PUFFIN LOVE BUT FIRST UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL  AT EXIT GLACIER – ALASKA, PART FIVE

It’s hard to fathom that my former post only covered Day Two of this amazing journey – I suppose with extended daylight there is just a greater opportunity to keep on going – or Alaska is just packed with adventures you just don’t want to miss. Day Three was no exception – although the beginning was not auspicious as a think fog had descended obscuring our destination:

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Fortunately by the time we finished breakfast, the fog began to dissipate:

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Soon it was clear enough to see the valley below our next climb, Exit Glacier which flows out of the great Harding Ice Field in the height of the Kenai Fjord National Forest and Mountains:

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Exit Glacier is one of the 50 glaciers that flow from the Harding Icefield covering 700 square miles. Created more than 23,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Era at the height of the Ice Age, the Harding Icefield was a small piece of the vast ice sheet that covered much of South Central Alaska while at the time, ice blanketed one-third of the Earth’s surface.  Exit Glacier filled this entire valley above, but now like many glaciers and indeed the Harding Ice FIeld as well, it is retreating, having melted back almost 1,000 feet.

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Here is our trail, which leads from the Center through a cottonwood forest up past the toe of the glacier to the very edge, a distance of two miles looped and an approximate elevation of 1000 feet.  I don’t have exact figures on the height we reached so am taking a guess – if someone has more accurate reading let me know and I will revise.

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The large mass of loose rock below the toe of the glacier is called a scree, a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain. The side of the glacier also was rock – strewn – with many sizes, making it particularly treacherous to traverse, especially downhill.  But it was worth it as the dazzling blue ice was mesmerizing.  Here is what I saw as i climbed closer and closer – shot by shot so perhaps you can feel my awe:

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Incredible right?  The vibrant blue was almost unworldly. And to dispel doubts that this is like the Moon Landing that some people still believe is phony – here is a shot of me at the glacier’s edge.   Note that at the bottom of the trail I just had my sleeveless top and leggings – when we got to the glacier the air swooping off the ice chilled the air considerably.  It’s all about layers!

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After a “slow as you go” descent due to the incline and rocks we were off to our next destination:  The Alaska Sealife Center in Seward for a marine biologist-hosted behind the scenes look at the world’s first cold-water marine research, rescue and rehabilitation institute. Similar to the Wildlife Center visited earlier, this non-profit center rescues, treats, rehabilitates and whenever possible releases animals back to their natural environment, in an effort to maintain the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska.  Helping in this endeavor are scores of volunteers as this facility has limited, mostly private funding to keep them going.   They are extremely protective of their patients so we were not able to go into many of the labs where the injured are being nursed back to health.  However there were many healthy animals around to keep us occupied – in fact we even got a sneak peek at an adorable baby harbor seal who emerged from under his blanket to give us a few barks before he was wheelbarrow transported back inside. No pictures of this baby, but many other creatures were around for photo ops.

Inside tanks were colorful starfish, anemone and jellyfish:

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This starfish reminded me of Peach, who starred in “Finding Nemo:”IMG_7382

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Outside there were playful and somewhat amorous sea lions cavorting in the water with much kissing:

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There were a myriad of marine birds, starting with this sleepy fellow, a wigeon duck:

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And this stunningly patterned eider duck – clearly the down looks SO much better on him than in a comforter:

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But it was this next species of water bird that completely stole my heart:  the Puffin.  These colorful birds are also found in Iceland, but due to poor weather conditions I was unable to visit the rookery island when I visited in December. Thankfully there was a bucketful of these quirky, funny acrobatic birds at the ASC who despite their somewhat bulky appearance are excellent swimmers.  Here is one who graciously gave me both profiles:

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This coy fellow played hide and seek with me:

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And this one, after continually coming over and splashing me, laughed in my wet face:

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And finally, to show it was all in good fun gave me a happy dance:

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I want one.

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