Wilderness Explorer Alaskan cruise 2012 – Miss Elizabeth

The message coming over my cabin intercom aboard the Wilderness Explorerseems unbelievable. During our stop in Glacier Bay, the voice said, we picked up a stranger. This mysterious lady will soon be greeting us in the ship lounge.

Park ranger Fay Schaller in the persona of “Miss Elizabeth”

First, there are no people just wandering around Glacier Bay. During our three days in Glacier Bay, we didn’t encounter a single other human being.  In the distance, we sometimes saw giant cruise ships. But they quickly came and went.

So where in the world did the Wilderness Explorer find this unexpected guest?

When passengers and crew settle in the lounge, we quickly find out.

Our surprise visitor is “Miss Elizabeth” who looks a whole lot like National Park Service Ranger Fay Schaller.  Only, instead of the customary ranger uniform and omnipresent binoculars around her neck, Miss Elizabeth is clad in a lovely velvet dress with lace trim and a frilly white hat with flowers and feathers. She looks like a vision from the past.

In fact, Miss Elizabeth says, that is exactly what she is.

“I was a passenger on the Idaho when it visited Glacier Bay in 1883,” she said. “The Idaho had 80 passengers. Only seven were women.”

Park ranger Fay Schaller keeps a watch for wildlife in Glacier Bay.

Miss Elizabeth then proceeds to describe her cruise on the vessel Idaho – the first of its breed to offer Alaska and Glacier Bay as a cruise experience. Inspired by written report from famed naturalist John Muir about Alaska’s towering mountains, lush virgin forests, island-dotted waterways, massive glaciers and the great bay that contained so many of them, Miss Elizabeth had traveled north to see it for herself.

“Word had gotten out of what a wondrous place this was to visit … Photographers are in heaven here,” Miss Elizabeth said, using modern technology to project historic photos of that cruise onto a large screen in the lounge. “The price was $350 from New York to icebergs and back. The trip was only for the elite. Only the very wealthy could afford it.”

A Wilderness Explorer passenger enjoys the solitude of Glacier Bay.

Captained by James Carroll, the ship slowly made its way to Glacier Bay. All the expense and the long trek were worth it when passengers beheld the spectacular landscape and wildlife. “What is the hardship when the rewards are so great?” Miss Elizabeth mused.

“We knew even during our maiden voyage,” she added, “ that the glaciers were receding very very quickly. Dramatic changes have occurred here and it has always been a place of great change … Beauty surrounded us always.”

Scanning the room of listeners, Miss Elizabeth notes that passengers on the Wilderness Explorer are “part of a long tradition of visiting Glacier Bay. I do hope your journey to Glacier Bay is an inspiring as mine has been.”

And, if she could, Miss Elizabeth concluded, “I would like to come back in another 100 years and see your photo albums, share what beauties you have seen in Glacier Bay.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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