By Kathy Slamp
Glacier Bay – Why “this” Bay?
Why is this rather remote spot in our great big world so often visited, and how did it become so famous? I have visited dozens of times as an Alaskan naturalist, and peoples’ responses are always the same. The Bay is awe-inspiring, historic, mystical, spiritual, magical – it is beyond words. But, how did it become so well-known.
Personally, I believe that the name itself–Glacier Bay–is part of its charm. It sounds so romantic and glamorous. Actually, there are other places in Alaska such as College Fjord and Hubbard Glacier that rival the beauty of Glacier Bay, but no Alaskan glacial area attracts more attention than Glacier Bay.
John Muir and the Glacier Bay’s History
Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the popularity of this particular Bay is the historic visits of the famed naturalist, Mr. John Muir. Both Captain in 1778 and Captain George Vancouver in 1794 noticed a “tongue of ice” extending into Icy Strait at the entrance to what we now call Glacier Bay.
John Muir’s 1879 visit to Alaska was the catalyst that brought Glacier Bay world wide attention. At that time, the ice had retreated approximately 4 miles and created an inlet which today we call Glacier Bay. As a naturalist, Muir was intrigued, and began to explore the Bay.
Muir led six more expeditions to Alaska; the rest–as they say–is history. To reach Marjorie and Grand Pacific Glaciers (the present terminus of the Bay) you must sail approximately 80 miles from the mouth of the inlet at Icy Strait.
What Glaciers Will You See in This Bay?
Entering present day Glacier Bay, we sailed into a virtual icy wilderness of limitless beauty that will leave you speechless and stay with you for the rest of your days! On a typical cruise ship visit to the Bay you will see several glaciers, but the high point of any glacier visit is witnessing a “calving.”
When the salt water of the sea meets the ice of the glacier, ultimately a section will break away and calve. Basically, the glacier is giving birth to an ice birth. It reminds me of lightning and thunder, if you’re fortunate you will see the ice calve away, followed by the unmistakable sound of “white thunder.” Below are pictures of the main glaciers you will see on a Glacier Bay cruise.
Glaciers in the Bay
As you sail into the Bay you will see the glaciers in this order: Reid Glacier, Lamplugh, Marjorie Glacier, and Grand Pacific Glacier. The only glacier that you may not see is Johns Hopkins; ships are only allowed to enter that part of the bay in early spring or late summer. BUT…if you are lucky enough to see Johns Hopkins Glaciers, you will be enthralled!
What else will you see in this Famous Bay?
The entire Bay is a nature lover’s delight. If you crave purity and fresh air–this is definitely the place for you. Within the waters of the Bay are hundreds of varieties of fish. It is also common to see humpback whales either entering or leaving the bay.
Indian Rock rookery can be seen on the south side of the Bay near its entrance. There you may see scores of sea lions. And, of course, the Bay is filled with a plethora of wild flowers in the summer time.
How do I get to Glacier Bay National Park?
Thousands of people from around the world visit this Bay annually on large cruise ships. This is a wonderful way to see the park. There are smaller ships that also cruise the Bay as well. These boats advertise that they get up closer and more personal–and they do.
They are more expensive than the large cruise ships, but their size and flexibility allows them to stop for animal viewings and spend more time at the face of the glaciers, etc.
Many adventurers choose to spend more time in the park in order to camp, kayak or visit areas where cruise ships can’t go. Glacier Bay Nat’l Park Lodge and other hotels are located in nearby Gustavus, a tiny community that is only open to tourists from April – Sept. Alaska Airlines flies directly into Gustavus. There, you can choose a hotel for a lengthier stay or take a day boat trip into the park.
Regardless of whether you visit the Bay on a cruise ship, in a tiny kayak, or whether you visit in early spring, fall, or a gorgeous Alaska summer, it will stay with you for the rest of your days. Once you hear the “white thunder” of a glacial calving, you will be hooked on glaciers and their might.
A visit to “this” Bay is a must and a memory that you will take with you for your lifetime.
Glacier Bay – the Most Beautiful Place in the World by Kathy Slamp
Kathy has traveled extensively since her youth. Her childhood was spent in Alaska. She parlayed that experience into serving as an Alaskan cruise ship naturalist for 13 seasons… In addition to Alaska, she travels extensively in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and S. Pacific. You will love her travel insights.