flower- Forget-Me- Not

We were slow to get moving this morning. We did not have to leave until just after 10 AM. We rode with Margie and Wayne through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel ($12) plus $5 for parking in Whittier. The tunnel is one lane, including the train tracks which you drive on, and is 2.5 miles through solid rock. The original tunnel was built during WWII. There is no concrete in the walls of the tunnel. In 2000, it was turned into the longest vehicle / train tunnel in North America.  Prior to that, cars had to board a train to travel through the tunnel, which cost a lot more!

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Whittier is described as a quaint Alaskan town. Huh? Whittier was where the ship docked in 2005 and we knew what the town was like. It is a dump with a nice  marina.  Three hundred people live here year round, and they all live in one apartment building which has all the services that they would need.

Whittier harbor

Whittier is 60 miles south of Anchorage at the head of the Passage Canal. Below is the water fall, coming from the Whittier Glacier.

Whittier falls

We parked and walked along the ‘boardwalk’ to a fudge shop.( There are only two shops in town!)  We walked back to the dock where the ship was located. We were taking the Phillips  26 Glacier Tour. We had trouble trying to decide which tour to take, but this one included lunch, so we decided on this tour. $278 pp., including tax. The other tour was just as expensive and did not include lunch.

The large catamaran left the dock at 12:30 and headed out into the  Prince William sound. The tour headed east through the Passage Canal to the Egg Rock sea lion rookery in Port Wells. We continued through the scenic Esther Passage where only small ships can navigate. The high mountains on either side of the passage protect the narrow channel from rough seas  and winds.

Whittier from the ship

Beyond Esther Passage, we turned north into College Fjord. There were a number of glaciers in this area, first explored by the Edward Harriman expedition in 1899. Harriman was told by his doctors to take a vacation. So he decided to go to Alaska. He got together a group of scientists and other individuals, including John Muir.  Harriman had a large ship and took this group to explore Prince William Sound.

Barry Arm glacier

They entered College Fjord and named the glaciers after the colleges that the men and women had attended.

Views for the ship

College Fjord

Alaska Ferry's newest ship

Above is the newest ship in the Alaska Ferry fleet.

Steller Sea Lions

Above was the Steller Sea Lions.

Local fisherman pulling in his net

Above is one of the fisherman reeling in his net with his catch. There were big fish which could fall into the basket on the bow of the boat.

Scenery

Harvard Glacier

Sea Otter momma with her calves

Sea Otters, momma on the left with her babies on the right. They just float along…. we saw a lot of sea otters. We also saw jumping salmon.

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We lucked out and saw this hump back whale. We were able to see him blow his blow hole.

Hump back whale

Hump back whale

Lunch was either a turkey/cheese Panini or fish and chips. I had opted for the sandwich and everyone else had the fish and chips. They gave us a frozen peppermint bear ( like a peppermint patty). On the way back, they gave us a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Coffee, tea and water were included.

Margie and Wayne

Wayne and Margie with Cascade Glacier behind.  Below us at Cascade Glacier.

Cascade Glacier

Iceberg from Cascade Glacier

Above is a calved iceberg that had calved overnight at the glacier. Very large, as 85% of it is below the water. We were able to see the glacier calf, two times, but it was not something that I was able to catch on camera.

There are three glaciers in this one area. In the middle of the channel, were some large rocks. In 1983, two of the glaciers met on the rocks. Neither are in the water any longer.

There are three types of glaciers. The first is a Tidewater Glacier which is pressured by its own weight, active tidewater glaciers move toward the water, ending at the ocean’s edge where they frequently “calve”, shedding slabs of ice that crash into the sea. These floating icebergs are so heavy that on the the very tip is visible. 

The second type of glacier is the Piedmont- derived from the French word pied, meaning ‘foot ‘and mont meaning ‘mountain’. Piedmont glaciers rest at the base of a mountain. They are formed when glacial ice forms a fan shaped mass at the foot of a mountain range.

The third type are the alpine glaciers, also known as hanging glaciers. These ice masses start high on the slopes of mountains and literally hang from the mountainsides.

Steller Sea Lions on a glacier

More Steller Sea Lions, just floating on an iceberg. Our last stop, just across the bay from Whittier, was at the Black-Legged Kittiwake Rookery. These are the most prevalent of all bird species in the Sound. The Passage Canal colony, near Whittier has more than 10,000 that nest in the surrounding sea cliffs. These birds were in a tizzy! There were two bald eagles, which eat Kittwake, who were near. The birds were  flying around everywhere to confuse the eagles and to protect their young. I could not get a picture of the eagles!

Kittiwake Bird  Rookery

Kittiwake live near glaciers and with the shrinkage of the glaciers, there is great concern about their survival in the future.

On board, there were a lot of kids. There was a Junior Ranger program. The kids had to spot various wildlife and report back. They then said the Junior Ranger pledge and were given badges. Then the ranger sent them around the ship showing us some otter and sea lion pelts. We all clapped and cheered for the kids when they got their badges.  Silly, but cute!

We arrived back at the dock at 5:30, having traveled 145 miles through rugged wilderness, towering glaciers, and pristine waters.  Prince William Sound is 2100 square miles of islands and fjords. It was carved by 15 million years of glaciations and is surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. Only about  7,100 people live in the area, which is larger than the state of Vermont. It is America’s largest intact marine ecosystem and North America’s northern-most rain forest.  it is also one of the most active seismic regions in the world. We thought we had gotten our money’s worth. It was a beautiful day, rare in this area. The Park Ranger, who narrated the tour, and told us what we were seeing, kept saying how lucky we were with the weather. Many times you cannot see all the glaciers that we were able to see! I took hundreds of pictures, but had to pick and choose which to put into the blog!

We walked back to the truck and got in line for the tunnel. The next tunnel opening was at 6:00, so we were back at the campground by 6:15. We ate dinner and went over to the campfire.

Portage Valley RV Park campfire building.

There were quite a few people there this evening. A mother and her 17 yo daughter were there. Mom is an ER nurse and had come to Alaska from Kansas because she did not like the hot weather in Kansas. They live near Soldotna and have no running water. They use an outhouse all year long, no TV, and they heat their water for showers. They take showers in a shed, winter and summer! UGH!  They had come to the campground as the fishermen have descended upon Soldotna and they wanted to get away from the crowd!

We stayed until after 9 PM. We took the dogs with us and they were better behaved than some of the kids. The kids were roasting marshmallows (big brightly colored ones) over the campfire. Scott, the RV park owner was not enjoying that, as the kids drop the marshmallows and then he has to clean up the goo…. But the kids were having a great time!

Finally, here was our site in Portage Valley RV Park. Behind us was our own private glacier. The run off from the glacier lands in a small lake at the back of the park.

Portage RV Park

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