Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trains and Glaciers

Portage Glacier is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Alaska, so we headed on down to see what all the fuss was about. We caught the signature blue and yellow Alaska Railway scenic train down to Whittier, and the trip was absolutely charming. The conductor came up into our double-decker carriage to talk about the Alaskan wildlife, and the train even slowed down as we passed some Dall sheep up on the cliffs. The entrance to Whittier is via a three-mile long, single-track tunnel, which is shared by trains and cars.

Whittier is a tiny, one-road town, with one main building which houses apartments, the hospital, the grocery store, and has a tunnel connecting it to the school. It comes to life in summer as cruise ships and catamarans come to view the glaciers. The ranger on board our ship pointed out a black bear, sea otters, and harbor seals, as well as oyster catchers and a kittiwake rookery. The trees came right down to the shoreline, and the teal sea and spectacular waterfalls left the impression that we were cruising through a tropical island!

It was quite surreal to put on our thick winter coats in the middle of summer, and sail past icebergs in the sea, crackling and popping as they floated on by. The glaciers were just breathtaking, dazzling us with their immense size and ice-blue color. We even saw a couple of chunks of ice calve off the glaciers and plunge into the sea. It was truly magnificent!

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