- an extended mass of ice formed from snow falling and accumulating over the years and moving very slowly, either descending from high mountains, as in valley glaciers, or moving outward from centers of accumulation, as in continental glaciers.
Note: A glacier is not an ice burg!
I was desperate for an outdoor tour. I wanted to see Alaska up-close, I wanted water, I wanted mountains, I wanted animals, but it was mid-September and most tours were closed for the year.
I was in the Alaska visitor center in downtown Anchorage, flipping through pamphlets when the lady who worked there remembered one tour that was possibly still operating. After a phone call to confirm, she gave me an offer, a four-hour glacier adventure. Glacier adventure I considered, envisioning icebergs and the crystal ocean, polar bears and the experience of a lifetime. I was sold. No questions were asked. Two tickets were purchased. The tour operator would be at my hotel lobby at noon.
"We're going to see icebergs! The man will be here to pick us up in an hour."
I delivered this news with enthusiasm as I charged my SONY. I couldn't wait to take pictures.
"Wow, we're going to see icebergs?"
Mark began to glow with enthusiasm as well. After all we'd never seen icebergs, we live in Brooklyn.
In the lobby of the hotel, we were approached by a man.
"Are you the Williams'?"
"I'm Sheldon, your guide."
Mark and I exchanged grins. It was go time.
Sheldon led us to a minivan parked outside of the hotel. Like a kid being lured with a lollypop, I hopped right in, buckled my seat belt, and situated my camera on my lap.
Mark, a Brooklyn native, looked nervous and after questioning Sheldon in hushed tones, joined me in the van.
"I can't believe you just got into this guy's van. We don't know him. I don't see a company logo. He has no id. You're as bad as a kid. He could drive us out in the middle of the wilderness, rob us and leave us. I don't trust this."
Before I could respond Sheldon took his place behind the steering wheel and off we went. All was well, Sheldon was a professional certified independent tour guide. My paranoid New Yorker husband began to relax. We were off, we were heading to the icebergs and we were going to have a wonderful time.
We wound through mountain chains and down narrow slippery roads until without warning Sheldon pulled over.
"Okay, here is our first stop."
Mark and I exchanged worried glances. Perhaps my jaded New Yorker husband was on to something. Perhaps we were going to be robbed and left on the side of the road right here in the middle of nowhere.
"But we're on the side of the road."
My voice was shaky.
"Yep, and that over there is your first glacier."
Sheldon pointed in the distance to an icy mountain.
"That's our glacier?"
My eyes strained in an effort to understand what I was looking at.
"Yep, that's it."
"Where is this glacier?" Mark asked suspiciously
"Right there. Can't you see it." Sheldon pointed. "It's right on the side of the mountain."
"Wait. What is a glacier?"
"A glacier is a solid mas of ice."
My heart sank.
"Oh. So what is an iceberg?"
"An iceberg starts off as a glacier but then it detaches and floats on the water."
"Oh. Are we going to see icebergs?"
"Can we see icebergs?"
"Oh, no miss, this is a glacier tour."
And I could also see my husband narrowing his eyes at me.
"We paid this man two hundred dollars to show us ice sliding down mountains?" he whispered incredulously once Sheldon's back was turned.
And so it was.
Once we got over the initial disappointment we had a great time. The glaciers were beautiful. The mountains were majestic.
And most importantly I learned something, a glacier is not an iceberg!
Ohm took his first independent walk here in Anchorage. He had his first sidewalk spill here as well.
There were many overcast days :(
The Alaska visitor center is a great resource
“Alaska, The Last Frontier”
The air is thin and weighted by the heavy aroma of spruce sap. Golden are the mountains, the horizon, and the sharp leaves of the sycamore maple. The chill though not overpowering, is immediate, punctuated by the coastal wind.
Alaska is an exotic northern wonder. Clean, crisp, rugged, and hearty, it’s the kind of place that welcomes you warmly with open arms and leaves it’s mark.
Anchorage is a charming small “big city.” Quaint and spread out, Anchorage is tourist friendly, family friendly, foodie friendly, beer connoisseur friendly, eco-friendly and an all around great place to launch your exploration of Alaska.
Anchorage has no shortage of good food. There a dozens of locally owned restaurants to choose from. When dining out, you must sample the fresh salmon, you’ve got to try reindeer, and you should sample the local favorite- sourdough flapjacks. If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll be at home in Anchorage. It seemed every restaurant boasted a home brew. The taps were literally overflowing.
Anchorage is full of nature trails. You can walk or rent a bike and venture out for the day. Now the locals will tell you that you can spot a moose or a bear on any given day, but don’t get your hopes up too high. I didn’t have one single sighting and I tried, I tried so badly. I was there for ten days and nothing. Apparently the spring brings the most sightings.
Speaking of seasons, you need to plan your trip to Alaska based upon the season. Here’s a tip, and it’s a big tip, the best time to visit Anchorage (depending on what you want) is between late spring and late summer if you would like to see the cultural sites and go on tours. Many of the tours and sites close for the winter due to the drop in tourism and let’s be real, the frigid temperatures. Winter, is the time to visit if you’d like to experience the northern light show – (aurora borealis) however. I visited in mid-September and most of the tours had just finished for the year. I really wanted to visit the Native Heritage Center, which was closed and I was a week late to take advantage of the free downtown trolley tours. There was also a really cool looking haunted ghost tour that I wanted to take but I was a week late for that as well. September was too early in the year to see the aurora borealis but it was the perfect time to see one of the most beautiful autumn leave displays I’ve ever seen. I can’t complain, I simply have to return.
Your boots squeak as you walk atop the soggy trail. The road looks like a festive mocha cake, with vibrant autumn leave sprinkles. You have more energy than you know what to do with. It must be the air you think. The crisp coolness, the light clean wisps propel you forward.
You try to quiet your feet. You move slowly attempting to blend into the scenery. You hope for a wildlife spotting. Nothing too feral, no bears, but a moose will do.
You feel like the only human in the world. The sky has never been so clear, so blue. The water, almost black, does not move. The wind rustles the golden leaves, the remaining ones, the fighters who cling defiantly to skinny slate branches.
Delicately you continue onward, rambling, following the trail as it winds around neighborhoods, past parks. You are stunned by the occasional shocks of red- berries, clustered against an otherwise grey backdrop.
A bald eagle perches on a tree to your left. You stop to stare. The bird is larger than you would have imagined. You’re grateful for the fact that it seems preoccupied by it’s prey, something in the marsh, you can’t see. You are so close you can look into its beady eyes. You hold your breath. Waiting for the swoop. Instead it returns to the sky. The moment has passed.
You continue onward. Approaching a clearing you find yourself gazing across the opal water at a massive chain of mountains. The more you blink, the clearer the chain becomes. It appears to reach the sky.
A beaver breaks through the surface of the water startling you. Your exhale, sharp and sudden releases a smoky trail reminding you how cold it is. The beaver dives beneath the water and appears once again. He, or possibly she, carries twigs in her mouth and piles them at the corner of the embankment.
Your ears perk up. You are suddenly aware of the fact that you’re not alone. Something rustles in the bushes behind you. Your heart races, you prepare your camera. You just know you are about to be face to face with a large majestic moose. You prepare your lens for the zoom.
It grows quiet. You wait patiently for your prize. Suddenly, in a flash of excited sandy energy, your moose bursts forth. Only your moose isn’t a moose, it’s a golden retriever followed by its two jogging owners who greet you with cheer and vigor.
You’ve been walking for an hour, lost in thought. Slowly your fingers have grown numb, your nose is running. It is time to head back.
It has been a fine morning, a calm cool, stimulating morning, remarkable in all the right small ways. You didn’t spot your moose, but the trail shared her many other gifts. You are not disappointed.