As if things couldn't get any better, they totally did. I have wanted to go here for years. Something like 18 years, to be exact. The Kenai Fjords have mesmerized me heart and soul.
I love moments like this when Jim says "we should jump!" He's just as spectacularly nerdy as I am, isn't it great? I don't think I actually propelled my body upward at all, but hey, that's what folded knees are for; creating the illusion of jumping. The first attempt wasn't so successful...
Once in a while we gauge the timer allllll wrong.
Exit glacier is one of the only things in the Kenai Fjords that you can actually drive to. We had booked a boat tour and had about 45 minutes to kill after getting hot chocolate at an awesome coffee house filled with old storage trunks and stacks of National Geographic magazines dating back to 1958, so we took the 8 mile drive to the glacier. It would have been fun to go exploring, but it was so incredible just to see it.
The boat tour took no time at all to be amazing. The skies were overcast and grey, threatening to rain on us the whole time which made the ocean not a terribly impressive color - except for a few shallow locations near the shore where the colors were incredible. At times it almost felt Caribbean; except for the temperature, and the lack of sunshine, and the fellow passengers in rain parkas.
There were many glaciers in the area, this one I believe is Bear glacier. It was toward the beginning of the tour and I thought that was awesome. Boy, I didn't know what was coming.
We squeezed through some narrow openings, which were ridiculously gorgeous.
See how pretty the water is next to the rock? I wonder if some of it has to do with the different sediments deposited from glacial erosion. I know we saw one lake in one other park (cannot remember for the life of me what or where) that was a teal green color because of sediment from erosion.
I love this mug. He laughs at me sometimes for taking about a bazillion pictures everywhere we go, but I think secretly he likes it because he always wants to copy them from my computer.
We did hit up the visitor's center before heading out and asked the ranger what we should be on watch to see. "Well, you won't see any humpback whales, they've already moved on, and the puffins have left too" which we figured left us with a glamorous collection of snow, water, and maybe fish interspersed with the gorgeous scenery. Turns out he was wrong. We saw both puffins and humpback whales, within the first hour on the water.
The whales tend to leave behind all manner of tasty bits floating in the ocean that the birds want to eat, so we could often find the humpbacks by watching where the birds were circling.
And a tail... I confess I really hoped he'd breech. It didn't happen, and I am totally OK with that. The tail was pretty cool in and of itself.
It did rain during the boat tour, but we are Oregonians and didn't care! I was a little worried about the turbulent waters affecting my stomach even though I've never been motion sick. The bumps from some road construction in town were enough to get me feeling queasy, but this did nothing. If anything I really loved it. We would sit for a time, then go outside if the captain said he thought he saw something and just hang out there for a while. It was a six hour tour, I probably would have fallen overboard if I stayed outside the entire time.
There were so many waterfalls. I never tire of waterfalls though, so that was definitely a good thing.
This chunk of ice was about 10 feet long, and I kept trying to imagine how big it was when it initially fell off the glacier. This really put into perspective how icebergs could be a problem. In some directions there was a ridiculous amount of ice floating in the water.
We had clear enough sailing that we were able to make it all the way up the fjord to the Aialik glacier. This was incredible. The boat stayed there for at least a half hour and I could have easily stayed longer. There would be loud cracking/popping noises and then periodically they would be followed by a large chunk of ice calving into the ocean. Incredible, I tell ya. I was pretty mesmerized by this and when one particularly large chunk fell Jim said "take a picture!" but I stood frozen and saying "wow!" over and over like a crazy person. It was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.
The boat staff retrieved a couple chunks of glacial ice from the water so we could all have a chance to hold it. It was crystal clear and a bit heavy.
Fortunately I was wearing Aeryn's cheap cotton skeleton gloves so when they got wet I could lay them on the heater by our seats and they would quickly dry off. No, I didn't take a single jacket that fit around my belly. Fortunately it didn't rain too much!
See? Calving is really spectacular - just to see how much water is displaced by each chunk that falls is mind boggling.
This little seal was swimming within a quarter mile of the glacier. I feel cold every time I look at him swimming in that icy water.
The front face of the glacier is about one mile wide. It's so hard to look at it and truly understand the size. This was also the turnaround point for the tour.
On the way back the captain made a concerted effort to take us to areas where he knew there was wildlife. We saw these Stellar Sea Lions basking on the rocks. There were a couple in the water at another spot waiting for the tide to raise the water enough they could get onto a nearby rock. Evidently sea lions are not the best rock climbers by nature.
At one point we had separate Orca pods swimming of opposite sides of the boat. That was a good time to be standing on the bow! It was really exciting to look from one side to the other as the separate pods would be swimming along. The folks who chose to stand along the sides of the boat near the doors to the gallery really only saw a small fraction of the excitement. If you're ever on a boat like this, it is worth it to make your way to the front.
The Orcas didn't put on too much of a show, but we were all just happy with their presence.
These bald eagles were watching as their eaglets were out practicing flying. Apparently adolescent bald eagles do not have good enough vision yet to land on branches or other small targets and practice flying where they can land on larger surfaces.
The eaglets looked so much like golden eagles. Had I not been told, I'd have never known they were bald eagles.
Last, but not least, a sea otter that would actually hang around and put on a show. Most scampered off as soon as they saw us. This guy was perfectly content until someone took a picture with a flash and scared him off. The captain was a bit peeved at that one since he'd said over and over to make sure flashes were of.
Hands down, this was the most incredible trip we've ever taken. It has made us re-evaluate our top 5 National Parks and for me at least I think this has displaced Glacier in the #1 spot. I love it here and could come back over and over again. I'm so glad this was our last destination. As beautiful as the rest of the trip was, I think it would have felt anticlimactic if it all happened after this. We literally couldn't believe our luck and would have been happy seeing half of what we did.
We did get to go to the Anchorage temple at one point, and Jim went running in the mornings. In that sense it was pretty normal, except for all the completely abnormal awesomeness that ensued. This concludes our babymoon and leaves me wanting to take another. If I had the choice between Alaska and Hawaii at some future point I really do not know which one I would choose. So no, I'm not bummed that we used up our miles. This was so, so worth it.