Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Cruising Tracy Arm Alaska
Alaska is one of those places where no matter where you look you find something interesting. With a reasonable camera and a good eye taking good photographs is not hard to do in Alaska.
The Amsterdam is a mid-size cruise ship. The half dozen or so craft in the arm with us were much smaller.
Getting into Tracy Arm required threading a narrow channel at the beginning of the valley that passed through the terminal glacial moraine left by the Sawyer Glacier where it reached its greatest extent of growth. You had to "cross over the bar"
to get in.
"Tracy Arm is a fjord in Alaska near Juneau. It is named after a Civil War general named Benjamin Franklin Tracy. It is located about 45 miles (72 km) south ofJuneau and 70 miles (110 km) north of Petersburg, Alaska, off of Holkham Bay and adjacent toStephens Passage within the Tongass National Forest. Tracy Arm is the heart of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, designated by the United States Congress in 1980."
Famed naturalist John Muir compared the glacial-carved sheer granite cliffs in the area to those of Yosemite, saying that this region was even more spectacular than the more well known Yosemite valley."
In July of this year Okie Book Woman and I took a little Cruise aboard Holland America's MS Amsterdam. We were on board for two weeks. On July 11 we took a cruise through the gap in the terminal moraine into the water filled valley left by a glacier into Tracy Arm. This cruise through the Tracy Arm was part of the Amsterdam's tour of Alaska. All of the pictures were taken from the top deck of the ship.
"Glacial calving in Tracy Arm can often be quite spectacular, as huge chunks of ice break off and plunge into the frigid waters below. The fjord is truly one of the most dramatic locations in Alaska, or in all of the world, for that matter. The sheer, glacier-carved walls are often shrouded in mist. (Check out commercial videos here)
Many of these chunks of ice are larger than several buses combined, so the effect can be simply jaw-dropping.
During the summer, the fjords have considerable floating ice ranging from the size of a three-story building to hand-size pieces. During the most recent glaciated period, both fjords were filled with active glaciers.
We observed and took photos of humpback whales, seals, eagles, and of course the magnificent ice carved cliffs and valleys that came into the fjord. Birds and birds and birds abound in the arm. All of these predators share a reason they are here, the fish. In addition the seals come into the arm to pup their young. Orca, killer whales, which prey on seals don't like the ice flows. They are dangerous to them, and they stay away. So the pups are born and spend their first days of life in safety on the ice flows.
"The most common access is by boat using Stephen's Passage and entering Holkham Bay and Tracy and Endicott Arms. Float planes from Juneau and Petersburg are also used as a means of access. Large tour vessels and smaller commercial cruise boats frequently use Tracy Arm as a tour destination or as a stop along their normal tour routes."
There were several eagles observed while in the arm. This one was guarding his nest.
This small ship and ice berg are about the same size. Imagine what it would have been like when this berg calved off the glacier, a few days or weeks ago.
One of my companions said these were white-winged scoters. I'll take his word on it.
"The Sawyer Glaciers at the end of Tracy Arm may not be the most famous glaciers in Alaska, but many visitors find them to be the most dramatic. Framed by mountains on either side, the glaciers are often bathed in a light mist that amplifies the blue hue of the ice."
As the tide goes out the ice flows ground on the different bars and moraines and show formations like this.
For the most part the humpbacks were hunting as single animals here and avoided coming close in to the ship.
Almost like a face in the sea, the humpback whale's "blow hole" is distinctly shaped like a nose.
I will be posting more pictures and videos of these cruise excursions over the next few weeks.