Day 3 – September 3 (Seward)
Awoke to the wonderful sounds of nature. I have to take a moment here to express that absolutely nothing can prepare one properly for the grandeur and scope that is Alaska. Even when one is traveling through it or looking out the window experiencing it, it’s impossible to comprehend the vastness. The trees are taller and denser than any I’ve ever encountered before, even those in areas where civilization has intruded enough to build.
We had breakfast at the Roadhouse and boarded the shuttle for the trip to the harbor for our Kenai Fjords cruise. Let me preface by saying that the weather was so bad the day before that all of the cruises had been either cancelled or limited to Resurrection Bay. We were scheduled to go out into the Gulf of Alaska as part of our 6-hour tour (cue Gilligan’s Island theme) of Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Major Marine Tours boat was a catamaran, so I felt certain that the cruise would be as smooth as possible. Our all-female crew was wonderful. Our guide was a U.S. Park Ranger – Ranger Dan. Ranger Dan was originally from Sandy Springs, Georgia (not far from where we used to live). The ride out in the bay was breathtaking. We went past Bear Glacier, where it looked as if an immense vehicle had driven down it. Those areas of dark are called moraines. We passed some water caves and lone standing rocks that reminded me greatly of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the Pictured Rocks area.
Not far past the rocks, we entered the Gulf of Alaska and happened upon a pod of Orca. There were several adults and a few juveniles. While not nearly as rough as the previous day, there was plenty of rocking and rolling while the ship cut its engines to drift and watch the orca. We stayed as stationary as possible considering the seas for quite a while. Sadly, this took quite a toll on many of our shipmates.
When Captain Kayleigh started the boat back up and headed toward Aialik Bay and Glacier, it was not a moment too soon. Even though I’d taken Bonine (a motion sickness medication), that rocking with the diesel fumes had gotten to me. As we pulled close to the Aialik Glacier, there was a tremendous explosion sound and then intense thunder as the great glacier calved. I’m so glad I was able to see this intense, natural phenomenon. As I was trying to see the Harbor Seals up along the edge of the by, the glacier calved yet again.
All through the bay, there were small icebergs from the glacier “calves.” The crew managed to fish one of these out of the bay, clean it off, and shatter it into drink-sized pieces. Jim got a glacier margarita. I was still feeling a bit green, so I abstained from that and the “buffet” lunch.
The trip back was quite a bit smoother as the boat was going with the current and waves instead of against it. I also think that the sea had extracted its toll on us so was kinder to us on the return. As we went through the passages in the Channel Islands, we were able to see flocks of puffins (both Horned and Tufted) in the wild. We also saw Sooty Shearwaters and Black-legged Kittiwakes. On the rocks was a huge colony of huge Stellar Sea lions. Most of the trip the sky had cleared greatly and these immense mammals were sunbathing and taking in the warmth. When we passed the area where we had seen the orca on the way out, we found they were still there and even more visible. Luckily though, we had very little time left on the tour, so the Captain and crew made for the harbor after only a short stop.
Once back on dry land, I felt a whole lot better and we scouted for someplace to grab a bite and a cocktail. Right next to the boat harbor is Ray’s Waterfront. Our shuttle driver had recommended the place – and it was close, so we gave it a try. I’m very glad we did. The service was a bit awkward, but the bourbon was good and the macadamia-crusted halibut, with coconut curry rice and sauce was very good – actually, one of the better meals on the trip.
We stopped across the street and bought a pint bottle of Maker’s Mark. (Have I mentioned that everything in Alaska is quite a bit more expensive than in the lower 48? Just getting products into Alaska is way more expensive, so they pass that along in pricing.) The clerk had to see BOTH of our licenses – out of the wallets. Now, y’all know how old we are. I guess a rule is a rule and he could get fired if he didn’t require us to pull out our id, but really?
We caught the last scheduled shuttle of the evening and headed back to the lodge. After a quick nightcap, we headed for bed. It was a very long day, but one not easily forgotten.