We had another early wakeup call and pulled into the port of Valdez as we were finishing breakfast. There were several optional tours to choose from while we were docked in Valdez. Joel and I were the only ones who had signed up for the kayaking tour, so that trip was cancelled, a big disappointment especially for Joel. I decided instead to go on the Alaska pipeline tour. The Trans Alaska Pipeline travels eight hundred miles from the Prudhoe Bay on the northern slope of Alaska to Valdez, where oil is loaded onto tankers and shipped to ports further south in the U.S. The tour was very interesting and informative. We learned how the construction of the pipes allows them to expand and contract during temperature shifts and protects them against rust and earthquakes. Driving through the port, we saw the four loading berths, the ballast water treatment plants, and the enormous oil holding tanks. On our way back to the ship we spotted a black bear by the side of the road and numerous bald eagles fishing for salmon on the beach.
When I returned to the boat, I found Joel in good spirits. He had gone with Margie and Nadina (another crewmember) to the tiny Valdez animal shelter to help walk dogs. The shelter is a "lending library," and they checked out a pretty black dog named Torrey and a pair of tan pups, sisters named Crystal and Jess. All three were full of energy. Torrey wanted to set a fast pace for the walk. Since Joel is a pushover he let her run ahead, and all three humans had to chase after their charges. Crystal was a little nipper and kept pestering Torrey and Jess when she wasn't running off the path to lick dew off of vegetation. It was strange for Joel, coming from San Diego, to see the wild places in town so green. After an hour or so, having gotten nowhere near their "destination," they returned the dogs to the shelter, wet, tired, and happy.
During lunch, Joel and I sat with a group who had cruised the Inside Passage of Alaska before coming to the Prince William Sound. Several people now have recommended that trip to us, so perhaps we'll have to consider it for our next trip to Alaska.
Our next big thrill was the Columbia Glacier. The boat could not actually bring us close to the glacier; the glacier is in "catastrophic retreat" and is sheltered by a six-mile-wide shelf of icebergs. However, the icebergs themselves were amazing. They were enormous, and many took on interesting shapes and colors. The blue tinge on these icebergs was even more noticeable than on the glaciers in College Fjord. We saw numerous harbor seals and sea otters swimming in the water and resting on floating chunks of ice. The most entertaining false animal sighting was a walrus that turned out to be a dirty piece of ice complete with pure white tusks. Our naturalist tactfully pointed out that there are no walruses in Prince William Sound. As the icebergs melt, their center of mass shifts, and every once in a while an iceberg will actually flip upside-down. While we were watching, an enormous iceberg about the size of our ship rolled over and broke apart right in front of our eyes, exposing a face of light blue ice in the process. (Click here to see an animated picture of the ice turning over. This might take a few minutes to load.) Several of the larger icebergs in the area were actually moving quite quickly, perhaps pulled along by the tides, and we watched two of them collide and scrunch together.
After we pulled away from the glacier, there was a small awards ceremony in the lounge. The winner of the ice-melting contest won a Cruise West sweatshirt, and the ten-year-old Jessica received a stuffed bear for being the most inquisitive member of our group. Dinner was a "goodbye" celebration with complimentary wine and champagne. Margie gave Joel and me a hat and a T-shirt to celebrate our honeymoon and gave books to another couple celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Later that evening, the boat stopped in front of Meares Glacier. This glacier was advancing and had huge crevasses that are typical of advancing glaciers. After that, Joel and I packed and went to bed.