History & Geography of Gustavus & Glacier Bay
Gustavus and Glacier Bay
have a fascinating history...
Then and Now...
Glacier Bay National Park and the surrounding land that is now known as Gustavus have been as much a wonder to humans from the past as they are today...
Located between 58 and 60 degrees north latitude, this geographic region begins just 60 miles west of Juneau, the state capital of Alaska.
Accessable only by plane or boat, this pristine area of Alaska contains all the classic features that people from all over the world come to Alaska to see: Vast pristine wilderness areas, huge mountains, glaciers and iceburgs, rainforest and giant old growth trees, and healthy populations of fascinating wildlife species including brown bears, whales, and moose, among many others.
Being the third part of a trio of spectacular national parks, (including Kluane and St. Elias in Canada), Glacier bay's "backyard" can boast a fact fairly spectacular in scope: The 3 parks land space together represents the world's largest area of contiquous roadless areas left on the planet!
And when you're here, you FEEL that fact just by looking around at the spectacular panarama of mountains...
Glacier Bay is a great place for scientists and students too. John Muir was one of the very first to study here and probably the most well known.
One of the reasons it's so fascinating to study plant and animal
succession in Glacier Bay is because here is known to be the fastest ever recorded glacial recession- over 60 miles in less than two hundred years!
The community of Gustavus lies on the historic outwash plain created by the Glaciers that once filled Glacier Bay. Only two hundred years ago it was primarily, one big “beach.” The town itself is barely one hundred years old, but pre-Gustavus history speaks of native Tlingit Indians and others using the area for fishing, berry picking and other similar uses.
Gustavus used to be known as Strawberry Point, named for the bounty of sweet strawberries that grew wild across the flats. The name Strawberry Point was changed to Gustavus (taken from the name of the point at the mouth of Glacier Bay) by the new local post office in 1925. Locals apparently didn’t agree for they continued to refer to it as Strawberry Point through the 1950s and beyond.
On a related and interesting note, In 1793 Captain George Vancouver named Point Adolphus (today the “spot” known for finding the humpback whales) after Adolphus Frederick, the seventh son of King George. In 1878, William Healey Dall, while working on a coastal survey, saw “Adolphus” on the map, and assumed it was for King Gustavus II of Sweden, AKA Gustavus Adolphus. Strawberry Point, which is across from Point Adolphus, wasn’t listed on the map so Healey put “Gustavus” on the map!
The first white settlers to make a home in Strawberry Point were 3 sets of newlyweds, fresh off a steamer in Juneau in the spring of 1914. However, the first settlers to stay were in 1917 when Abraham Lincoln (A.L.) Parker homesteaded at Good River with his wife and 6 children.
13 families had successfully patented their homesteads by the time homesteading was abruptly ended in 1939 when President Roosevelt enlarged the Glacier Bay Monument boundaries and took possession of all unpatented lands. Homesteaders were stunned. The Act not only land-locked their homesteads and halted further growth and development, but the brown bear reserve now surrounding their ranches held the promise of devastating their herds of cattle. The move was regarded by the homesteaders as an attempt by the Monument to strangle their ability to thrive and in so doing, drive them out of the area.
Thanks in part to an unrelenting letter-writing campaign by Charles Parker, son to A.L. Parker, homesteading was restored in 1955 when by presidential proclamation, 19,000 acres were released back to Gustavus from the Monument.
The 6 canneries in the Icy Straits and Chatham Straits area provided a vibrant, though seasonal economic base for the early settlers to sell their strawberries, root crops and cattle to. In 1924, Parker’s steam driven (later converted to diesel) sawmill further enhanced the homesteaders’ ability to thrive and prosper.
Evidence suggests too that most of the settlers were gold prospectors. However, the only commercial mining operating in the area was the “Leroy” gold mine in Glacier Bay founded by Leslie and A.L. Parker (son and father) in 1938.
It was the Japanese threat of attack before WWII that provided the impetus for the government to build both a major military installation in neighboring Excursion Inlet and the airport in Gustavus in 1942.
Though the Glacier Bay Monument was created in 1925, it wasn’t until 1956 that a road was built to Bartlett Cove with a dock and facilities built in the 2 years following that. The visitors lodge was completed in 1966.
Area Features & Geographical Attractions
Over 350,000 people visit Glacier Bay and Gustavus every year. Well over the vast majority of them, from a cruise ship, however, never step foot on land- or in Gustavus- on account of the fact these large boats don't dock overnight in Gustavus. (both of these facts are probably good, for obvious reasons!).
For those that do decide to explore Glacier Bay Park or get to know the community of Gustavus, they find themselves a part of one of the most incredible areas on the planet!
Glaciers and Icebergs
Glacier Bay is probably best known for it’s glaciers. All of the Glaciers here are inside the National Park.
Tourists have been coming here by boat since the late 1800s
seeing these glaciers, icebergs, 15000 foot mountains, ice scoured fjords, and incredible scenery!
But that scenery has changed a lot since the 1800s and even day to day one can see changes.
Learn more about the Glaciers & Iceburgs of Glacier Bay
Snowcapped mountains in every direction you look, deep green forests of ancient trees, glacial valleys and ice scoured fjords are some of the geographical features that make Glacier Bay one of the most incredibly scenic places one can imagine...
Learn more about the Geographical Features of Glacier Bay
Flora and Fauna (Wildlife and Plantlife)
The Glacier Bay wilderness area is probably
the most untapped and completely wild areas left on the planet, and will remain
so for a long time. Just about all visitors to the park exhibiting proper respect
for wildlife and heeding basic rules of wildlife viewing, will be
able to experience many different species of amazing critters.
The plantlife has a fascinating botanical story of its own...
Learn more about the Flora & Fauna of Glacier Bay
Gustavus Dock- (Old & New)
The NEW GUSTAVUS DOCK, (completed in the spring of 2011) lies at the end of State Dock Road, less than a mile away from Gustavus' "4" corners. It is a beautifully constructed piece of new and shiny looking metal and concrete, built sturdy and wide enough to accomodate light traffic of well sized RV's driven in 2 different directions.
At the end is another far smaller "sliding and floating dock" designed for tying up all kinds of boats.
This is a far different structure than the famous OLD Gustavus dock, a picturesque large wooden structure only capable of being driven "one way" by a vehicle.
It is not suitable to leave your boat tied up to the Gustavus Dock for any extended period of time since space is extremely limited and it is very busy in the summer months.
The locals pay special attention to boats they are not familiar with and will not be shy about letting you know it's a temporary docking structure, so pay heed...
Another reason the small floating dock is not a great place to keep your boat for long is because of the current and winds, which can be severe, especially during the westerlies. (Safe anchorage is limited to a sandy bottom off the flats or the lee side of Pleasant Island; both requiring a good anchor.)
Tours Around Town...
Today, Gustavus still has a big beautiful beach, but is surrounded on three sides by National Park and the fourth side by water. Spruce trees and Hemlock trees reach one hundred to two hundred feet into the sky.
Alders, cottonwoods, fern, mosses, fireweed, lupine and other plants adorn what is technically a temperate rain forest. Being on the coast brings wetter air keeping everything green and lush, plus gives Gustavus a relatively mild winter.
Summer temperatures hold around 60-65 degrees, while most of the winter is a
“warm” 35 degrees.)
There are a number of landmarks and special features around the community of Gustavus that deserve an expanded description...
Excursion Tours by Van
One of the best ways to see and learn about the main sights of Gustavus- as you experience it for the first time- is to take an excursion tour by van.
Perfect for first timers, families, or elderly, or those just wanting to get a good layout of the land before they venture out into the "Gustavus wilds" on their own, these van tours are highly recommended...
Based out of Gustavus, Alaska
Phone: (907) 209-1200
E-Mail & Reservations
Strawberry Point Tours is a customized excursion tour business, taken in a warm, dry luxury town and country van. The business is built on the premise that we will be creating a unique experience for our customers. You now have the opportunity to enjoy in comfort the beauty that Gustavus has to offer.
One tour starts at the Alaska Marine Highway dock. This 45-minute tour is informative, historical and exciting! We may see moose, bear, and certainly many different species of birds. You will return in plenty of time to re-board the ferry.
Our charter tours provide the opportunity to go into Glacier Bay National Park, experiencing a trip through a bit of our expansive rain forest. Special Occasion Transport includes weddings and private parties. So hop aboard! There is so much to learn and see!
We also have a self-service kayak rack on top of van.
As for maps, it has proven rather difficult to find accurate maps of the Gustavus and Glacier bay area that function well for the internet... the best ones for the Bay can be found at the park headquarters ranger station, but they are too large to scan, and there really are only handmade maps for Gustavus...
The best ones we found so far are these:
1) An overall picture of Gustavus and the Glacier Bay area from expedia.com. (used to be able to see it enlarged, but they moved it on us!)
Their site won't allow us to direct link to the map, so here's what you do: Click the maplink on this page to get into their site. Then, click the Maps tab, then the "find a map" link (obvious), then type in Gustavus Alaska into the search box... and you're there.)Check it out, it's interesting...
2) We also have a nice map of Gustavus, the community, (courtesy of Seawolf Adventures) for you to look at. It shows the basic road system and overall layout of the town.
Feel free to print it out and take it with you on your next visit to Gustavus!
(It's about 85 kbs large, so be patient when opening the map.)