A stretch of exposed bedrock southeast of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm was gouged and polished by mile-thick glaciers during the last ice age. Evidence of this ancient natural violence is still on display along the ragged coast below the Bird Point wayside, located off the Seward Highway between the communities of Bird and Girdwood.
Ripples in solid rock
The grooves appear as smooth channels carved into the rock itself by almost unimaginable forces. Some are subtle, like ripples, and hard to see. Others are large enough to lie inside on a sunny afternoon. Or offer rounded seats, as though created for watching belugas swim the roiling tide. Many rock faces are etched with parallel scratches and ridges, what geologists call striations, a signal left behind by the immense river of ice that once filled the fiord.
The grooves and scratches show up intermittently in coves along the whole perimeter of Bird Point, basically a square-mile peninsula that sticks out into Turnagain Arm at its narrowest spot. Along the way, watch for fantastic formations and ripples sculpted into the silt by the rise and fall of the arm’s immense tides.
How to find the grooves?
Take the path that starts at a gap in the fencing between the beluga whale sculptures and the stairway to the overlook. Go downhill to the Alaska Railroad tracks. Stand well back to look and listen for trains, then cross perpendicular to the tracks, and immediately move away. Do not follow the tracks. (Take the same common sense care that you’d use at an unregulated highway-railroad crossing.) Once across, take the obvious trail up the small ridge to a route that follows the shore.
A couple of cautionary notes:
- The Alaska Railroad does not want people walking near or along the tracks due to the danger posed by fast-moving trains. After crossing, immediately move a safe distance away.
- The mudflats can be dangerous. People have gotten stuck, with at least one known fatality. In general, walk only on mud with vegetation or is obviously high and dry next to the shore. Stay well away from any low, wet spots or those glistening drainage guts.
Lots of other things to do at Bird Point:
- Watch for wildlife. A big observation deck and walkway has telescopes and nature displays. Look for Dall sheep and bears on the slopes of 3,000-foot Penguin Ridge to the east. Beluga whales and harbor seals sometimes swim past on the currents.
- Explore the temperate rain forest. A towering stand of Sitka spruce and hemlock dominates the terrain on the ocean side of the access road.
- Go biking. Bird Point connects to the Bird-to-Gird bike trail via a tunnel beneath the Seward Highway and is a popular staging spot for cycling. Going south leads to a high point with overlooks and nature kiosks.
- Witness the bore tide. Turnagain Arm has a tidal range of nearly 40 feet, one of the highest in the world. Several days a month, the incoming flood stacks up to create a dramatic bore tidal wave. Bird Point wayside is one of the best places to see it. Check with Chugach State Park for a schedule.