On our last night on the Laurence M. Gould, a snow squall enveloped the ship, and visibility plummeted. Icebergs appeared — a sure sign that we were getting close to our destination. With a bank of powerful spotlights illuminating the sea in front of us, the helmsman guided us southward.
The snow stopped by early morning, and the sideways light of sunrise revealed spectacular walls of rock and ice on either side of us. The ship had finally reached Antarctica, and after a cruise through the scenic Neumayer Channel, we arrived at Palmer Station.
Established by the United States in 1965, Palmer is the only U.S. Antarctic station north of the Antarctic Circle. It's named after Nathaniel B. Palmer, a seal hunter, explorer and sea captain who is considered by many to be the first American to set eyes on the peninsula, sometime in the 1820s.
Today, Palmer Station is run by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), the National Science Foundation-funded operation that makes science happen at the bottom of the world. The USAP is also responsible for America's two other year-round Antarctic research outposts, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and McMurdo Station.