Glacier Bay National ParkPhotos, Pictures, Prints

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Miles of Ice

Glacier Bay National Park lies in Southeast Alaska, about 50 miles (90 km) west of Juneau. This vast, Y-shaped fjord begins as open, crystal-blue water and leads into a seemingly-endless glacier.

Though most of the park is water and ice, the land here tells a story as well. Due to protection from the Fairweather Range, ground at the southernmost section of the park is covered in lush, spruce-and-hemlock rainforest. Meanwhile, further north, thin vegetation covers the ground. This is because glaciers have recently retreated from the area in a process known as succession.

The calm, smooth waters of the bay lead to massive tidewater glaciers.  Sometimes the balance between water and ice remains stable. Other times the glaciers crack, and giant icebergs collapse into the sea. The sound is so loud it can be heard for miles. Hence, the Tlingit Indians called it “white thunder”.

Each summer humpback whales return here from their wintering grounds near Hawaii and Mexico. Minke and killer whales, along with harbor and Dall’s porpoises, also feed in the park’s near-shore waters. Throughout the park, Steller sea lions congregate on rocky islands. Meanwhile, thousands  of harbor seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice.

Especially noteworthy, Sea otters are rapidly re-colonizing Glacier Bay after almost being exterminated in the 1800’s. Always inquisitive, Brown bears trundle the beaches at low tide, turning over rocks and looking for tasty clams.

The skies hear bristle with life as well. Myriad seabirds nest on cliffs within the bay or on the outer coast. In tall cottonwood trees, bald eagles build their nests. They perch, standing guard over the park and its wonder.

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