Day Forty One: Cruising Prince William Sound

Before I get into the actual post, I want to apologize for the lack of updates.  The places where I’ve had a good cell signal have also been locations where we’ve been really busy.  And we’re back in Canada, which means Verizon restricts me to a half of a GB, which is nothing.  I can’t move the pictures to the website with that amount of bandwidth.  WiFi, if offered, is nearly universally useless at most campgrounds.  And then we started down the Cassiar Highway, and I lost even cell service for several days.  We are getting much closer to the border, and there should be no issues once I cross back into the U.S. on August 7th. 

July fifth we were taken on a glacier and wildlife cruise.  Our campground, Bear Paw RV park, was right across the street from the harbor.  Somehow, I left Valdez with hundreds of pictures of eagles, sea lions, and mountain scenery, but not a single view of the harbor save from across the port.  Oops.

Anyway, the cruise we did was with a company called Stan Stephens, and it was scheduled for 8.5 hours.  We had to line up at the dock at around 8:15 for a 9am departure.  As we queued, some of the group got very excited about a boat moored next to us.

Not something I recognized, but others sure did.

I was told it was a ship that is on some show on TV.  So, there you go.

As we boarded the catamaran, I immediately headed to the upper deck and grabbed a seat outside.  This was a major mistake, as you’ll find out.  I wanted to be outside to grab pictures, but the reality is that I could have easily sat inside and gone outside when we approached interesting places.  It was a full cruise, so there weren’t options once your choice was made.

Not sure if this is the boat we took, but the floorplan is identical. Taken off the website of the cruise company.
Cell phone shot from upper deck. Elaine was watching something interesting on the lower deck.

As we headed out of the port, I grabbed a shot of the direction we were headed.  Valdez is situated within Port Valdez, which comes off the Valdez Arm, which in turn comes off of Prince William Sound.  It is the most northerly port in the U.S. that doesn’t ice over in the winter, which is one of the reasons it is so important from a shipping standpoint.  It is also, for the same reason, the terminus of the Alaska pipeline and the place where giant tankers are loaded with oil from the pipeline.  I never did get a picture of the pipeline.  It’s just a giant pipe–you can easily picture it in your head.  Not an interesting subject for photography, IMO.

Leaving the port.

Because this water is so protected from the open ocean, many sea creatures call it home.  Sea otters especially love the relatively calm water.  They were out in droves.  Our captain called them ‘rafts’ when there were a bunch of them together.

Small raft of sea otters.
Just doin’ what I be doin’

The mountains around Valdez were breathtaking.  It was really one of my favorite places to visit.

Soaring up from sea level. Amazing.
Waterfalls abounded. They are literally everywhere there is a nearby glacier or snow melting in the elevations.

There were also a lot of salmon fisherman out on the water, waiting for release to begin fishing and jockeying for favored positions.  Alaska Fish and Game tightly regulates the timing of fishing based on numbers returning to the multiple hatcheries around the state.

Fishing boat. These all used purse seine nets.
This one had a net out; they were fishing for the hatchery, not commercially.
More beautiful mountains.

As we approached the entrance to the Valdez Arm, a dense fog bank was visible.  This had been present the day before; some of the group went salmon fishing and had been in this fog bank for nearly the entire time they were on the water.  Fortunately for us, this days bank was pretty small and we were out of it quickly.

Approaching the fog bank. I thought it was cool looking.

There are two glaciers that this cruise company goes to.  A shorter trip goes to the Columbia Glacier.  It is receding, and has been calving large ice bergs into the sea.  We started seeing some as we got closer to Columbia Bay, where the glacier is located.

Lots more where that first one came from.
There were quite a few in the water.
Passing the entrance to Columbia Bay. Isn’t it beautiful?
Tried to get a pic of the glacier by zooming way in, but I didn’t have a good angle.

As we motored on, the ice bergs disappeared for a while and the water was really calm.  People had been worried about being seasick, but there was really very little rocking or movement.  I loved taking pics with the reflections.

I loved the abstract reflection in the water here.
Whoa. Amazeballs.
Another glacier up near the summit. And more little icebergs.

We started seeing some icebergs with seals on them.  We had to approach very carefully, as they were very shy.  They prefer icebergs to land.

A very rocky berg for these seals.

Our next object was to cruise up Unakwik Inlet, to the Meares Glacier.  This is a tidewater glacier which is still advancing.  Because of this, it is not calving big bergs like the Columbia.  It just has little ones.  We were able to approach it fairly close.  The captain shut off the engines and we spent a good half hour listening to it.  It was an amazing experience, with the groans and sounds.  The cold air enveloping the boat.  Just really, really cool.

Pin your eyes back, I took a lot of photos.  And these are just the best ones, from my perspective.

You round the bank at the right and then the glacier is in sight!
Here it is. It is one mile across at the mouth.
The colors were amazing. The deep blue is the densest glacier ice.
I loved the textures of the face of the glacier.
There were little cracks and crevices.
Oh man, the colors here…
I could have spent hours here.
I loved this spot where some ice had fallen into a pile at some point.
I don’t know what else to say. Amazing..

There were a bunch of seals on bergs off to one side.  They were just hanging.


Seals at the Meares Glacier.

They fished a little iceberg out of the water.  We were invited to touch it or even taste it, if we wanted.  It was, as expected, cold.


Eventually, we had to restart the engines and move on.  They fed us a non-memorable lunch of chicken on rice with alfredo sauce and a breadstick that might have been 1-2 years old, it was so hard.  As we headed back, we were treated lots more animals enjoying the day.

Look at that little seal face. So cute!
Baby seal!
How cute is he/she?

Of course, the scenery was still spectacular.



We next came upon a bunch of puffins.  I had really been looking forward to seeing them!  Sadly, I did not have my camera settings optimized for birds.  I really messed up a lot of shots.  These are the best of the lot, but I’ll have much better puffin shots for you when we get to Seward.

Tufted puffin. Males and females can only be determined by DNA testing.
Puffins spend their entire lives on water, except for nesting. They have solid bones, unlike most birds, as they dive into the ocean up to 200 feet down! If they’ve eaten a lot, they have trouble gaining flight. It’s fun to watch them.

We actually saw a humpback whale as well; however, by this time my choice to sit outside for the entire cruise was really taking it’s toll.  Many of you who know me at all know that I am rather fair skinned.  My entire life has been a series of summers where, if I’m outside much, I am broiled red to various degrees.  I never turn a nice tan.  It’s red/lobster or ghost white.  And while we had great weather for the cruise, as we headed back to Valdez, I was fully in the sun.  And I was burning, burning, burning.  So, while I saw the humpback, I wasn’t able to get a good shot and actually spent a lot of the time in the cabin out of the sun, since everyone sitting in there had headed outside to see the whale.  I did rouse myself to get some shots of the Stellar sea lions that we saw next.  Mostly because they’re very easy to photograph.  They don’t move much.  Man, they are loud though!

Sea lions enjoying the sun…unlike me.
They are very vocal.
Queen of the rock.

Once we left the sea lions, it was a few more hours of steady motoring to get to Valdez.  I was burning so badly at this point that I actually took a hoodie and put it on top of my head like a shade.  I’m sure it looked ridiculous, but I was past caring.  My hero came in the form of Jim R.  He and his wife had picked seats outside as well, but under an overhang that protected them.  Much more sensible.  He offered me his seat, which I gratefully took.  Otherwise, I’m not sure what would have happened with such a long time left in the sun.

We eventually docked and I stumbled back to my RV.  I drank about a gallon of water, took some ibuprofen and went to bed.  I feel confident in diagnosing mild heatstroke, as I had a headache and felt terrible.  Even my lips burned.  The next few days weren’t fun, from that standpoint.  But, I went and bought sunscreen and chapstick with UV protection.  And I learned not to pick an outside seat on tour boats.

Besides the end of the trip, I had a great time and feel I got some good shots.  Hope you enjoyed them too!



3 Replies to “Day Forty One: Cruising Prince William Sound”

  1. Looks amazing, Andrea! I’m so jealous that you got to see puffins (we missed them when we were in Iceland last fall) and sea otters and baby seals. And oh yeah, I guess the glacier and mountains were pretty too 😉


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