Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay
Located in a remote area of Southeast Alaska, the beautiful Glacier Bay National Park where the land is reborn & a world returning to life.  In 1794, Captain George Vancouver cruised by what is now the entrance to Glacier Bay & found it to be filled with tidewater glaciers & no bay.  In 1879 almost a hundred year later John Muir visited the same area & noticed that the glacier had retreated 48 miles north into the bay.  Today, those same glaciers have retreated a total of 60 miles in a little over 200 years & left behind the huge bay that is now protected as the Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve that is also know as an United Nation World Heritage Site & a Biosphere Reserve.  A massive river of ice, roughly 100 miles long & thousand of feet deep, occupied the entire bay. The glacier is gone, but has retreated north with fewer than a dozen smaller tidewater glaciers remain.  They are impressive in themselves where the landscape is filled with snow capped coastal mountains to the sea, an abundance of Sitka spruce & calved great shards of ice that bejewel cold waters with diamond-liked bergs. The moving rivers of ice is subject to change where it reminds man to slow down & breath deeply of the cool ice age air to imagine for a day on how the way life use to be.
I will admit that I have sailed threw Glacier Bay National Park numerous time making it the most visited National Park that I’ve set foot or I really should say sailed threw.  I’m always impressed to learn about the geology of the place in particular with the glaciers advancing & retreating. I studied them back in my Introduction to Geology class at the University of Maine. It was about until 10,000 years ago, continental-scale ice sheets came & went many times for several million years.  During this Great Ice Age these sheets would reach as far south as the upper Midwest of the United States.  Glacier Bay is the product of the Little Ice Age, a geologically recent glacial advances in the northern regions.  By 1750 the Little Ice Age reached its maximum extent.  Most of what you see in Southeast Alaska has been carved by glaciers & are the deepest fjords in North America.  This landscape is pretty amazing not only to geologist, but to any visitor.  Some glaciers are retreating here while others are advancing, but down in the “Lower 48” glaciers are known to be a thing of the past. Glacier Bay is probably the best place in Southeast Alaska where you can witness the geological process & change that has been barely noticed in the span of a lifetime.
Guest Enjoying the Glacier
The Huna Tlingit call Glacier Bay home with the wolves, bears & mountain goats that also call this place home. Oral history & scientific findings are in agreement that these people occupied the Bay long before the last great glacial advance.  By the late 1700s when European explores sailed into the region there was no bay, only a great wall of ice bordering the body of water that became known as Icy Straight.  Later, as the ice receded, the Huna Tlingit returned to their homeland, erecting permanent winter villages & setting up seasonal camps throughout the rapidly enlarging bay.  These people were known as hunters, fishers & gathers. A common Tlingit saying, “when the tide is out, the table is set”, descript to the dietary importance of shellfish.  Salmon was the most important fish harvested from spawning streams beginning in late spring & halibut which follows salmon to shallower waters, were most easily caught during the summer months that was the best time to smoke the fish & to preserve it for the winter, also rockfish is known to be caught at any time of the year.  Seals were most often hunted during the winter cos the seals’ body fat is the thickest.  Water repellant seal fur provided the ideal garment for the Tlingit people who crafted beautiful hats, coats, trousers, boots, gloves, moccasins & blankets from the fur. Seal fur was also a prize to cover the canoes, which allowed them to closely approach the seals during a hunt.  Seals can be found everywhere in Glacier Bay.  During the wet & cold months of the year, any meal was not complete without dry fish dipped in rendered seal oil. Seal oil is also known as an important preservative that kept berries & other foods unspoiled for many months after the harvest. Within Glacier Bay, many specific areas are known to have served as important food harvest sites at different times of the seasons; cliffs where seabirds nest provide fresh eggs for a few weeks each year, berry patches came into season at varying times & land mammals such as deer & mountain goats provided protein during the cold months.  Canoes were the major source of transportation in the region.  They are quite impressive & beautiful to the modern eyes that were to the Tlingit’s as pathways for the agricultural societies.  Cedar was used to make the canoes & sometimes they exceeded 60 feet in length that carried dozen of people & their supplies.  A canoe voyage would sometimes covered an incredible distance by modern man standards that would reach as far to the north to Copper River, west to Kodiak Island & south to present day Washington state & beyond. The Tlingit’s held a deep appreciation for all the natural resources they depended upon that provide them as good stewards to the land & waters.  Waste or misuse was considered an insult to the spirits that permeated the Tlingit world.  Clan names, crests, artwork & oratory all attest to the Tlingit’s’ close relationship with animals as well as with natural features most particularly mountains & glaciers.
Today the Huna people can be found in the largest village, Hoonah, located on the southern shore of Icy Strait.  I’ve visited the village a couple of times during my first summer in Alaska where I did a ferry run for Allen Marine Tours.  I had the opportunity to go on one of the word’s largest zip lines, which is the big attraction for visitors these days. From time beyond memory at least four clans ancestral to the Hunan people lived in & occupied Glacier Bay.  The natural history of Glacier Bay is retained in the oral history of these clans that describe villages & campsites destroyed by encroaching glaciers & the migration of clans out & back into the bay as the ice advances & retreats.  The stories & songs about the region are at.oow & can only be told or sung by clan members or by their consent. The four original clans of Glacier Bay are the following: The Eagle Clans were broken up into Kaagwaantaan, Wolf Crest, Wooshkeetaan or Shark Crest & Chookaaneidi or Bear Crest; the Raven Clan was T’akdeintaan or Whale or Kittiwake Crest. Glacier Bay has both English & native names for the same places. This land is rich in history & now there’s a cultural interpreter that sails along with the park ranger to provide both naturalizing of the voyage threw this grate land.
Sunset in Bartlet Cove
By early afternoon the boat has sailed to Margerie Glacier at the head of the bay. The glacier is a highlight for any voyage in addition to all the wildlife viewing stops along with the inlets & coves. I didn’t hear any caving today while I was on deck, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t.  Glaciers are very active & when you hear caving or shooters it’s a reminder that these “moving rivers of ice” are still dancing to Mother Nature’s beat. It’s been a rather beautiful day on deck with sunshine making its appearance rather then the liquid one.  It’s always beautiful to watch the glacier & to be reminded by the peacefulness of life.  A day at Glacier Bay is always enjoyable.  A newfound appreciation of the land is always present when you spend your journey through the geological timeline of our planet. It definitely opens your eye up to the importance environmental issues such as global warming & the need for change on the way man has done things with modern technology. 

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