A Muir Idea That Led to The Creation of Glacier Bay
Playing among the thick and wild forests of the Alexander Archipelago, it’s not often the folks aboard the Wilderness Adventurer put boots on an actual trail. However, when we step foot at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park, we find one of my favorites, called the forest loop trail.
This trail has geographical features that provide evidence of glaciation. One such is its array of glacier “erratics,” a term for jagged rocks that have been picked up by glaciers and carried sometimes hundreds of miles away from the rocks source, only to be deposited as the glaciers retreat.
I stop my group in front of a particularly large one along the forest loop.
“This rock,” I say, “is the reason you and I are standing in this very place.”
Greeted with quizzical looks, I explain. A man by the name of John Muir grew up in the Midwestern plains of the United States, constantly baffled by random jagged rocks dispersed throughout his parents’ farmland.
With no mountains around to have rolled down, “how did this rock get here?” was the instigating question that spurred Muir’s fascination, search, and study of glaciers.
After a series of trying life events, Muir found himself aboard a steamship en route to Wrangell, Alaska, where he soon found a travel companion and a group of intrepid Tlingit Native Alaskans led by Tlingit Tyeen that would take him to the very reaches of where we now call Glacier Bay.
After a couple of years of exploring, studying, and recording the answer to his boyhood question, Muir’s writings inspired folks to begin sightseeing in Alaska. Among those interested in Muir’s work was Theodore Roosevelt, who developed a friendship with Muir that helped begin the creation of America’s greatest idea: The National Park System.
After a series of legislation and protective measures, Glacier Bay became a National Park in 1980, whose designation keeps it from industrial development and human degradation.
Muir did not live to see this monumental designation, but the effect of his boyhood muse – glacier erratics – has kept Glacier Bay pristine and relatively unspoiled.
As Kim Hecox writes in his book, John Muir and the Ice that Started the Fire: Wild places didn’t stay wild by accident. They had to be loved, honored, defended.