Kenai Fjords National Park

History: How the Kenai Fjords Were Formed

©2006 National Park Services Kenai's long, narrow fjords were carved by glacial ice during the Pleistocene Era. Glaciers continue to flow out of the mountains.

The Harding Ice Field, occupying nearly 700 square miles and as much as a mile thick, crowns the mountains of the Kenai Fjords in south-central Alaska. This is a raw, ragged land that has not yet recovered from the great Pleistocene ice sheets that flowed over most of Alaska 10,000-12,000 years ago.

A vast sea of whiteness, the Harding Ice Field feeds more than 30 glaciers that reach out from it, flowing down through the mountains like great tentacles. This glistening field of ice is covered here and there by great dunes of snow that move constantly with the vagaries of the wind.

In places, the peaks of mountains buried by the ice since the Pleistocene Era rise above the icy plain. In stormy weather, these peaks, called nunataks, seem to float like castles on a sea of white. They are awesome reminders of an age not so long ago, when vast sections of the world were cold, frozen, and lifeless.

Vast as it seems today, the Harding Ice Field is a relatively small remnant of the much larger ice cap that once covered the entire region. As the ancient ice advanced, then retreated, then advanced again over the centuries, it carved out the rugged coastline of the Kenai Peninsula and gouged out the fjords. Finally, as the earth's climate warmed, the ice began melting, leaving in its wake a spectacular landscape and habitats for throngs of wildlife.

As visitors discover, this easily accessible park offers excellent vistas and a wide range of outdoor activities. Kenai Fjords National Park -- with its mountains, bays, rain forests, and diverse wildlife -- is filled with natural beauty.

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