After our time in inner Alaska, we took a plane to Gustavus which is located at the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park.
Gustavus can only be reached by boat or plane and up until the Alaska Marine Highway incorporated it into its route last summer, automobiles here didn’t need to be registered. We made reservations to stay at the Cottonwood Cabins. The owner, Frank, met us at the airport and told us that Gustavus has only about 350-400 people, half of whom leave for the winter every year. This made Alejandro exclaim in surprise that his elementary school had more students than Gustavus had residents. Frank chuckingly told us that the school here had only 4 teachers for the entire K-12 and some grades had only one student.
On our way to the cabins, Frank stopped at the local grocery store where we bought a few supplies at four times the regular prices. Gustavus is smaller than a one-block town. In fact, at the main intersection you can find the grocery store in one corner, the cafe/museum at the other
and vacant lots at the other two. The cabins are secluded in the sense that Gustavus itself is secluded and thus surrounded by nothing but woods.
I arrived feeling very sick. The midnight drive out of Denali added to the Harding Icefield climb had given me a terrible cold and all I wanted was to burrow under the covers. It was still light out (it’s light almost 24hrs during the summer in Gustavus) and the boys wanted to go exploring. Frank had a couple of bicycles for them and they quickly took off after saying hello to Frank’s black lab who is named, get this: Pedro! I barely had the strength to ask Fernando to make sure the boys were back before he went to bed. His reply was: “Nothing’s going to happen to them, the town only has 400 people.” You only need one bad person, was my last thought before I passed out. They rode their bikes “all over town” and went as far as the beach, said hello to a bunch of dogs and basically had a great time by themselves.
We were scheduled for a Glacier Bay Boat Tour the following morning but I was feeling worse by then so the guys went on a whale-watching tour instead while I went to the doctor. Gustavus is so small, there is no doctor; only a nurse and I chose her day off to get sick. There was nothing more to do but stay in bed all day but the cabin was so comfortable that it wasn’t a sacrifice.
Frank arranged to change our scheduled tour of GB for the following day and drove the guys to the pier where they embarked on a 20-passenger boat with Taz that was more than halfway empty. They had a wonderful experience and Fernando thinks this is the best whale-watching tour he’s been on, and we’ve been on plenty.
They saw over 40 humpack whales playing and bubble-net fishing in the ocean.
At one point they got so close that when one of them breached (jumped out of the water) they could see the folds in the skin of its head. Something that Taz does which I haven’t seen before is lower a microphone into the water and broadcast the whale songs on the boat, it must be awesome to hear it as it is happening.
After they came back from the boat, the boys once more took to their bikes and the paths of Gustavus.
They walked into the cafe where the lady told them to be careful and watch out for the Moose who’d given chase to a little girl on her bike the previous day. She said the Moose was “cranky” because the bear had killed her calf the day before. And here I was worrying about people, silly me…They didn’t encounter either the bear or the moose though and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
We all went on the Glacier Bay Boat Tour the following day and although I was still feeling ill, I couldn’t miss it. Most of Glacier Bay National Park consists of water and glaciers and thus can best be experienced by boat. This tour lasts from 7am until 4pm and breakfast consisting of pastries, juices, coffee, tea and hot chocolate is served on board. There are two sitting levels and I recommend the upper one just because it is closer to the deck where you will want to be once the crew announces wildlife sightings but the truth is that no matter where you choose to sit you will spend very little time there and it doesn’t ultimately matter. Once again the boat seemed about 1/3 under capacity and it was a relaxed and enjoyable ride. By now, we were getting used to the wildlife and when we sighted whales jumping out of the water at about 100 feet, the boys declared that it wasn’t as nice as they had seen the day before. We saw sea otters, sea lions
and tons of birds. I’ve never been much of a bird person but the Park Ranger on board would get so excited at these sightings that it was impossible to remain impassive and I even learned that those birds that fish for food have a denser bone structure which allows them to dive deeper than other birds can and they belong to a class called Alcids.
Right about now, just when everyone had had enough of the cold, the crew served a delicious salmon chowder to warm us all up. On our way to the glaciers, we picked up three hitchhikers. Three young people had been dropped off several days before on one of the rock beaches with their gear and left to themselves. Now that they were ready to leave, they simply waited for the next tour boat to come by and pick them up. As cool as I think that is, I don’t think I would do well overnight sharing the woods with bears
in the freezing cold, although they didn’t seem to mind.
While the wildlife viewing is great, the real reason to be on this tour is to see the glaciers.
We spent about half an hour in front of a tidewater glacier waiting for it to calve (break off a chunk of ice). No huge chunks fell off in our time there but there was a constant breaking of of small pieces into the water.
Taking pictures of anything happening on the water is very difficult, whether it be whales jumping or glaciers calving. It seems like you tape for minutes and nothing is happening and just when you put your camera down, it does and you don’t get it. At some point you just have to forget the camera and simply enjoy the experience.
The crew served lunch consisting of sandwiches and chips on our way back and Mrs. Park Ranger named the boys Junior Park Rangers.
We all relaxed and enjoyed the ride back. I’d like to say we had our fill of glaciers but that wouldn’t be true. The glaciers are so spectacular that it wasn’t enough and we would surely love to come back to this corner of Alaska.