Glacier Bay National Park: Tlingit Trail

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The morning of Thursday, September 3, we’d spent paddling Bartlett Cove. After lunch that afternoon, we decided to take a walk along Tlingit Trail on the southern shore of the cove. Tlingit Trail heads east from Glacier Bay Lodge and runs a mere half mile one way. The walk took us a touch over an hour out and back.

While we were getting ready for our walk, the Red Squirrel who lived in the stump just outside the window of our room was taking an afternoon break from busily building a winter’s cache of food and defending it from all comers with loud chirps and barks. I took the opportunity to capture an image.

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Red Squirrel

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Glacier Bay Lodge

Tlingit Trail begins down the slope from the lodge’s deck.

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Bartlett Cove

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Sitka Spruce

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Just at the edge of the lodge property, the trail was closed for construction. The detour led us from the edge of the forest down along a path through the beach meadow along the shore.

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The trail detour was caused by the construction of a Hoonah Tlingit Tribal House.

In the 1700s, the global period of cold known as the Little Ice Age caused the glaciers descending from the enormous Fairweather Range to the west of what is now Glacier Bay to advance rapidly. The advancing glaciers overran and destroyed the ancestral Hoonah Tlingit communities that had long existed in a broad, shallow valley nestled between the Fairweathers and the Chilkat Range. The Hoonah Tlingit fled, establishing a new village on Chicagof Island across Icy Strait to the south. They expected to return to their homeland in the valley someday, but when the gigantic Grand Pacific Glacier retreated, the floor of the valley was below sea level. Glacier Bay had been formed.

In the 1800s, the Hoonah Tlingit built some clan homes and encampments along Glacier Bay and Bartlett Cove. The new Tribal House, which will open in August 2016, will be a permanent place of culture, ceremony, and interpretation that will serve as a base for the Hoonah Tlingit in Glacier Bay National Park.

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The tide was out as we walked along the rocky shore of Bartlett Cove. We passed some of the young lodge staff, including Amy, our server in the restaurant the previous evening.

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Snails

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Snails

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Clam

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Acorn Barnacles

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We walked along the shore farther than the actual detour. When we could go no further, we crossed into the forest and back onto the trail. The trail dead-ended at the road to park headquarters, so we turned around and cut back to the shore.

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Devil’s Club

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Cow Parsnip

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Cow Parsnip

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Park Headquarters

Along the shore above the beach was a strip of salt marsh blending into beach meadow. These are part of a unique transition zone along the shore of Bartlett Cove that is part of the forest succession caused by the retreating glaciers. Although the glaciers have been gone from this part of the Park for almost two hundred years, all that ice weighed down the land, which is still rebounding. Even as the forest advances toward the shore, more shore becomes exposed, allowing for this meadow ecosystem to exist.

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Hermit Thrush

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Mussels

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Clams, Mussels, Acorn Barnacles

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We spotted a Harbor Seal lolling in the far eastern part of the cove. It spotted us too, and we all spent some time watching each other.

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Harbor Seal

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Mount Crillon

Looking up, the Fairweather Range positively glowed in the sunshine. It was a glorious afternoon at Glacier Bay.

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Beartrack Mountains

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Fairweather Range

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Clam

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Beach Meadow

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Exposed shoreline at low tide and Beach Meadow

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Lichens

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Lichens

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Mount Crillon, Mount Bertha

To the westward the magnificent Fairweather Range is displayed in all its glory, lifting its peaks and glaciers into the blue sky. Mt. Fairweather, though not the highest, is the noblest and most majestic in port and architecture of all the sky-dwelling company. La Pérouse, at the south end of the range, is also a magnificent mountain, symmetrically peaked and sculptured, and wears its robes of snow and glaciers in noble style.

– John Muir, 1880, from Travels in Alaska, published posthumously in 1915

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Mount Fairweather

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Back in our room, we relaxed before walking over to the main lodge building for the evening’s activities.

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That evening, there was a special, season-ending presentation, the 2015 Glacier Bay Slide Show, comprised of National Park Service staff and park visitor-submitted images. They also announced the winner of the 2015 photography contest, which we voted in at the last moment before the evening’s first viewing of the slide show at 6pm. We decided to have dinner first and then take in the second viewing at 8pm.

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Mount Fairweather Cam. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Before dinner, we checked out the bookstore and Visitor Center, which was very heavy on taxidermy. The display area was divided up into geographic regions of the park to demonstrate the interconnection between species in each niche ecosystem.

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Back downstairs while we ate, Sean became filled with great consternation when the hostess at the restaurant referred to “Brandon from Missouri” as Joseph when she thanked him for filling in since they were so understaffed this final weekend the lodge was open in 2015. So “Brandon from Missouri” really was “Joseph from Arkansas!” Sean was upset that Joseph/Not Joseph had duped him by wearing someone else’s name tag. But he admitted that it was exactly the sort of hijinks that he himself would have pulled back when he was Joseph/Not Joseph’s age and worked at a Greek restaurant in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan.

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Fairweather Range

In the lodge, we ran into the Delightful Brits, who (along with the Charming Southerners) had been on that day’s boat tour of Glacier Bay. Their excursion had been splendid, and they were filled with enthusiasm for all they had seen and experienced. They were also dismayed by some fellow visitors from Switzerland who were dismissive of Glacier Bay and had remarked that the tour wasn’t worth its price. The Delightful Brits certainly did not agree with that assessment. The husband was somewhat envious of us and our morning paddle on Bartlett Cove in such spectacular weather. The next day, when we would have our boat tour, was forecast to be overcast and rainy.

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After dinner, the slideshow was a heartfelt family affair. It cemented a feeling of camaraderie among those of us lucky enough to be visiting this final weekend of the season. It was clear, given the number of people at the viewings and in the lodge, that a lot of the Aramark staff and both seasonal and permanent residents of Gustavus had come over to the lodge to see the slideshow, celebrate the season, and say goodbye to friends. It was a delightful evening.

That night, again, I woke multiple times and walked outside into the chill air to see if I could see the Northern Lights, which were forecasted to be visible. Again, no luck. Nothing but stars and, at one point, laughter from young lodge staffers celebrating down by the dock area of Bartlett Cove.

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