Describing Glacier Bay is as difficult as describing your first taste of ice cream or your first kiss. How do you explain the explosion of tastes and sensations in either that first lick of ice cream or the first brushing of your lips on the lips of someone you love? In some ways it is as difficult as describing the color red to someone who has been blind from birth. Still, we try.
Glacier Bay was the last Alaskan stop on our cruise, and for good reason. For many people anything they saw after Glacier Bay would be anticlimactic. It may be hard to imagine how whale watching, salmon running, eagles flying free and majestic landscapes can pale when compared to floating in a huge ice bowl, but it does.
The tour part of the Glacier Bay experience is floating around the bay, actually a large fiord, looking at ice and rock. However, describing it pragmatically is as silly as explaining that first really good kiss in scientific terms. There is nothing pragmatic or scientific about experiences of this nature and magnitude. Suffice it to say I hope your first good kiss knocked your socks off and you remembered to breathe. Glacier Bay will not cause you to become barefoot, but you might want to remind yourself to breathe.
Imagine being in the most beautiful, awe-inspiring cathedral, ancient ruin or modern marvel you can. Then imagine it being a hundred times as magnificent and a hundred times as awe inspiring. If you can, you might be close to feeling what many people feel while floating around Glacier Bay.
When you first arrive in the bay there is the hustle and bustle of people sightseeing. People are laughing, pointing, oohing and aahing. They are trying to find the best spot from which to view the glaciers or the best spot for a picture. The chatter is almost constant and people are coming and going, warming up or running to find aunt Minnie.
Your ship is surrounded by towering mountains and rivers of ice. Just imagine, rivers of ice. Ice is something on which you skate. It is something you use to chill your drinks or preserve your food. Ice does not flow like a river. It does at Glacier Bay.
Glaciers do not move quickly, but they move. As you look at them you can see the movement frozen in that moment in time. With a little imagination the frozen ripples and waves of ice seem to flow toward the water and you.
It is an exciting and energizing experience. Then things begin to change. People are speaking more softly. They are absorbing the beauty and solitude surrounding them. They are beginning to feel the magnitude of the place. Some people are marveling at the beauty of God’s creation and others are marveling at the majesty of a landscape carved out by the forces nature. Even the Park Ranger who is playing tour guide over the ship’s audio system has trouble finding the right words for the spiritual experience many visitors report as part of their visit.
It is a time of reflection and appreciation for many. Then, as if on cue a loud report rings out. It can be anything from a crack like a rifle shot to the explosive report of a cannon. Anyone knowing what the sound means looks for the source of the noise. They are hoping to see a glacier calve an iceberg. It does not matter that icebergs in Glacier Bay will be small and will melt fairly quickly, hearing and seeing ice split away from the Glacier is the ultimate prize on this part of the trip.
Sadly, your time at Glacier Bay is limited. Tour ships come into the bay like a conga line. Each one has a time slot. When your ship’s time is over, the captain slowly brings it about and heads for the open sea. Again, like that first kiss or that first sampling of your favorite frozen concoction, you glance over your shoulder longing for just one more taste of something you can only experience fully once.