The second of six national parks we’re visiting on this year’s trip to Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park is very similar to our first park [Glacier Bay NP] in that to visit and take in the park you must spend time in the bays of the Gulf of Alaska. Kenai Fjords was established as a national monument in 1978, then made a national park in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). While a fairly new national park, its story began in the Pleistocene (Ice Age) some 2.5 million years ago. The park has undergone constant change since then thanks to the Earth’s crustal movements and changing global temperature and precipitation amounts.
Kenai Fjords NP protects The Harding Icefield, an expanse that covers over half the 670,000-acre park, and glaciers reach down from this massive ice age relic. Annual snowfall rates of up to 60 feet per year continue to pack onto the already-thick ice, then gravity tugs these ice sheets down and they become giant bulldozers. As the glaciers recede, they uncover U-shaped valleys that fill with sea water, creating the stunning fjords (pronounced f’yords). This seemingly inhospitable environment is actually teeming with life, and this is what we came to see. We took another day-long boat trip out of Seward, traveling around the peninsulas and into the fjords. Humpback and Orca whales treated us with their presence in the waters, as did Dall’s porpoises, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and cute little sea otters floating on their backs. In the air and on their nests: bald eagles, cormorants, common murres and black-legged kittiwakes. On the steep-sided mountain slopes: three mountain goats. On the beach: a black bear. We enjoyed two species (horned and tufted) of fun and bright-beaked puffins. A crazy adaptation here in this dynamic place, these champion diving sea birds actually swim better than they fly, and it is estimated that they can reach depths some 250 feet down in these frigid waters.
Fred’s photo post shares really terrific photos of the many creatures we saw on our boat cruise day. Both Ella and Oliver used their kiddie cameras to shoot wildlife photos of their own, but discovered that taking a photo of Fred’s viewing screen on his camera produced a lot better animal close-ups — too funny! Another favorite, funny moment on our boat trip was Oliver, a.k.a. “Big O” (he liked that name Fred gave him), pretending to be “Freddie” — he donned Uncle Fred’s glasses, wide-brimmed sun hat, and hoisted one of his big cameras for some serious photography of his own. Ah, the joys of traveling with these two precious kids!
While the Kenai Peninsula features some 40 glaciers, the only one accessible via the road is Exit Glacier, to which park visitors can hike. Fred opted for the 8-mile hike up along the side of Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield — see Fred’s Kenai post for photos of his hike. Chris, Ella, Oliver, and I chose a shorter, more kid-friendly hike. Because this one is pretty heavily visited, roping keeps tourists back a bit; we’ll be able to approach others in upcoming parks and we will actually be able to climb on them.
We had a fabulous time visiting the Kenai Peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park. Being with one of my best girlfriends (we’ve known each other for 33 years now!) and her kids really made the trip extra special for both Fred and me. Ella and Oliver are very close to our hearts, and spending two weeks of our five-week Alaska trip with them has been an unforgettable joy…!