Outdoors & Recreation

Blue Skies and Clear Water

Written by
Anne Sanders
It is a moment of anticipation, emerging through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, announcing your official arrival to Whittier, Alaska.

The two and a half mile tunnel leaves plenty of time to deliberate over what kind of weather will greet you in the secluded city; settled in isolation with superior access to the coveted waters of Prince William Sound. Even with a forecast of rain Whittier is an impressive place to visit. During the brief summer months visitors flock to Whittier’s dense harbor where hundreds of marine vessels line the sheltered docks. The coastal city is protected by a barricade of mountains. Before World War II spurred the construction of a tunnel through the base of Maynard Mountain, the only feasible land access to Whittier was a dangerous hike across Portage Glacier and subsequent mountain passes. Today, Whittier is a crucial deep-sea port that provides a vantage point for exploration of Prince William Sound.

For those lucky enough to encounter clear skies and calm waters their fortune is even greater if their plans include a scenic wildlife cruise aboard a Major Marine vessel. Several times now, my husband, Cecil, and I have thoroughly enjoyed their professional tour through the stunning sound; discovering wildlife and having a personal look at Alaska’s awe-inspiring landscape.

With tickets in hand we followed the signs directing guests to the ship where Major Marine’s welcoming crew helped us aboard. After a greeting from the captain we slowly departed the protected harbor. Everyone’s attention was soon drawn to the water where a pair of otters were sending us off with an early view of the wildlife we had been hoping to see. Floating on their backs, swimming through the surf, otters look so relaxed and happy that watching them is a special treat. Even with a history of being excessively hunted and having to endure the Exxon oil spill of 1989, the resilient critters are recovering. Their population in the Prince William Sound area steadily increases every year.

Leopard Seals rest on ice beneath Blackstone Glacier.

The Chugach National Forest Ranger aboard the ship began introducing us to their extensive knowledge of the area. All the rangers we’ve had in the past were very enthusiastic and loved Alaska. They were eager to give information on whatever people were curious to know, which included explanations about geographical features along with historical accounts of the Native Alaskans who previously inhabited the area.

On our way to Blackstone and Beloit Glaciers we stopped at a place called Hidden Falls. It was a unique opportunity to get a picture taken next to the massive waterfall cascading off the mountain directly into the ocean. The captain expertly guided the vessel as close to the rush of water that safety would allow. Surrounding the falls are precariously growing spruce trees clinging to the steep mountain slopes whose rocky surfaces disappear into the water. This treacherous habitat is home to stealthy mountain goats that a keen eye can usually spot climbing among sheer cliffs.

When we reached the rivers of ice, everyone eager to spot portions of the glaciers calving into the ocean stood on the outer decks in silent expectancy. Chunks of ice no larger than a basketball produce deep and loud rumblings equivalent to an approaching thunderstorm. Seeing the glaciers up close was a highlight of the trip that Major Marine accompanied with their delicious salmon and prime rib buffet. After plenty of time to view the glaciers we eventually began making the return trip to Whittier taking a slightly different route. On the way we stopped by a small rocky island inhabited by dense colonies of kittywakes. The white and grey seabirds perch themselves on every available ledge continuously filling the air with their noisy chatter. The bird watchers paradise was our last major stop before travelling the final stretch back to Whittier.

Sea Lions rest on a large rock outcropping in the Kenai Fjords.

I asked Cecil what he enjoyed most out of the several cruises he has taken with Major Marine. He began to say it was the food, but continued with a more honest answer. An answer I wasn’t surprised to hear from a photographer whose main passion is capturing landscapes. What pleased him most about the cruises was being taken outside of the boundaries of human settlement. Being able to glimpse nature in its primal element. The raw experience of cruising through the water, rain or shine, and seeing parts of Alaska that have been shaped almost exclusively by forces of nature. His answer matched my own and is the reason we’ll take advantage of every opportunity to experience Alaska’s scenic waters. Even after living in Alaska my entire life the unique and rugged beauty is something I can never stop admiring.

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Blue Skies and Clear Water

Outdoors & Recreation

Author

Anne Sanders

Anne Sanders was born and raised in Alaska. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Alaska Anchorage. With a love for the written word, she recognizes the treasure of stories and fascinating people Alaska offers. Paired with her husband Cecil who compliments her narratives with his eye for the visual, Anne is on a mission to bring her beloved home of Alaska to life on the pages of Last Frontier Magazine.

It is a moment of anticipation, emerging through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, announcing your official arrival to Whittier, Alaska.

The two and a half mile tunnel leaves plenty of time to deliberate over what kind of weather will greet you in the secluded city; settled in isolation with superior access to the coveted waters of Prince William Sound. Even with a forecast of rain Whittier is an impressive place to visit. During the brief summer months visitors flock to Whittier’s dense harbor where hundreds of marine vessels line the sheltered docks. The coastal city is protected by a barricade of mountains. Before World War II spurred the construction of a tunnel through the base of Maynard Mountain, the only feasible land access to Whittier was a dangerous hike across Portage Glacier and subsequent mountain passes. Today, Whittier is a crucial deep-sea port that provides a vantage point for exploration of Prince William Sound.

For those lucky enough to encounter clear skies and calm waters their fortune is even greater if their plans include a scenic wildlife cruise aboard a Major Marine vessel. Several times now, my husband, Cecil, and I have thoroughly enjoyed their professional tour through the stunning sound; discovering wildlife and having a personal look at Alaska’s awe-inspiring landscape.

With tickets in hand we followed the signs directing guests to the ship where Major Marine’s welcoming crew helped us aboard. After a greeting from the captain we slowly departed the protected harbor. Everyone’s attention was soon drawn to the water where a pair of otters were sending us off with an early view of the wildlife we had been hoping to see. Floating on their backs, swimming through the surf, otters look so relaxed and happy that watching them is a special treat. Even with a history of being excessively hunted and having to endure the Exxon oil spill of 1989, the resilient critters are recovering. Their population in the Prince William Sound area steadily increases every year.

Leopard Seals rest on ice beneath Blackstone Glacier.

The Chugach National Forest Ranger aboard the ship began introducing us to their extensive knowledge of the area. All the rangers we’ve had in the past were very enthusiastic and loved Alaska. They were eager to give information on whatever people were curious to know, which included explanations about geographical features along with historical accounts of the Native Alaskans who previously inhabited the area.

On our way to Blackstone and Beloit Glaciers we stopped at a place called Hidden Falls. It was a unique opportunity to get a picture taken next to the massive waterfall cascading off the mountain directly into the ocean. The captain expertly guided the vessel as close to the rush of water that safety would allow. Surrounding the falls are precariously growing spruce trees clinging to the steep mountain slopes whose rocky surfaces disappear into the water. This treacherous habitat is home to stealthy mountain goats that a keen eye can usually spot climbing among sheer cliffs.

When we reached the rivers of ice, everyone eager to spot portions of the glaciers calving into the ocean stood on the outer decks in silent expectancy. Chunks of ice no larger than a basketball produce deep and loud rumblings equivalent to an approaching thunderstorm. Seeing the glaciers up close was a highlight of the trip that Major Marine accompanied with their delicious salmon and prime rib buffet. After plenty of time to view the glaciers we eventually began making the return trip to Whittier taking a slightly different route. On the way we stopped by a small rocky island inhabited by dense colonies of kittywakes. The white and grey seabirds perch themselves on every available ledge continuously filling the air with their noisy chatter. The bird watchers paradise was our last major stop before travelling the final stretch back to Whittier.

Sea Lions rest on a large rock outcropping in the Kenai Fjords.

I asked Cecil what he enjoyed most out of the several cruises he has taken with Major Marine. He began to say it was the food, but continued with a more honest answer. An answer I wasn’t surprised to hear from a photographer whose main passion is capturing landscapes. What pleased him most about the cruises was being taken outside of the boundaries of human settlement. Being able to glimpse nature in its primal element. The raw experience of cruising through the water, rain or shine, and seeing parts of Alaska that have been shaped almost exclusively by forces of nature. His answer matched my own and is the reason we’ll take advantage of every opportunity to experience Alaska’s scenic waters. Even after living in Alaska my entire life the unique and rugged beauty is something I can never stop admiring.

No items found.

Author

Anne Sanders

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