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Lots of Ice and Wildlife in Valdez, Alaska

July 17, 2006

Well as I promised in my last update, I have lots of photos for you today. Last Friday we drove down to Valdez, Alaska which is tucked into the corner of Prince William Sound.

While there were still low clouds, the closer we got to the southern coastline the better the scenery got. We past by snow capped mountains, glaciers, and a bunch of water falls. The best thing I can do is just let the pictures speak for themselves. By late afternoon, we arrived at the Eagles Rest RV Park and Campground and setup camp.

On Saturday morning we wanted to take the glacier cruise, but the weather was still bad. So we decided to wait it out a few days and see if it would clear up. Instead we just went for a drive to the other side of the bay. There was a stream that led down to the bay where they released salmon from a hatchery. Now the salmon have returned and were trying to swim upstream. Only the stream was freshwater so they had it fenced off and they could not get passed it. This made for an easy fishing spot. There were a bunch of people out there catching salmon. However, we were hoping for bears. After a while we continued driving around.

Sunday came and it was still expected to rain. So again we decided to skip the glacier cruise. Instead we drove back down the highway to get another look at the waterfalls and to climb up onto Worthington Glacier. The Worthington Glacier is one of the few glaciers you can walk up to without a boat or helicopter. It was pretty cool, literally! I think the temperature difference between the parking area and the glacier was about 20 degrees cooler. And the blue color of the ice reminded me of the ice cave from the superman movie.

On the way back we did some geocaching as well as stopping at the water falls. Before we reached the motorhome, we took another drive to the other side of the bay where the salmon are to see if the bears were out. There weren't any bears, but the tide was in and that brought the sea lions in as well. There were five of them and they had all the salmon corralled by the gate. Then one at a time, they would swim in and grab a salmon to eat. When they swam back out with fish in mouth, sometimes they would surface with half the fish hanging out. There were dozens of sea gulls waiting for this opportunity and they would quickly swoop in to get a bite. It as interesting to watch.

Today we were supposed to leave here but decided to stay one more day and take the glacier cruise. The weather had improved slightly but it was still cloudy out. As it turned out it was a great decision. We took the Columbia Glacier cruise aboard the Stan Stephens boat called the Glacier Spirit. We saw a lot of sea otters, sea lions and even a humpback whale. From a distance the whale came high up out of the water and splashed back down. But once we got closer he kind of settled down. The only good photo I could get was the tail popping up just as he began to dive down.

After spending about 30 minutes and going four miles off coarse to see the whale, the captain decided we'd better head over to Columbia Glacier. The Columbia Glacier is about 300 feet above the water and about 1300 feet below the surface. The glacier face is about a mile wide.

The closer we got to the glacier the more icebergs we saw. Some were only a couple of feet wide and some were massive. Most were about 20-30 feet in length. As we started to approach the glacier the captain explained that there is this invisible line where the icebergs always seem to get thicker in numbers making it difficult to pass through. That line is typically 4.5 to 5 miles out from the wall of the glacier and that he'd try to get us in as close as he could. As it turned out, the icebergs thinned out just enough that he was able to take us to within one mile of the glacier. This was only the second time since May that he had been able to get this close! He's also told me that on Saturday when we originally planning to go the water was really rough and the ice was thick at that imaginary line. And it was so foggy that they were not even able to see the glacier itself, only a wall of icebergs. After our disappointing Denali tour, we were happy we decided to come out today!

Just as we approached the glacier, a huge section of ice broke free from it. This is called glacier calving. Cricket managed to see the whole thing, but I only saw the end. The boys had started talking with some other kids and missed the whole thing. Because of how deep the ice is, when it breaks off it actually floats straight up high into the air before falling over crashing into the water. Cricket said it was breathtaking to see it happen. I'll have to take her word for it since I only caught the splash. We stayed out there for about another 15 minutes after that but nothing else had happened.

So far the Columbia Glacier cruise has been the best part of our Alaska vacation. But now it is time to move on. Tomorrow we are heading over to Skagway and Juneau. There's a high pressure system over the area and hopefully the weather will stay clear by the time we get there. But it is a two day drive so we'll see. With our luck though...

See you back soon,