Friday, August 29, 2008

Around Prince William Sound

Previous post: Politics

We quickly leave Whittier behind and move into a wonderland of alpine meadows, rushing water, and glaciated peaks.

Obviously this really is a rain forest!

Eagles swoop overhead or keep watch from the tallest trees, while kittiwakes flock above the water and on every rocky outcrop.

On a grander scale, there are mountains all around us, many swaddled in glaciers.

It seems there should be whales here too, but all is quiet on the water.

Instead of whales, we begin to see commercial fishing boats scattered about the water like so many brightly colored toys.

I love their mix of simple industrial sturdiness and outrageously cheery colors.

The fishing boats indicate that - even if there are no whales at the moment - there are fish here. Indeed, in no time at all we arrive at a salmon hatchery with leaping salmon and diving birds.

From the hatchery we begin to work our way around a scenic island.

Aside from the scenery, the first interesting thing we come across is as groups of sea lions taking full advantage of a couple of small rocky islands.

The sea lions are fun to watch. A snooze in the sun might at any time erupt into a loud argument complete with angry bellows, snaps, and snorts. Even when not particularly agitated, these are noisy creatures. . . . stinky too, when you get downwind of them.


We continue on, passing through a gorgeous narrow channel and then cross the entrance to College Fjord.

I imagine the members of the Harriman expedition standing on deck, marveling at all of these glaciers lined up so neatly and thinking of their own schools and the schools of the colleagues. It must have seemed a great joke to name this distant icy glaciers for those elite schools. This says something about many of the early white explorers here that I think we tend to forget: While we mythologize the people who mapped our country as uneducated, tough-as-nails individualists who went off alone into the wilderness to seek their fortune, many were actually well-heeled and highly-educated members of the period's elite social class.

Most of the tours in this part of Prince William Sound go into College Fjord - for good reason, as the Fjord abounds with glaciers, including large and active Harvard Glacier. (Seen here are, in order: Wellesley, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Baltimore, Radcliffe, and Harvard.)

However, true to my sometimes contrary nature, we have chosen a tour that goes the opposite direction, so now we turn away from College Fjord and continue on our way.

We discover a sea of sea otters. They dot the water's surface, almost as far as I can see, lounging in groups or alone.

These timid creatures tend to flee at the sound of the boat engine or (once the captain kills the motor so we can float among them) the sound of a human voice.

Mostly we see them flipping sideways and vanishing into the water. However, having been nearly hunted to extinction for their incredible fur a century ago, I applaud their caution and wish them all the best.


Next post: Surprise Glacier

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