When we took our Alaskan cruise in 2008 we flew into Anchorage. We spent a night there before catching the transfer that took us to the cruise terminal in Whittier.
When we’d booked our cruise we were strongly encouraged to book a transfer through Carnival because getting to the terminal wasn’t as easy as just hailing a taxi. Whittier was about an hour to an hour and a half from Anchorage, and there was the Portage Glacier tunnel to get through. We didn’t know what it all meant at the time. We just knew the cost was sort of pricey.
We learned from other cruisers who didn’t take the transfer that we could’ve saved a little money and used another service. However, they didn’t get the tour we got.
Because our transfer came complete with a tour guide. We even stopped in a part of Chugach National Forest where we saw our first glacier as well as a stream full of salmon running.
It was on this journey that we passed an area of dead trees that our guide referred to as a “ghost forest.” The trees, I believe mostly spruce, died from a saltwater infusion caused by a tsunami during the Alaskan Earthquake of 1964.
Unfortunately there was no photo stop so I didn’t get a picture. But I found the above image on flickr. It is an example of the ghost forests left behind after that enormous earthquake.
The one we saw looked a little different. It was off the Seward Highway near the Turnagain Arm area. The trees in that ghost forest were surrounded by pockets of water. It almost looked like a swamp from the South, minus the gators and Spanish moss.
We knew before we went to Alaska that it was in earthquake territory and had had a pretty big one once upon a time. However, we didn’t understand just how big until we passed the ghost forest and our guide filled us in on the history, giving us such details as:
- It had been a magnitude 9.2. The second largest in recorded history, and the largest in U.S. history.
- It was so powerful it literally reshaped some landscape. In one case an area rose 30 feet. In another, it dropped eight feet.
- A 27-foot high tsunami destroyed entire villages, and severely damaged other towns. (Including the one we were headed to at the time, Whittier.)
- Anchorage, where we’d just come from, had not been affected by tsunamis, but it hadn’t escaped landslides. And it sure hadn’t escaped all the structural damage to buildings and streets caused by the quake that lasted nearly four minutes.
But it was that forest which really brought the story of the Great Alaskan Earthquake home. It was one of the most surreal, haunting, and somber landscapes I’ve ever seen. One where the name “ghost” to describe it was completely apropos, and which made me realize it’s not just people that can become ghosts.