National Geographic describes Kenai Fjords National Park this way:
"Distill the essence of coastal Alaska into one place - wild, dynamic, and scenic, rich with the signature of glaciers, light with the marks of people, unforgiving in stormy seas, unforgettable in warm sunshine - and you have Kenai Fjords, the smallest national park in Alaska. Here the south-central part of the state tumbles into the Gulf of Alaska; here the land challenges the sea with talonlike peninsulas and rocky headlands, while the sea itself reaches inland with long fjords and hundreds of quiet bays and coves."
Today we had the privilege of experiencing some of these fjords that had been carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the ice fields. These flowing glaciers created valleys, many of which have been submerged by a combination of rising sea levels and land subsidence, thus becoming what are called fjords.
Half of Kenai Fjords National Park is capped by glacial ice with the Harding Icefield being the largest single area, giving rise to nearly 40 glaciers. The park has 3 kinds of glaciers. Alpine glaciers which are up on the mountainsides, valley glaciers which are nestled in valleys and don't reach the ocean, some terminating in large, freshwater lagoons, and tidewater glaciers that flow right to the ocean, the ice stopping abruptly where it comes in contact with the warmer ocean water. This causes what is referred to as "calving" where massive chunks of glacier rumble and crash into the water. Today, we saw all three, the most dramatic being the tidewater glacier.
Our tour boat, a catamaran, sailed from Seward's small boat harbor out into Resurrection Bay about 7:30 a.m. for a 6-hour narrated wildlife and glacier cruise. Thankfully we had calm seas the whole day instead of the 11 foot swells that had been predicted for yesterday. The weather was occasionally drizzly and gray, sometimes with a peek at blue sky, always with clouds swirling around the green mountains. We spent our time alternating between the comfort of the inside heated viewing area with seats and giant windows and the freezing cold of the outside decks where we could get better photos and had more of a feeling of being part of the environment.
The highlight of the cruise was the time spent near the Aialik Glacier, the most actively calving tidewater glacier in the park. As we began to move closer to the glacier, it continued to get colder and we began to see huge chunks of ice floating in the water. We stopped at what the boat captain considered a safe distance and stood watching in awe and amazement, trying to catch the moment on cameras, as the giant ice chunks fell into ocean.
Another favorite place for me was when we entered the mouth of Aialik Bay at what I think is called Cliff Bay. Rocky islands and cliffs were rising out of the turquoise water with
misty clouds and fog floating around the tops. See photos. I named it the "Magical Cove" because that's the way it felt to me!
We saw lots of wildlife on the way back to Seward. To be continued on the next entry.