Alaska Life Adventures

April 27, 2011

Bore Tide

Photos & Story by Carmen

I'm going on my fifth year of driving to pottery lessons in Girdwood once a week during the winter. Click here to view my previous Life in Alaska. I look forward to pottery nights as a chance to relax, de-stress and be creative. Sometimes people ask me why I drive all the way to Girdwood, which takes me 45 minutes to an hour, when I could find a teacher in Anchorage. Well, there are really three reasons: Leola Rutherford, Video Here (whose products we sell) is a wonderful, nurturing teacher who encourages experimentation. I enjoy the company of my fellow classmates and getting a glimpse of the small-town perspective through their eyes. (I once asked them if you had to pass a "craftiness" test to live in Girdwood, which boasts numerous potters, quilters and artisans of many other flavors. For example, Leola will participate in the Turnagain Arm studio tour in June and two of my classmates are working on the Girdwood Forest Fair which takes place in July.) The third reason is the drive itself. The Seward Highway is a national scenic byway and I believe this 40-mile stretch is the most beautiful drive on earth. This time of year the melting snow sends waterfalls down the cliffs. As the days lengthen, I enjoy the sunsets on my drive home around 9pm.


One of the most interesting things about the drive to Girdwood is the extreme tidal action in Cook Inlet -- the second highest in the world after the Bay of Fundy in Canada. Driving along Turnagain Arm, I love to look out at the water. When the tide is out, the mud flats extend for miles, sometimes making it look almost as though you could walk across to the other side. When the tide is in, the water is high and close to the road. You will never see boats in Turnagain Arm or people walking on the mud flats. Besides being beautiful, this is one of nature's most dangerous places. The tidal current is strong and violent. The mud is thixotropic, meaning it liquifies when shaken (or walked on) and may re-solidify around a person's leg. Ask anyone who lives here and you will hear horror stories of people drowned after getting stuck in the mud. However, in summer you will see a few crazy people surfing the tidal waves or windsurfing the prevailing strong winds.

On my way home from pottery last week, a few remaining icebergs in the water showed just how fast the water was flowing out. I stopped to take some video. This week, I took some footage of the water gushing back in. I noticed a LOT more people than normal parked in the pull-offs along the highway, but chalked it up to spring fever on a sunny day. When I got to Girdwood, I learned we were having bore tides this week due to the full moon and high spring tides. The tidal difference is in the neighborhood of 30 to 35 feet between high and low tide, which was the reason I had been seeing such strong tidal currents. The water comes gushing in so rapidly that where the Arm is narrower and shallower, it stands up in a wall of water. All those people I had seen were bore tide watchers. My classmate Glenda offered to share with you some video she took from an airplane earlier this week. I'm also going to include some bore tide footage I took a couple years ago, since I missed the actual wave this year. And just for fun, we've added some footage I took during the biggest windstorm I've ever seen on Turnagain Arm.