Friday, August 31, 2012: Final Day

Well, for the diehards, Friday was the fabulous field trip to the Portage Glacier. I suspect that the tours are scheduled on the following Friday rather than the preceding Saturday to get us all to stay a bit longer.  Thursday’s presentations & business meeting were a bit thinly attended.

But we did get to sleep in a bit on Friday though not much longer as the lovely breakfast buffet still closed down at 9 am.  I successfully slept in until 730 am rather than my usual 530 am.  Was very nice.  The 21 adventurers gathered in the hotel lobby to once again board the Magic Bus (truly the name of the tour company) with driver Steve who was with us for most of our excursions.  We took the Seward Highway down along the Turnagain Arm looking once more for beluga whales and dall sheep.  A few more clouds and a bit of rain didn’t dampen our spirits.

The first stop was Mt Alyeska with a tram ride to the top of the mountain for spectacular views of 7 glaciers.  We got to share the Glacier Express restaurant with a group of junior high school students who had trekked up the mountain rather than riding the tram.  They take physical education very seriously in Alaska.  Some of the boys in the group we suspect were daring each other to talk to Sally T.  The reindeer sausage combo seemed to be the most popular choice among our group, but others may chime in with their choices. Back down on the tram, we wandered about the Hotel Alyeska for a bit before boarding the bus to our next stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  Bison & Muskox & Bears, oh my.  Plains bison, wood bison, muskox, elk, caribou, baby moose, brown & black bears, eagles, owls & (my favorite) lynx.  We all got some good pictures of the wildlife and the caribou entertained us by having a bit of a tussle, locking antlers and all that.

Onward to a surprise stop at a salmon spawning area with sockeye (red) and chum (dog) fighting over spaces for redds (nests).  The sockeye were brilliant red, showing off their spawning colors. Several of the chum were quite brilliant with strips of different colors. Of course, there was also a fantastic view of a hanging glacier.

Sweeping down the road to Portage Glacier, we took a slight detour to a scenic point overlooking the lake for a couple of photos.  The wind and rain were not relenting.  We arrived at the boat landing to find a welcoming espresso stand inside where we lined up for stimulating hand warmers.  The warmth didn’t last as we were lashed by rain as we boarded the boat for the 1 hour tour.  The captain & crew drew out the suspense by taking us the long way round the lake while a Forest Ranger (not a Park Ranger) told us about the natural history of the lake and surrounding areas.   After about 5 minutes the cabin was feeling a bit stuffy, so I headed up to the top deck which I was surprised to have to myself. There were speakers upstairs as well, so I could hear the lecture quite clearly.  Finally, we approached Portage Glacier. And I know exactly the range of colors meant by ‘glacier blue’. Spectacular.  Folks finally began to brave the uncovered upper deck to get better pictures of the glacier to preserve this awesome sight for future generations. Receding at 100 yards per year, the Portage Glacier is swiftly disappearing.  We were also lucky enough to see calving as a large chunk fell off the face of the glacier. Not large enough to create a wave to rock the boat, but still quite a sight.  After passing in front of the glacier a few times, the captain took us back to the dock.  On the way, we learned that there are critters on the glacier ice.  Ice worms are small black worms that thrive in temperatures between 32 & 34 degrees fahrenheit. Touching them with bare hands will kill them from thermal shock.

Boarding the Magic Bus for the return trip, most of us were quite wet from the experience.   After we were dropped at the hotel, a smaller group headed out for dinner at (where else), the Glacier Brewhouse.  Based on the number of folks crowding the tables and bar, this restaurant is THE place to eat in Anchorage.

Once more we all bid farewell until next year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Do you really want to miss out on the stories and adventures that await at these conferences? There’s nothing like seeing a glacier with your own eyes!

Lenora
StreamNet Regional Librarian
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
http://www.streamnetlibrary.org

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