Sunday, September 29, 2019

Challenge your senses in Kenai Fjords National Park

Ice and glaciers attract visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park.
If you look at a map of Kenai Fjords National Park you see jagged fingers of land jutting from the Harding Icefield into the Gulf of Alaska. You’d be right if you thought ice was the mainstay of this 600,000 acre park. Thousands of feet below what you see on the surface is a concealed mountain range, a relic from the last Ice Ag, a glimpse into a time when ice covered much of North America.
More recently, activity such as a massive 3-day eruption in 1912 caused Mount Kenai to collapse inward on itself creating a caldera (crater). Snow fell and settled in the bowl creating a glacier and more stunning scenery. But there’s much more to this glacier-filled land.

Jagged rocks form coastal Kenai Fjords
As glaciers moved, they slowly carved valleys that filled with sea water and formed the beautiful fjords. This strange and wonderful landscape is evidence of nature’s raw sculpting power. It’s a place where birds swim better than they fly, mammals must adapt to life in frigid salt water, and wildlife including orca, otters, and salmon are the prime inhabitants.
Abundant wildlife
Wedged between crashing waves of the sea and the frozen Icefield, a narrow slice of temperate rain forest teems with wildlife. Moose, bears, and mountain goats inhabit the lush, green spaces at the edge of the Kenai Fjords. Majestic mountain peaks just beyond the trees provide a starting point for the glaciers, some of which now slide into the jagged fjords.

Surprisingly green rain forest landscape
This is the land we chose to visit while in Alaska—staying at a quiet, isolated retreat called Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. It’s a place that challenges your senses. Waterfalls, bird calls, and a swooshing eagle create a symphony of nature sounds. 
Intricate patterns of ice in Ailik Glacier. Chunks regularly calve
(drop off) into the water.
The thundering boom of a calving glacier, furry otters tummy side up rolling in the waves, hazy fog and pelting rain, and sunshine glistening on forest ferns are all nature’s way to awaken your senses.
Bright firewood was in full bloom. Gorgeous landscapes
But there’s also a tranquility that soothes the soul and refreshes the spirit. Summery fields of pink-flowered fireweed, dewy mosses growing under a canopy of spruce and alder trees—and a quiet that comes from existing without traffic, technology, and ticking clocks.

We gladly left behind the treasures of modern society so we could discover and experience nature’s treasures without distractions. That meant getting outdoors, no matter what the weather—kayaking in the rain, hiking through puddles left by previous downpours, and canoeing through fog that made us focus on what was right in front of us when we paddled in Peterson Lagoon. Yes, it was cold and wet at times, but it was also warm and sunny. The climate that shaped this place continues to keep it wild and wonderful.
Beautiful Ailik Glacier that we kayaked to one day
Our boat ride to the Lodge had lasted 5 hours because we spent a good bit of time looking for wildlife—which we easily found. Humpback whales migrate to these waters from Hawaii every summer. Sea otters abound in the frigid waters. Harbor seals don’t mind if the weather is dreary. Orcas, or killer whales, provided a spectacular show just as the boat approached the front of Aialik Glacier. We were awed by the incredible beauty of this place—and took too many photos.

The Lodge is hidden in a natural setting, so we had a short hike to get there.
Too soon the captain guided the boat to a beach where we got off and walked half a mile to the hidden Lodge.

Our cabin
This was a good day made even better by the incredible beauty of mountains and water surrounding our cabin. After dinner we wandered a bit in the rain forest, walked back to the black sand beach where we had started, and then sat on the deck listening to the quiet. Mother Nature had showed us her best; now it was up to us to let it soak in and to accept serenity into our souls.
View of Peterson Lagoon behind our cabin
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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