06 September 2011

Alaska Trip: Seward and Exit Glacier (Day 3)

After we left Anchorage, our next destination was Seward. Seward is a smallish fishing city in Southern Alaska, and also serves as the primary gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is an interesting little city; originally (back before airplanes were common), Seward served as the main gateway into Alaska. People would arrive in Seward by boat (presumably from Seattle) and then take rail to other locations in Alaska. The Great Earthquake of 1964 changed all that, however. Seward, along with quite a bit of southern Alaska, was decimated and never really recovered to its former glory. Nowadays it's a sleepy town with fishing and tourism as its main industries.

We started the day with a three hour drive to Seward from Anchorage. The drive itself was quite the trip -- not because it's long, but because you spend the entire time on a gorgeous, narrow, two-lane highway with few stops along the way. We stopped quite a few times to take pictures, like at Beluga Point (no Beluga at this point in the trip, unfortunately) and a campsite along the way. We drove this route a few times in the trip and it was always beautiful. Taking pictures while riding in a moving car is always kind of dicey, but I managed a few good ones.

Along the way, we stopped at the only road-accessable part of Kenai Fjords National Park -- a single glacier called 'Exit Glacier'. This glacier was one of the cooler stops on our trip. Not only could we see the glacier from a variety of different angles, but we were able to hike up to almost the very face of the glacier itself. Like all the other glaciers we saw on our Alaska trip, Exit Glacier is retreating (shrinking) and has actually lost a lot of ice in the last century. It's receded almost a mile over the last twelve years alone, and is still shrinking. As Exit Glacier receded, it created several mounds of silt along its path. Most of the trails crossed several of these morraines on their way to the glacier itself, each marked with a sign indicating when the glacier had extended to that point. It was pretty cool to hike from the 1955 morraine to the current location. Due to the rate of retreat, you can't actually touch the glacier anymore (no one wants the tourists crushed by falling glacial ice), but you can get within a couple dozen feet of it.

Our final stop in Seward was at the Alaskan Sea Life center, which is a bit like an aquarium/marine research center. Unlike most of the aquariums we've visited, the Sea Life center focuses on animals and environments which are found in Alaska, particularly near Seward. They have exhibits on large marine mammals and birds, such as the Stellar Sea Lion, Sea Otter, and Tufted Puffins. A lot of these animals we later saw in the wild, but it was neat to see them up close and personal at the sea life center.

More photos available at my picasa.

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