26 Jun 2015--On Wednesday we took a sightseeing tour to the Meares Glacier, one of the few glaciers in this area that is still growing. "All Aboard!!!"
Along the shoreline and in the bays the water is remarkable calm, and the weather, although cool, is gorgeous. We really had total sun all day so it was a beautiful day! Valdez averages 325 inches of snow a year, and the Captain said at the top of the mountains they can get 1000 inches!!! No wonder we are at the end of June and there is still snow up there.
The Captain had us looking for animals and birds the whole way out to the glacier, but the 1st thing we came upon was this, the Anderson Waterfall. It is quite powerful all the way down to the ocean, and actually flows out of the Anderson Glacier, which we cannot see from our vantage point.
Pretty quickly we passed some eagles and this former mining operation, which at one time employed over 100 people and was the highest producing mine in the area. You can see the "hut" is built right up to the mountain, and I assume the 100+ people worked inside there. It operated as a privately-owned entity from 1912 up until 1942 , when the state passed the "Precious Metals Act", and closed it down, claiming all mineral rights for the state.
This tells us that Alaska has 30,000 square miles of glacier ice, and the map shows our route from Valdez past the Columbia Glacier and then on to the Mieres Glacier. It took a total of 9 1/2 hours round trip, but there was never a dull moment so it didn't seem nearly that long.
As I said earlier, in the bays it was quite warm, almost toasty, but on the open water when you are moving along it would get quite cool. Most people went inside when he would crank it up...haha. But out again we would all go as soon as there was a murmur of activity. In the 2nd and 3rd pics here you can see what look like small icebergs behind me and then at the bottom of the mountain, so that is our 1st indication that we are coming up to the Columbia Glacier. This is the glacier I showed in a blog the other day that is not growing..it is receding and has lost 11 miles of ice since the 1980s!
As we get closer you can see that the ice chunks aren't quite as small as they seem from a distance, and we were told that as a general rule of thumb 90% of any iceberg is underwater. The blue ones are really the prettiest, with the blue hue caused by air that is still trapped in the ice crystals.
As we sit among the icebergs and look in to the glacier here, the captain says we are actually 15 miles away. That made me immediately wonder how big these chunks were when they broke off from the glacier in the 1st place? The fishing boat in the 3rd pic is far closer to us than the glacier, but look how small it looks in its surroundings anyway.
We must have seen at least 100 of these sea otters, and I tell you they were adorable. They have the densest fur of any animal in the world, and they are totally curious; they watched us the whole time we watched them--haha--and check out the last pic in each row here. For the 1st 6 months of a baby's life they ride on top of their mothers, whether lounging on her belly like in the 1st row, or on her side/back as she swims a little in the 2nd. This 2nd mother looked like she was doing some type of side stroke, and it made me think of my sister Julie practicing her life-saving techniques on me when she was little! haha
This 1st bird is one of many different kinds of Puffins. It's body is so heavy in relation to it's wings that it has to get a running start across the top of the water to get airborne. And the 2nd bird is called a Pigeon Guillemot...it dives up to 400 feet below water to feed!
And here we come to the big kahuna, the Meares Glacier! It looks like the rest of the mountains when you are 1st approaching.
But it gets bigger and bigger as you come in to the bay. We end up about a 1/4 mile out from the wall of ice, which goes down into the water anywhere from 30-50 feet, and stands above the water anywhere from 50 to 100 feet! It is .6 of a mile wide, and goes back 15 miles...yes, that's right...15 miles!!!
You have to see a video of it to see how big it is, but even that doesn't do it justice. I tried a couple stitch pics to give you an idea...not sure it worked.
So here is a video as we come in, and then as we are closer...as I watch the videos it still looked way bigger in person.
We could have taken a different boat tour that was shorter than this one, but we were told that our best chance of seeing a "calving glacier" in action was at this one. The Columbia Glacier is a calving glacier also, but you can't get as close to that one, so you would miss seeing some of the ice breaking off and falling into the water. We were hoping for some big action, but these were pretty cool, and probably a lot safer (haha), so we were still pretty happy! The cracking and scraping of the ice as it is about to calve is quite loud.
I put these up to draw your attention to the deep veins of blue that run thru some of the ice and how craggy the ice actually is. In the 1st pic, halfway up on the left you can see a deep vein of blue, and the 2nd and 3rd look like an "earthquake" of ice to me. I bet those chunks are about 20 ft tall!
Right before we left to head back to Valdez, I caught this eagle flying at the glacier. Click on the 2nd pic and see how close he is to both the water and the ice.
Next up, some Harbor Seals, just lounging around. It's obviously baby time in the animal kingdom, because we keep seeing them everywhere!!!
Clearly it was on our return trip that we saw so much of this wildlife. If you looked back at the map in the beginning of the blog you would see our route has us deeper out to sea, so I guess that's the reason. Whatever it is, it was quite a show. These porpoises look like smaller versions of an Orca whale, which we unfortunately didn't see, but these guys could haul butt!!! They were playing with our boat racing out in front and then diving out of sight before returning again. At up to 35 MPH, it was great watching them!!!
I just love these eagles!
These sea lions were quite loud, even at the distance we were at when we stopped to watch a while. Some of these guys were enormous!
And being mostly a male colony, there was quite a bit of squabbling going on. I caught these 2 fighting on video at first, but we are bobbing too much and it's enough to make you seasick watching it, so I posted this pic instead. haha They fought right up until this guy in the 2nd pic, much bigger than they were, rolled in to put a stop to it. He acted, and they ran, like he was saying "Not in my house, you don't!" hahaha Check out this video (not the totally shaky one, just a bit shaky)...there is one male in there that has to be the biggest one we saw.
And finally, one of the 2 humpback whales we saw. I have a video but all you see is part of his back and then his tail out of the water...wanted to catch him coming out of the water like the TV commercials, but we never saw that unfortunately. Here is one tail. haha
And 9 1/2 glorious hours later, we are home again. We love Alaska!