Selfies Trump the Wonders of Prince William Sound

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North America » United States » Alaska » Whittier
June 6th 2017
Published: June 12th 2017
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The morning dawned and again we were facing the possibility of inclement weather accompanying us onto Prince William Sound. Before you wonder how today’s Prince William got his name attached to a sound in Alaska, chill for a second. This Prince William was the third son of King George III. We had big hopes that this boating tour would be as photographically productive as our previous visit here during our first trip to Alaska about six years ago. We’re just hoping that we’ll be able to take the pictures of gleeful otters at play in the water or massive walls of ice falling to the sea; and, that they won’t be missed due to people being oblivious to others trying to take a picture. On our whale watching outings there had been multiple cases of people who would decide to put on their jackets, and hats and gloves in the door leading to the outside, forcing others including Sharon to wait until they were done. On another occasion two people were carrying on a conversation and showed no inclination to move, even though a queue was forming. We caught a quick snack in the café and waited in the lobby of the Alyeska Resort. Ten o’clock came and went and we were now waiting outside to no avail. I eventually called to find out if the bus was ever coming… it was already twenty minutes late. The assured me that the bus was on the way, and no sooner had I hung up, when Sharon said that she saw the bus. We got on the empty bus along with a mother and son from our hotel; except, it looked like many of the seats were being reserved with people’s personal items. The bus stopped again in the mini-mall at the corner of the highway with the road leading to Alyeska Resort. The driver had obviously dropped these people who had boarded in Anchorage and were taking this opportunity to catch a quick snack, or perhaps to be trapped by “The Ultimate Tourist Trap”, one of the establishments in the mini-mall that seemed to have no trouble attracting “live ones”. Several people had gotten on the bus when the driver opened the door; but, clearly there were two people missing. They evidently hadn’t heeded his admonishment to re ready to board when he returned in fifteen minutes. Someone pointed him to the donut place; but, that was a bust. They’d been hooked by the Tourist Trap; and, now they just couldn’t resist taking a Selfie of themselves in front to the Tourist Trap. The driver ushered them onto the bus without so much as a word. He announced that he’d need to hurry in order “to make the tunnel”. The tunnel to Whittier flows towards Whittier on the half-hour, and back towards Anchorage on the hour: Trains have priority over other traffic. If there are no trains then cars, and then other vehicles like busses and trucks will go thru in a single lane over the train track. The single lane tunnel was built during WWII. The tunnel was only used by trains until around 2003 when they started adding the car/truck/bus traffic thru it. Sharon’s first cruise to Alaska in 1986 ended in Whittier and she remembers everyone being loaded from the ship into School buses according to what tour/flight etc they were on. The School buses then drove up onto flat bed train cars for the ride thru the tunnel. We did just make our time slot; or, we’d surely have missed our tour boat.

As we departed, the driver advised us, “When you tour returns, come directly to the bus. We need to make the tunnel entrance on the hour or we will be delayed an hour. Make sure you use the heads on the tour boat BEFORE it docks.”

We boarded for the 26-Glacier Tour, including lunch, and we had assigned seating on the top inside deck. Our seat was in the forward most seat on the right side, with excellent viewing out the front window and on the side. Ranger Dawn of the U.S. Forest Service introduced herself, and would be announcing wildlife and glacier facts during the cruise. We both got a $6 Unlimited Refills Cup featuring wildlife and glaciers; and, we both chose to fill it first with hot chocolate. The warmth of this drink was most welcome on this chilly morning. We had pre-ordered our lunch choice (of two) and decided to get one of the salmon chowder and one of the vegetarian chili. Sharon of course was not going to eat either of these; but, I was up for trying both. I actually felt that the vegetarian chili was more satisfying and tasty than the hearty meat chili that I’d had the previous day atop the mountain at the Boar’s Head Sandwich Bistro.

We saw a few isolated sea otters, often a mother floating on her back with a put on her chest; but, we were straining to find a large flotilla, or raft, of otters. The captain had said he wasn’t stopping for these single sightings; because, he assured us they would appear in abundance later.

We had a humpback sighting and people moved to see what all the spouting was about. Sharon tried to get some pictures; and, I was less than thrilled to be spending so much time pursuing a quite uninteresting humpback who wasn’t putting on much of a show, and showing virtually no tail.

We gave the whale about ten minutes of our time; before moving on to check out the harbor seals on a rocky outcropping. They were not to be seen; so, we continued on to see glaciers. We approached College Fjord, where glaciers have names like Harvard and Yale. We just sailed partway into this fjord, enough to see the base of Harvard Glacier; but, then we retraced our course and headed over to see Cascade Glacier, a tidewater glacier that is in the process of receding. Next to it, to the right are Barre Glacier and Coxe Glacier which once were also tidewater glaciers. The sea water has taken its toll on these glaciers whose ice now hangs above the glacial rocks, appearing to us now as hanging glaciers. We would come back to Cascade Glacier if the ice flows being generated permitted us a closer passage; but, now headed to Surprise Glacier. As one enters this fjord, heading directly towards Cascade Glacier, Surprise Glacier cannot be seen, it is a sharp left turn behind small wall of granite rock that blends with the steeper rock on the far side of that narrow channel. When this was first discovered, John Muir was on the expedition. And it was he that had recommended that they head in their boat all the way to the face of Cascade Glacier, because he felt that something even more impressive lay around the corner to the left. And he was right, and thus was named Surprise Glacier. We were able to get in close. We could hear the ice grinding and moaning; but, really only witnessed some minor calving. Sharon was having difficulty getting near the railing to take some pictures. The two that had been late getting on the bus that morning were their taking a selfie, completely oblivious to this marvel of natural history behind them, and missing a major calving event; but worse, causing Sharon not to be able to photograph it either. And it wasn’t that they held up the camera and took the selfie, and that was that… no, they wanted to take “the perfect selfie” so they monopolized the prime photography spot on the boat (which you really don’t need for a selfie). There were also a few other groups lining up to get their photos taken in front of the glacier while not even looking at it for the calving.

We spent perhaps an hour at Surprise Glacier before heading over to take a closer look at Cascade Glacier. There were many harbor seals and otters lounging on tiny bergie bits. Ranger Dawn had a special surprised for those youngsters up to 12 years of age, with a chance to earn their Junior Ranger Badges. Their tasks were to take some Show-and-Tell props around for everyone to see, and to tell about how the piece of otter pelt that we were handling had more hairs in one square inch than an adult German Shepard has on its whole body; or, who the fine glacier dust results from the grinding of rock-on-rock under massive icy pressure in a process that carves out the very fjords that we were sailing through. The kids did this with a varying degree of enthusiasm, from the eagerly excited and actively engaged to the ho-hum “why are my parents making me do this” attitude. But they all earned their badges and they all seemed to show some pride in that.

We approached so steep rocky cliffs with hanging vines and sparse greenery, and soon spotted the fuzzy haze of Black-Legged Kittiwakes that were fluttering above us, with many in the water and many more on the cliffs. Ranger Dawn assured us that a “large predator” must be airborne and near, at least from how agitated that they appeared; although, we never did spot the eagle. It really did give me a flashback to when I first saw the movie “Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock.

It was after half-past the hour when we got back to the marina, and exited the boat. We headed right for the bus, as did most of our fellow bus passengers; but, there were two that didn’t show up. Well the bus driver did find the woman, and she seemed to explain that her husband hadn’t quite understood the admonishment of using the head (which he seemed to prefer to avoid during the whole cruise). He did finally return, and Sharon and I just shook our heads with that “There’s one in every group” lament. At least, we did get to the tunnel in time; but, only because we were in the third lane for busses and it hadn’t been given the green light yet.

We decided to go straight to dinner upon returning to the resort. I tried the lasagna, and it was quite good. Sharon got a burger and thought her Angus Beef as very good.

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