We wrap up our two-month road trip throughout Alaska with a stay in Gustavus (pop 428), a tiny town that stands near where Muir Glacier once dumped into the sea.
In 1680, this area was a grassy valley full of salmon streams, while the glacier loomed in the background. The Huna Tlingit tribes of Alaska harvested salmon and forest delights until the glacier’s rapid advance in the year 1750 chased them out. The glacier advanced “as fast as a dog could run.” But the resilient Tlingit people returned as the glacier retreated and ultimately carved out Glacier Bay.
Marilynn and I hop off the ferry and walk on land that used to be glacier covered. Now the land is growing a wide array of flora and fauna attracting ecologists from around the world. The ground itself is growing, rising several inches yearly, rebounding from the weight of the rapidly retreating glacier (isostatic rebound). While ecologists study newly forming forests, the native population recently won a lawsuit to claim this “new” land.
We hike and bicycle around grasslands and forest, where bears forage and wildflowers explode into color. Of course, we manage to find the two places in Gustavus that serve alcohol, one of our honed travel skills, and chat with friendly folks who love living remote. Like much of Alaska, they work hard during summer tourist season to sustain for the rest of the winter.
Okay, it’s time to splurge on a 55-mile boat ride from the lodge up to the tidewater glaciers.
It’s the only way to see them, or by kayak, but that would take days. Oh yes, a cruise ship is another way as well.
The struggle between preserving the environment and providing a tourist attraction is nothing new.
Here the current agreement allows only two cruise ships daily to travel through the bay.
Of the 300,000 yearly visitors here, less than 10% of them ever step foot on land.
The Glacier Bay Lodge serves as a hub for tours and offers packages that include lodging and the boat tour.
Just be prepared for everything to be overpriced, even by Alaskan standards.
Glacier Bay National Park holds 3.3 million acres and is designated by UNESCO. Most of the glaciers are retreating, with only a few still growing.
The array of wildlife, from marine mammals to grizzlies and goats and birds almost overshadows the glaciers.
And then there’s the scenery. We just enjoy it all, knowing that we’re experiencing something special.
Sometimes it’s just that simple. Thank you, Abundant Universe.