Glacier Bay National Park offices and the park lodge are located on Bartlett Cove, just north of the small community of Gustavus. Alaska Seaplanes landed at the Gustavus airport, where hosts Jim and Robin Roberts were waiting with a local who uses his old van as a taxi. The image above is looking west out of the cove with a commercial fishing boat at anchor.
Below is a map of Glacier Bay, all of which lies in the national park. For scale, the distance from Point Gustavus to the north end of the bay, at the Grand Pacific Glacier, is about 65 miles.
Adventures is a DeFever 49 Pilothouse, a well found and seaworthy craft maintained in the highest standards by Robin and Jim Roberts, our hosts for this adventure. Appropriately named craft, eh?
Adventures had cruised to Barlett Cover from their home port of Petersburg, Alaska. The park has a dock with slips on the inside for their boats and space for cruising boats to dock alongside for short periods to take care of park business and refill water tanks. Before moving north in Glacier Bay, boat captains are required to attend a workshop on all the rules promulgated to protect the various species of wildlife. Note the Alaska-appropriate brown rubber boots.
What would a national park be without hiking trails? At Bartlett Cove, a number of trails lead through the southern end of the park. The trails give a visitor a look at the land surrounding the bay. Scientists still study the area for plant succession, the way in which plant life colonizes bare rock, eventually turning this part of Alaska into a rainforest. Yes, rainforests are thought to be only found in the tropics by many, but a rainforest is here in Alaska, far from the tropics.
Hiking anywhere has its hazards. It seems that National Park trails are filled with roots, serving as trip hazards. Some trails have rocks, steep inclines, tentative footholds. Another hazard was clearly indicated along one trail – fresh bear scat. Stepping in it would not be pleasant, but more importantly, it indicates that a bear was on this trail recently and may still be close by. Hiking in bear country with Jim and Robin makes the hike much safer. They both carry bear spray. Jim leads the group, clapping occasionally to warn bears that humans are present, while Robin takes up the rear yelling: “Hey Bear!”
A walk through the woods is always a good catharsis for stress and brings joy to the soul. Making a hike an educational experience is an added bonus. Park Rangers provide guided hikes of some of the trails. Learning the science behind the plants you are observing makes the hike more interesting and informative. It is an ever-changing environment, as the initial plant life creates detritus that becomes soil bringing in plants and trees that require more soil for their root systems.
From lichen to fungi to mosses to ferns - the forest evolves. The moist environment of Alaska keeps everything green.
Lichen, which can grow on bare rock, is the first plant life. Later, ground mosses take root, followed by low growing shrubs and a series of species of trees. One fallen tree had moss and lichen growing, a very different appearing lichen with a descriptive name – Leprechaun Vomit.
Among the first low growing plants to establish themselves in the more open, sunny areas are blueberries, beach strawberries, and false dogwood. The first two, including the beach strawberry at right, provide food for wildlife and hikers.
A number of critters were spotted along the trails, the most common were the squirrels.
The conifer trees have a unique way of providing food and housing for the squirrels. They pull the cones from the trees, tear off the individual scales of the cone, eat the tender part, and toss the remainder which pile up under the trees. The squirrels then dig burrows in these piles for a well insulated home.
A walk in the woods is so much more than just a walk.