****Long post due to lots of pictures****
****and potentially boring (to some) glacial geology****
Yesterday was a *lovely* day!! Greg found out about a train trip to Spencer Glacier. It's a "whistle stop" on the way to another location (
We started the morning by driving out to Girdwood to have breakfast. It's a beautiful drive along Turnagain Arm, and is also just a few minutes from the
This was my first train-ride - although I'm not really sure that it should count. I mean, it was less than 15 minutes from boarding at
We stayed together long enough to get a photo, then our group split up. Sam & Jennifer hiked out to the viewing area on their own, visiting with various groups of cachers on the way there and back; Greg headed out to the glacier and beyond for caching and pictures; and Todd, Anita & I opted to take the ranger guided tour to the viewing area.
It's an easy, well maintained trail that goes 1.3 miles from the whistle stop to the glacier viewing area. Many of our glaciers are receding. You can ask anyone who's been here for a while about
Spencer Glacier through the Trees
****Glacial Geology starts here - you can skip the blah, blah if you like...****
One of the first stops along the route had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, a flowing river, and a train bridge. The guides explained about the milky color of the water - nothing lives in glacial streams because of the silt (so fine, it's the consistency of flour). The water is extremely cold (glacial melt, remember?) and no light penetrates beyond the first few inches - so there's no photosynthesis, no air, no plants, no fish. Next to the bridge is a structure that houses the avalanche cannon (seen below). The train to Whittier/Seward runs year-round, and this area (especially in the higher elevations) can get upwards of 100' of snow. To ensure the tracks are clear, they use the cannon-like apparatus to trigger controlled avalanches. You can look at the surrounding terrain and see the deep grooves in the mountains caused by avalanches (seen above) - snow tumbles down, ripping up trees & vegetation on the way down; succeeding melting further erodes the soil causing a channel; further wind, rain, & snow deepen the channel, etc.
Further along the walk, we learned about kettles - deep pockets in the landscape caused by the glacier scouring over the land. Now they're either large depressions, or sometimes stagnant water-filled ponds. At the end of the glacier, there are typically hills of rocks (morraines). This is from the rocks dropping as the glacier melts. You can see how far a glacier reached by these hilly areas - the ones farthest out mark the apex of the glacier and likely will have greenery as the cycle of life begins again; the ones in closer are just big mounds of rocks. Our walk didn't get close to any of the newer morraines, but I stood on one farther out covered in greenery (with a seagull's nest on it) to take some pictures.
Example of Regrowth
low vegetation & moss
Looking towards the glacier, I can see the pool of water that feeds the river the train bridge crosses. And closer, I can see the "mud flats" - wet glacial silt left behind as the water recedes. Closer yet, there's low lying moss and ground cover. Behind me, alder bushes and short trees. And farther behind me, taller trees and larger vegetation. The cycle of life is renewing. Plants and life are overtaking the barren grounds left from the scouring ice. Kinda cool to see evidence of the cycle at work! =) Oh! In case you didn't know: glaciers make v-shaped valleys, while rivers carve u-shaped valleys; glacial ice is so dense it looks blue; ice worms live in glacial ice; fjords are glacial valleys covered in water; glaciers are always moving forward (advancing), but the rate of melting may exceed the rate of advance which causes the glacier to receed. (Volcanos have some interesting geology too... and I already know I'm a dork.)
Regrowth and Scale (people to 'burgs)
water, mud, low vegetation, bushes, trees
and the morraine covered in plant-life
****Glacial Geology torture ends here...****
We got a great view of Spencer glacier - although not close enough to touch. Greg's hike took him much closer, and he could have gone even farther but didn't want to miss the train so he came back a little sooner than he would have liked. We saw some beautiful wildflowers - lupine seems to grow everywhere, and the fireweed was growing (but not blooming, and *definitely* not gone to seed - a harbinger of an early winter, so I was happy about that!). We also found a seagull's nest on the morraine we walked out to for pictures.
The hike back was pleasant, and we made it in plenty of time to catch the train - even with a detour to check out the campground. Our group together again, we got to exchange stories about where we'd been and what we'd seen while we waited for the train to pick us up.
I sat on the opposite side of the train from the journey in, to see what I'd missed before... nothing much - just more stunning scenery. I took a couple pictures through the window as we traveled, and am pleased that some of them turned out. The train also stopped to pick up rafters - they'd gone to Spencer to put the raft in and then floated down to where the train stopped to pick them up. We watched as both guides got stuck in the same place - one group of rafters was told to bounce up & down (to help loosen the raft?), so they looked like a quick-paced people version of whack-a-mole, on a raft, in life vests. =)
And the fun didn't end there. After we got back to