Glacier Bay National Monument Renowned for Icy Scenery
By ARPK1E NEILL National Park Service
Approximately 45 miles from Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, is the second largest area in the National Park System, Glacier Bay National Monument. Consisting of nearly 3,600 square miles of moun¬tains, glaciers, and tidal inlets, this wilderness is one of the system's most outstanding areas. Snow clad peaks rise from sea level to heights ' of over 15,000 feet, cradling one of I the world's most spectacular dis¬plays of glaciers. Rugged mountain terrain gives way abruptly to deep fiords and to 50-mile-long Glacier Bay, or more gradually to luxuriant spruce and hemlock forests.
No more than 250 to 300 years ago Glacier Bay was covered with an icecap some 3,000 feet thick. The recession of the ice has made the area a "sample-case" of glacial phenomena as well as an outstand¬ing example of post-glacial plant and animal succession... Glaciological observations were instituted as early as 1890, and scientists from various countries continue to pry from the ice, secrets of the ice ages and their related climatic fluctuations. Remnants of preglacial forests enable the layman to visualize the events of the past.
Plant Take Over
The story of plant succession is well told in Glacier Bay. From the barren mountainsides at glacier margins to the dense, moss-draped forests, the ecologist can trace the advance of plant life upon the ice-carved rock. Hardy lichens and mosses give way to herbs and grasses; ranks of alders, willows and cottonwoods; and eventually to climaxing spruce and hemlock.
Glacier Bay is a growing land. Not only are the receding glaciers revealing land that probably has never known the footsteps of man, but the land itself is rising from the sea at a rate of twenty-five feet per century. Earthquakes are fre¬quent and, while usually mild, have triggered violent landslides and waves. The rumbling glaciers are ever moving. Spectacular ice-falls occur at the glacier faces, attesting to the fact that these seemingly inert masses of ice are quite active.
If the land masses of Glacier Bay are considered restless, the waters should be termed excited. Twenty-foot tides affect the Bay, and sud¬den weather changes transform the water's surface from glassiness to un-navigable turbulence in an hour's time. The waters teem with life. Porpoise and hair seal are commonly seen; whales, frequent¬ly. Spawning salmon migrate to the area and crowd many streams. Halibut and crab are fished from the depths; stream mouths yield Dolly Varden and Cutthroat trout. The tidal zone is a world of its own with myriads of starfish, anemo¬nes, urchins, and shellfish to be seen. Kelp, shrimp, and phosphorescent organisms give the waters a more tropical than sub-arctic aspect.
Wildlife is profuse and varied. Cormorants, geese, ducks, puffins, and a variety of shore birds dot the waters of the Monument. Bald eagles, ptarmigan, ravens, and a host of songbirds inhabit the land areas. Brown, black and grizzly bears inhabit the monument, as do Sitka black tail deer and mountain goats. Moose have been reported as entering certain areas as the retreat of glaciers open suitable routes. Smaller species include otter, marten, mink, fox, wolverine, wolf, and coyote. The red squir¬rel demands mention by virtue of numbers if not importance among the fur bearers.
Scenery and Science
Glacier Bay has long been considered an area of outstanding scenic and scientific interest. It attracted 18th century explorers LaPerouse and Vancouver. It intrigued John Muir with extensive .observation in the late
Importance of its preservation, the United States established Glacier Bay National Monument in 1925. After many comparatively dormant years, the Monument has recently enjoyed a period of development. A small staff carries on normal activities year-round. Employees occupy convenient housing; there are docks, shops for repair work, storage, and other maintenance facilities.
On the other hand, there are no overnight or eating accommodations for the general public, and no sale of fuel. Other than a local airline, no common carriers serve the area. The Monument can be reached and traveled only by air and water. No organized camping, picnicking, or interpretive facilities have been provided yet. It is expected that the lodge and general sale fuel facilities will be completed within, three years for the accommodation of local and tourist travel. It is hoped that developments of the near future will provide for the greater enjoyment of Glacier Bay National Monument.