For the middle part of our 12-day Alaska vacation, we left Denali National Park and drove six hours south to Seward, AK. Our primary adventure was an all-day boat tour with Major Marine Tours. We chose to visit Kenai Fjords National Park‘s Northwestern Fjord. Boat tours represent a “Venn diagram” (intersection) experience for us. We each have our own ideas for how best to savor moments. My husband wanted to photograph seabirds, including several we’d never seen before. I focus on marine mammals and glaciers. And my daughter loves to capture moments with her watercolors.
Visiting Kenai Fjords
Kenai Fjords National Park can be enjoyed in several ways. You can visit by air, which we chose not to investigate. By land, you can hike to the Exit Glacier Overlook or the Harding Icefield Trail. We chose to explore the Northwestern Fjord by Major Marine Tours’ 8.5-hour encounter. It provided us access to the widest variety of tidewater, piedmont, hanging, and cirque glaciers. It also would give us the best opportunity to spot the most seabirds and marine mammals.
Wildlife in Resurrection Bay
On August 30, under mostly cloudy skies, the water was about as calm as it ever gets, according to our tour crew. Nevertheless, recalling a miserable experience during a pelagic trip years earlier, I took a dose of Dramamine before boarding. The Orca Song is a 65-foot monohull boat outfitted for 128 passengers. As long as I stayed outside the main cabin, I felt fine.
As we made our way across Resurrection Bay, I kept my eyes on the many cirque glaciers (alpine ice fields high in the mountains) as each one has differing characteristics.
Our first wildlife spotting was a sea otter resting on its back, hind flippers in the air. We learned that they have two layers of incredibly dense fur, more than a million fibers per square inch, and are the only marine mammals without blubber to keep them warm. Another curious otter swam toward us, effortlessly. My husband stayed on the lookout for kittiwakes, tufted and horned puffins, bald eagles, and cormorants. I hoped to add seals, sea lions, and whales to our list of marine mammals.
Savor Moments: Spire Cove
As we moved out of Resurrection Bay toward Northwestern Fjords, we navigated closer to land. We spotted a pair of bald eagles, tufted and horned puffins, and cormorants, visiting both nesting and resting spots for birds and mammals. One unique stop was at a pretty area our captain called Cathedral Spires, but online was referred to as Spire Cove. I overheard one tour participant say it reminded her of Vietnam (where I’ve never been.)
Resting Sea Lions
Beyond Spire Coves, our captain led us to pull-out places to see seals and sea lions. On the leeward side, opposite the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean, we enjoyed visiting dozens of sea lions pulled out resting with their pups. I marveled at what they found as suitable “beds,” as it looks to me like they could either roll into the water from the slopes or get jagged cuts in their blubbery hides.
Savor Moments: Calving Tidewater Glaciers
As we made our way into the Northwestern Fjord, I remained outside taking photographs of a beautiful rainbow while most guests ate lunch. We visited one hanging and two tidewater glaciers. Their deep blue color was stunning. Chunks of ice floating in the water dwarfed several kayaks that dared to get close.
Once we were close enough, the captain silenced the engine for several minutes and safely positioned the boat so we could hear the groaning and moaning of the shifting ice. Rocks and ice tumbled from high on the glaciers and plunged into the sea, sending up clouds of ice dust and adding to the debris in the fjord. Nothing that would sink the Titanic, but we could certainly hear them clunking against the boat’s hull.
A steward pulled large chunks of ice into the boat and explained why glacier ice appears to be blue. Glacier ice is buried under many layers of ice and snow. The layers press the air out of the deep layers, causing ice to form large, dense crystals. These crystals scatter short-wave blue light, making deep layers of ice appear blue. But when large chunks of ice fall into the fjord, they look pretty much like we’d expect.
Haul-outs for Seals
As we slowly retreated from the glaciers, we could see many years of compressed snow and ice floating in the fjord. On some of them, seal mothers pulled out to rest with their pups. We puttered slowly through the ice so as not to disturb the resting families. So adorable!
We learned that the average temperature within the park in late August and early September ranges from 37-44 degrees F. We’d brought wool hats, mittens, and our warmest coats specifically for the marine tour. Such attire allowed us to stay comfortable outside for hours despite overcast skies and ice surrounding us.
I didn’t envy the seals in such harsh, cold conditions, but then again, they have protective blubber insulation an inch thick, everywhere but their fins.
Savor Moments: Orcas
Our last marine mammal sighting included two dozen Orca whales. In Washington pre-COVID, we used to go on whale-watching trips through Island Adventures several times a year. To see two resident pods in Alaska reminded me of everything we’ve missed during the past thirty months. In that small moment, I was reminded of all the good things we used to enjoy that we can finally do again. Another moment to savor.
Savor Moments: Take-Aways
A wise coach, Tama Kieves, this week asked, “How can you reframe losing into expanding?” How can we appreciate MORE those things that we lost, that we now have again, perhaps in a new way? Can we turn our losses into necessary teachable moments and move forward with our newfound resilience and wisdom?
While I will always have fond memories of the eight years that I volunteered at Woodland Park Zoo, nothing quite compares to appreciating wild animals in their natural environment. Major Marine Tours provided me with a very special birthday experience I will always remember. And reflecting provides us with ongoing lessons for growth and change if we allow ourselves time to stop and reflect.
What recent losses have you experienced that you can reframe into gains? Share them in the comments. I love to hear from readers and your comments help others grow, connect, and learn.