(Surprise Glacier, a closeup during its calving, and the ice floes in front of it after we pulled up to them.)
The two and a half mile WWII-era tunnel under the mountain is one narrow but tall lane. It is also an active railroad line. Each side each way each type, train or car, has designated hours when they are allowed to proceed, with strict warnings that there are cameras and that the 30 foot distance between cars will be enforced.
Yeah, you don’t want an accident under there. Nor for a straggler car to find a train coming at it. Yow. So yes, that tunnel is carefully monitored at both ends.
But when you get to the other side!
We took the five-hour Klondike Express tour of the Chugach National Forest via Prince William Sound. I kept looking at all that vast, vast space and being agog at the idea of cleaning all of that up post-Exxon Valdez. How on earth had they done it? The Chugach, they said, was bigger than the state of New Jersey. The captain pointed out one part of the shore a goodly ways off and mentioned that it was 30 miles away at that spot.
And here’s the surprise: Chugach is also a rainforest. Yes, a lot of it falls as snow, but 80-100″ worth of precipitation a year, and it being summertime, there was a dense, lush green between the water line and the tree line towering above.
Icebergs, glaciers, sea otters, harbor seals on the dense field of ice chunks where the orcas did not want to go, a humpback whale breaching, a much larger black whale tail (Minke? Orca?) slapping the water in front of us, blowholes blowing, mountain goats, the tiny white dots on the rocks pointed out to us by the captain. Surprise Glacier in the very act of calving. The captain pulled up close to it and a member of the crew dipped a fishing net into the water. Not for salmon: he wanted us to be able to touch a piece of glacier.
Then one large one was broken up onboard and a glass of glacier was offered to all, a little water on top.
It took a long, long time to melt.
We drank the glacier.
One tall mountainside, hemmed in by all that white ice, was itself a sheer gray rock face top to bottom. In 2003, we were told, that was all glacier, too–but it is no more. Trees would start growing out of the crevices soon.
(Pointing around the bay) See those sharply pointed peaks? they asked us. Now, see the ones that are smoothed over at the top? The smoothed ones had glaciers grinding them down.
The brochure for our catamaran said we would go past rookeries, and we did see a seagull one at a distance, but overall they seemed sparse just then and the captain opted to spend enough time trying to give us a good view of the whales that he knew he had to get us back in time to make our tunnel time.
(Iceberg photo because hey, you have to have an iceberg photo after they made sure we knew that was one.)
As we finally disembarked after a little over five hours I was quietly just a little disappointed that I hadn’t been one of the ones who’d seen a bald eagle overhead. Wrong side of the boat at the wrong time.
Just then an adult bald eagle in full striking black and white flew low over our heads right there.
And was promptly dive-bombed from behind by the only crow I saw in all of Alaska. The eagle utterly dwarfed it but was willing to mosey on out in nice, slow motion, letting us tourists get that good view first.
We would later see more eagles soaring overhead, twice, on other days. But that was the one that welcomed us to Alaska on our first full day there.
(And to Sam, who drove through that tunnel, occasionally having to flip her windshield wipers on as the mountain spilled its drink on us: I am in awe. Nerves of steel. Thank you for opening this whole world to us.)
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