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Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park is located in Southeast Alaska, about 50 miles (90 km) west of Juneau. It is a vast Y-shaped fjord sheltered from the Gulf of Alaska by the Fairweather range. When Captain George Vancouver sailed through Icy Strait in 1794, he and his crew described what we now call Glacier Bay as just a small five-mile indent in a gigantic glacier that stretched off to the horizon. In 1879 naturalist John Muir found that the ice had retreated almost all the way up the bay, a distance of around 48 miles (80 km). By 1916 the Grand Pacific Glacier was at the head of Tarr Inlet about 60 miles (100 km) from Glacier Bay’s mouth. The park was originally founded as a National Monument in 1925, and later expanded to a National Park in 1980.

To travel up Glacier Bay is to retrace the path of glacial retreat, from the lush mature spruce and hemlock rain forest near the visitor center at Bartlett Cove, to the more thinly vegetated areas recently de-glaciated in a process known as succession. Eventually the tidewater glaciers in the northern reaches of the park calve icebergs into the water with a sound described by the Tlingit Indians as “white thunder”.

Each summer humpback whales return from their wintering grounds near Hawaii and Mexico to feed on abundant small schooling fish. Minke and killer whales, along with harbor and Dall’s porpoises also feed in the park’s productive near-shore waters. Steller sea lionscongregate on rocky islands to mate and rest. Thousands of harbor seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice and among the rocky reefs. Sea otters are rapidly re-colonizing Glacier Bay after almost being exterminated in the 1800’s. Bears work the beaches at low tide turning over rocks looking for tasty barnacles and clams. Wolves travel along the edge of tall beach grass rather than fighting through alder thickets. Thousands of seabirds nest on cliffs and rocky shores within the bay or on the outer coast. Bald eaglesnest in tall cottonwood trees or on cliffs.

No roads access Glacier Bay National Park, so most people visit on a cruise ship, small boat, or airplane. The best locations for landscape photography in Glacier Bay National Park include Johns Hopkins Inlet, the Lamplugh Glacier, Reid Inlet, the Margerie Glacier, Muir Inlet, and Beartrack Cove. Outside of the bay, but still part of the park are Dundas Bay, Taylor Bay, Lituya Bay, and the Alsek River.

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