Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats

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Above is Our Alaska Adventure Route, the red pins on our way in and the purple ones on our way out.

Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends.  But we’re so glad we did it!  The experience taught us so much in a very short time.  We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers.  We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow.  We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.

The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly.  No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery.  Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on.  These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.

As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible.  Alaska is immense and super-sized;  we covered only a fourth of it.  Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park).  Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined.  It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.

And the fishing – oh yeah!  To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish.  I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here.  As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations,  you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had.  Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.

Glaciers, glaciers everywhere!  There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named.  We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root GlaciersGrewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (KnikAialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers).  Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier).  They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife, yes.  Alaska is where the wild things are!  Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads.  Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere.  We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.

Hiking and biking trails galore.  They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.

Alaskans live in a different frame of mind.  They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged.  They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment.  We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades.  Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska?  We can’t wait!

                                                                                                                             

Our trip stats:

Arrival in Canada, start of trip  =  5/30/12

Departure from Canada, end of trip  =  9/17/12

Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry)  =  5,722

Miles driven in Alaska  =  1949

Miles driven in Canada  =  3773

Days of trip  =  110

Days in Alaska  =  73

Days in Canada  =  37

Gallons of diesel burned  =  648

Border crossings between U.S. and Canada  =  8

Campgrounds/RV parks visited  =  37

Animals squashed while driving  = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers).  We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.

                                                                                                                       

For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:

  1. Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down.  Order one in March for the latest version.
  2. Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.

  3. Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.

  4. For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.

  5. A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience.  You don’t want to rush this trip!

 

A word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.

 

 



DO NOT TRAVEL to ALASKA, if…

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DO NOT TRAVEL TO ALASKA, if…

1)   You don’t like dealing with unpredictable weather.

2)   You hate it when your GPS signal sometimes gets lost because you’re so far north.

3)   You don’t like people who work at a more leisurely pace than you’re used to.

4)   You get aggravated when a Bear or Moose walk near the road you’re driving on.

5)   You don’t like being in areas away from supermarkets or an internet connection.

6)   You can’t stand to drive a dirty car.

7)   You don’t like to fish, hunt or spend a lot of time outdoors.

8)   You hate it when other drivers wave Hello at you all the time.

9)   You think up to 20 hours of sunlight per day during the summer is a bad thing.

10)  You get tired of eating the Best salmon and halibut in the world all the time.

But, if like us you think these are just some of the “minor inconveniences” that make Alaska an interesting and charming place, YOU MUST TRAVEL TO ALASKA for one of the best experiences of your life!

~Steve

Leaving Alaska thru the Inside Passage – Alaska Marine Highway

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When we were planning our Alaska adventure early this year we learned that the classic itinerary from the Western states is to drive the Alaska Highway one-way and take the Alaska Marine Highway the other way, or vice versa or backtrack the same way again.  Also, the mantra for any Alaska-bound traveler is to be in Alaska by Memorial Day and out of there by Labor Day. With that knowledge we chose to drive the Alaska highway going in and take the ferry outbound from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC.  We made our  reservations for the outbound ferry portion early in January, with a departure date of Sept 6.

Inside Passage Route Alaska

Route Map of Inside Passage from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC

MV Matanuska

We learned from Birdie, the lady we met several times in our journey, that she saved about $300 dollars by separating the motorhome from her tow vehicle for the trip on the ferry.  When we initially made the reservation back in January we were asked the total length of our motorhome with the tow hooked up and that was how we were charged.  So at check in we told the agent that we had unhooked the tow from the motorhome and our total length was shorter . In doing so we received a refund of over $200.  Yay!

Although we already had a bit of experience on the ferry as we were city/town hopping in Southeast Alaska a few days before, there was a little bit of apprehension as on the day we departed  the tides were low. We thought we might have trouble getting Betsy on the ferry.  But we were impressed with the crew as several of them guided Steve as he was driving into the ferry and squeezed Betsy into parking to her designated  spot.

Haines Ferry

Vehicles waiting to be loaded

Alaska Ferry

The ramp

Alaska Ferry

Driving into the Ferry

Inside ferry - Alaska Inside Passage

Crews directing Steve

Inside Ferry - Alaska Inside Passage

Tight Fit but no damage done

Stateroom, Inside Passage Alaska

Our stateroom

Alaska Maritime Ferry

Outside Lounging Area

Alaska Marine Highway

A pose 🙂

Alaska Marine Highway

At the cocktail lounge with new friends we met, Ed and Denalle from California

We departed Haines with stops at Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan (Southeast Alaska), finally arriving at Prince Rupert, BC.  As our vessel glided through the waters of the Inside Passage the captain called out when whales ambled around.  The ferry also passed along the Alaska’s rugged coastlines allowing us to see small fishing villages and bustling maritime activities in addition to birds, sea otters and sea lions.  We explored the town of Wrangell for an hour and Ketchikan for a couple of hours, given the short layovers allowed.  We did not go out when at Juneau for we already visited it separately.  We were fast asleep when the boat stopped at Petersburg for only a half hour in the middle of the night.

Wrangell, Alaska

History of Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska

Town of Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska

Town of Wrangell, as we leave

 Ketchikan, Alaska

Interesting house at Tongass Ave, Ketchikan

 Ketchikan, Alaska

On this day two cruiseships were also in Ketchikan

 Ketchikan, Alaska

Where the beer was not too pricey, Ketchikan

Alaska Marine Highway

Goodbye, Alaska

We arrived at Prince Rupert at 2:30am local time and for the seventh time crossed a border, this time into Canada.  After a few questions, we hooked up and off we went and rested at Smithers, British Columbia.

And so that ends our Alaskan Adventure, an exciting, memorable,  awe inspiring journey to the last frontier. We made it in one piece. Betsy and our tow has no cracks, no dings, no mishaps despite the torture that both went through. We had a FANTASTIC  time !

Goodbye Alaska!

Bald Eagles, Bears and Totem Poles- Haines

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Our final stop in Alaska was Haines, and also our base camp as we explored Southeast Alaska.  From Tok we had  to meander through the Yukon Territory and a little bit of British Columbia in Canada (and of course U.S. Customs) before getting back to Alaska again.

Location of Haines, AK

Location of Haines, AK

Haines, Alaska

Beautiful mountain side along Haines highway.

Chilkoot Inlet, Haines Alaska

Haines viewed from Chilkoot Inlet

Haines has been tagged as the Valley of the Eagles due to the congregation of about 3,500 Bald Eagles starting in November when they feast on the late run of Chum salmon.  A 48,000 acre sanctuary has been formed by the state for the national bird. But we did not have to wait until November, as we saw the baldies perching on trees by the dozens and  just hanging out on the beach.  It was quite an awesome sight for the gathering of the white heads.

Haines, Alaska

More Bald Eagles on the beach

Bald Eagle

This is an injured Bald Eagle and the foundation is permitted to take care of it.

We were told that Bears hang out at the salmon weir by Chilkoot river. So off we went early in the morning to watch bears catch salmon.  We were not disappointed for the three times that we went there, they were there feeding on the running chum salmon.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Hi, I’m BJ, so we were told

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

He smelled us, so it looked straight up and we drove away.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Aha, there you are or he could be pooing.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Bear catching salmon for breakfast

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

This is how tourists get attacked by a Bear

Walking and driving around Haines we noticed several Totem poles.  They signify Alaska’s native legacy. They were carved to perpetuate Tlingit (pronounced Kling-it) cultural practices.

Friendship Pole, Haines alaska

Friendship Pole

Eagle Family Totem Pole, Haines Alaska

Eagle Family

A private pole by Chilkoot river, Haines Alaska

A private pole by Chilkoot river honoring a family there.

There were lots of hiking and biking opportunities at Haines, but man, the wind and the rain were unrelenting once again.  Instead we just checked out museums and historic sites.  First we went to Fort William H Seward which was established 106 years ago as a symbol of US Army strength.  The fort was decommissioned and is now a historic landmark.  Most of the building are now privately owned and local businesses reside there.

Fort W.H. Seward, Haines Alaska

Fort Wh Seward, a National Historic Sight

Soapsuds Alley, Haines Alaska

Soapsuds Alley, used to house non-commissioned officers, now houses stores and shops

Officers Row, Haines Alaska

Officers row before now privately owned

We watched the feeding of a Bald Eagle at the American Bald Eagle Foundation.  There were also more than 200 specimen of  local fish and wildlife.  The founder gave an engaging and interesting presentation of wildlife stories.

Haines Alaska

Porcupine and Mountain Goat one of the many displays

Haines Alaska

A captive Red Tail Hawk

Next stop was the Sheldon Museum, which houses collections of Native art, gold rush mementos and a display of  the  answer to the question “Whose Border is it?”

Haines Alaska

Answer to the question “Why isn’t Southeast Alaska part of Canada ?”

Next stop was the Hammer Museum where an impressive  display of 1,800 pounding implements is showcased.  Now that’s a lot of hammers!

The only place where you can see over 1800 hammers

Haines Alaska

It was quite a collection of different kinds of hammers

Haines Alaska

Due to its quintessential Alaskan look, Haines has also been a favorite of filmmakers.  The 1991 Disney movie “White Fang” was filmed in Dalton City as is “Gold Rush Alaska”  at Porcupine Creek.

White Fang set Haines Alaska

Movie set of “White Fang” now used as small stores and for state fairs

Haines Alaska

At the movie set, Steve got his growler at Haines Brewery

We could tell that the season is winding down as the RV park we stayed in, Haines Hitch up RV park  was pretty sparse.  We liked it for we had the west section to ourselves. It was a level grass site with full hook ups.  We liked it here even if the laundry cost $3.50 per load.  What can we say, everything in Alaska is expensive.

Haines Alaska

Harbor decorated with flowers

Haines Alaska

Outrageous gas prices

Haines Alaska

Almost empty RV park

We prepped Betsy, and the Honda for our departure from Alaska on a three-day ferry trip through the inside passage to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.

Upnext: Leaving Alaska

Island hopping via ferry – Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah – Southeast Alaska

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We left  Million Dollar Falls campground and  headed back into Alaska.  Alas, we had to go through another border crossing into America.  For the first time, we were asked to pull over and step out of the motorhome after our passports were checked and we answered some questions.  The lady officer checked Betsy, opening several cupboards/cabinets and the refrigerator.  We were asked if we had any fur, feathers, wild animal souvenirs and so on.  After 15 minutes of inspection we were cleared to go.  Whew!

We set camp at Haines, which is the terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway,  a state-run ferry system  operating passenger and vehicle ferries between cities.  Access to towns and cities in Southeast Alaska is either by float plane or via Alaska Marine Highway  ferry  for there are a few roads through this region.  We booked our ferry rides for Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah as soon as we arrived.

Skagway, Juneau, Hoona

The towns we visited – Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Boats

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry – MV Matanuska

We first took the 45-minute fast ferry to Skagway one rainy day for a day of exploring.  When we arrived there four (4) cruise ships were already docked pouring hundreds of tourist into the little town.  We took a stroll around town viewing false-fronted buildings of the gold rush-era, now converted into various stores.  This town is known as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and its colorful history is still evident with the preserved buildings.  Next we hiked 4 miles round trip to the historic Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls. This is a famous cemetery where the infamous characters such as “Soapy Smith” from the gold rush days were buried.

Skagway, Alaska

Historic downtown Skagway

Skagway, Alaska

In the left corner is the Red Onion Saloon – Skagways best known water hole.
-The A B facade is made of 8,883 pieces of driftwood nailed to the front wall.  5,300 are originals successfully preserved since 1899.

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is also known as the “Garden City of Alaska”

Skagway, Alaska

Story about who’s who in the Gold Rush Cemetery

Skagway, Alaska

Gold Rush Cemetery

Skagway, Alaska

Soapy Smith, the famous outlaw during Klondike gold rush

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is one of the major ports of call for cruise ships

The following day we took ourselves and the car on another ferry for a beautiful 4 1/2 hour ride to Juneau.  As you probably know, the only capital in the US  not accessible by road  is Juneau and it claims to be America’s most scenic state capital.  We agree with that claim as we have seen its beauty first hand.  This city has a different feel compared to the other two big cities – Anchorage and Fairbanks.  It has its own charm, and being an active port city with an inspiring wilderness setting it is also a port of call for cruise ships.  There is a lot to do but we did what we could during our limited stay.  It is here that we tasted the freshest and sweetest Alaskan King Crab ever!  We took time to visit the Alaska State Museum which has excellent displays talking about the native Alaskan people and their culture.  There is also a description of the political history of the state and the various claims of ownership.  It was well done.  Finally, we rode the Mt. Roberts Tram up to the 1800 ft, platform where we did some hiking and enjoyed the fantastic view of the airport and city.

Downtown Juneau, Alaska

Downtown Juneau

Juneau, Alaska

Juneau is one of the favorite ports of call for cruiseships during summer

Juneau, Alaska

Glacier Botanical Gardens

Juneau, Alaska

Pose at Mendenhall glacier which is accessible by car from Juneau

Juneau, Alaska

A piece of 200 year old glacial ice displayed at the Visitor Center

Juneau, Alaska

Juneau viewed from Mt Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

Pricey but the freshest, tastiest, Alaskan King Crab legs

Juneau, Alaska

Entrance to the Native American History at the Alaska State Museum

The following day we caught yet another ferry for another 3 hr trip to Hoonah, which has a population of 868  and is also a cruise ship port.  Aside from tourism, fishing and logging are the main industries there.   We visited my high school classmate Wilma and her husband Randy.  They are really Alaskans for they have lived here for 20 years!  They are both commercial fishermen aside from teaching.  In seven hours they fed us Wilma’s killer Halibut Chowder and grilled King Salmon,  gave us a tour where we saw two whales near the harbor, two bears just a few minutes from their house and most exciting of all we went blueberry picking.  One of the summer pastimes of Alaskans in August is berry picking and we picked blueberries from the roadside.  In an hour we managed to picked two galloons of wild tart Alaskan blueberries.  Steve and Randy watched for bears, since blueberries are one of their favorites and we didn’t want them to see us stealing their food!

Hoona, Alaska

With my Alaskan girlfriend, Wilma

Tlingit Totem Poles

Impressive Tlingit Wall wood carvings

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Wild Blueberries for the picking abound

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Showing off our harvest – ML, Randy and Wilma.  Steve took the picture while watching out for jealous bears.

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Our bear security force – the rifle is in the back of the truck, just in case

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

A bear doing some blueberry picking of his own

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Yet another grizzly bear

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

These two Humpback whales were playing close to Hoonah harbor

After four days of city/town hopping we boarded our car and us via MV Malaspina back to Haines.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – Pristine Mountain Wilderness

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Our trip into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was a real eye-opener.  We thought Yellowstone was big – this park is 6 times larger!  It’s America’s largest National Park at 13.2 million acres, and it holds 9 of the 16 highest mountain peaks in the U.S.  Vast is the correct term for this park, and yet it is one of the least-visited in the country.

There are no designated campgrounds here, and most “accommodations” are simple wilderness camping with no permits required.  However, folks are required to use the provided National Park approved bear-resistant food containers.

Mt Wrangell, Alaska

That huge snow-covered mountain is Mt. Wrangell

Due to its massive size there is no realistic way to experience all or even most of this park within a reasonable amount of time.  There are only 2 primitive gravel roads into the park, and it takes several hours on either one of them before you come to a place where you can even begin to explore.

The only way to enjoy a short trip here is to fly in for your adventure.  Did someone say fly?  We’re up for that!  We took a 30-minute flight into the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains, to the remote town of McCarthy.

At the McCarthy airport (Cessna 206 used for the flight), Alaska

At the McCarthy airport (a Cessna 206 was used for the flight)

During the flight we were awed with the park’s vastness, and astonishing views of the highest peaks, massive glaciers and pure wilderness.

Mt Blackburn, Alaska

Mt. Blackburn

We skirted around the major peaks of Mt. Sanford (16,237 ft), Mt. Drum (12,010ft), Mt. Wrangell (14,163ft) and Mt. Blackburn (16,390ft).

Stairway Ice Fall, Alaska

Stairway Ice Fall

We flew over Root Glacier, Stairway Icefall and Kennicott Glacier, and along the wide rocky moraine.  Even from the plane we saw only a tiny section of this park.  Incredible!

Kennicott Glacier, Alaska

Just your average 25-mile long glacier (Kennicott)

Flying into the park allowed us to spend most of the day exploring the remote towns of McCarthy and Kennecott.  Kennecott originated with the establishment of the Kennecott Mines Company in the early 1900’s.  During those years, nearby McCarthy grew as a town that provided illicit products and services such as alcohol and prostitution, which were forbidden in the mining town.

Today, McCarthy’s population consists of only 51 brave permanent residents.  Kennecott and McCarthy have no central water, sewer or electrical systems.  Generators provide power, and water is pumped from wells or hauled by hand.  The remoteness, historical buildings and magnificent scenery are what continue to draw most visitors to this place.

Kennecott Copper Mill, the building on the hill to the right is huge!, Alaska

The huge complex of wooden buildings on the hill comprise the Kennecott Copper Mill

There was a very interesting copper processing mill in Kennicott which is the most popular attraction here.  Built in 1907, the mill is a complex of wooden barn-red buildings.  Today, many of them are unstable and in the process of being re-vamped by the Park Service, but several are open for the public to check out.

The film at the Visitor’s Center was a great place to start, as we learned how the very high-content copper ore was discovered, followed by the massive effort it took to construct a mill in the wilderness.  A 200-mile railroad to the nearest port in Cordova was also built at the time.

The area’s copper-rich history is celebrated as a National Historic Landmark and is part of the the National Park Service system.

Kennecott mill,Alaska

Part of the Kennecott Mill complex which is being “stabilized” after many years of neglect.  Workers and their families basically walked away from this town in 1938 when the company shut down their operations

We followed a trail out to Root Glacier, which along with Kennicott Glacier has dumped massive dirt and gravel flows through the nearby valley.  It was incredible to stand near the flows and listen to the cracking ice and dirt in front of us as far as the eye could see.   This mass of material is continually melting and moving very slowly down the valley.

Hiking to Root Glacier, Alaska

Hiking to Root Glacier

We think flying in and out of the park was a good decision, since it gave us fantastic views of 16,000-foot peaks, massive glaciers and icefalls.  We talked to a man and his daughter who had backpacked in the park for a week, and they told us they were only able to see a tiny fraction of it.  Did I mention this place is VAST?

Our base camp for this stop was at Kenney Lake RV and Mercantile park.

This was a wonderful stop that we’re glad we made.  The cost of the flight was well worth it, as we were able to see so much beauty from the air.  And the relaxing day in these remote towns really got us to thinking about what a life out here might be like.  We highly recommend this trip!



 

Prince William Sound, a Sound you won’t forget – Valdez pt. 2

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Prince William Sound is ringed by the coastal mountains of the Chugach Range, and situated in the midst of the Chugach National Forest.  Within its 2,700 miles of coastline lies Valdez at the north shore edge.  When hearing reference to Prince William Sound, the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster most likely comes to mind.  Today the port waters have recovered and wildlife flourishes.

Valdez,AK

That’s Val DEEZ

Prince William Sound

Shimmering beauty

The Sound is a premier fishing destination for Salmon and Halibut, and in fact the Women’s Silver Salmon Derby was underway during our visit.  The winner was a tourist from Anderson, California, and she took home $1,000 for her 15.22-pound Silver Salmon!

One way to enjoy and be amazed by the Sound’s shimmering beauty is to take a guided tour.  We can’t seem to get enough of glaciers, so we booked the Meares Glacier excursion. It wasn’t so much the destination we were seeking, but rather being able to smell the sea air and get another vantage point for viewing mountains, glaciers and wildlife.

Valdez, Alaska

Leaving Valdez

Otters in Alaska

A group of otters is called a “raft”. This is probably the largest raft of otters we have seen, and it’s a good sign that the otter population is doing well after almost being wiped out by hunters years ago

Since we had been on a similar cruise at Kenai Fjords National Park, we can’t help but compare the calving activity of the glaciers.  We were fortunate to see plenty of calving of the Aialik Glacier during our Kenai Fjords tour.  However, the wildlife that make Prince William Sound their home are abundant and the scenery is without equal.  It was quite a challenge going through hundreds of pictures to pick the right ones – they were all beautiful!

Sealed with a kiss

Talk about a wet kiss!

Humpback Whale

A rare “fluke shot” of a Humpback Whale’s tail as it does a “deep dive”, which means it will be submerged for at least several minutes.

Seal near Meares Glacier

You talking’ to me?

Meares Glacier

We were interested to learn that fairly large icebergs completely melt in only a day or two. With that in mind you get an idea of how fast the glacier is dropping all of this ice into the ocean

Female Harbor Seals resting on ice

Female Harbor Seals resting on ice

A closer look at the Kittiwakes

A closer look at the Kittiwakes

Steller Sea Lions

Steller Sea Lions

Columbia Glacie

Columbia Glacier is the second-largest tidewater glacier in America. It has been retreating since 1980 and in 2002 it had retreated 7.5 miles

Meares glacier

The Meares glacier is about 6 miles long and 1 mile wide where it meets the water. The face is approximately 250 feet high

Black -Legged Kittiwakes hanging out on ice

Black -Legged Kittiwakes hanging out on ice

For those who are fans of the documentary/Real TV series “Deadliest Catch“, two of the fishing vessels featured there – the Kodiak and the Cornelia Marie – were docked at the Sound for the summer.  It’s off-season for the Alaskan crab fishermen, and during this time they are contracted to buy fish from small operations and take them to commercial plants for processing.

Valdez, Alaska

Cornelia Marie, one of the fishing vessels featured on “Deadliest Catch”

In our opinion, a visit to Alaska just isn’t complete without a trip to Valdez to enjoy the gorgeous calm waters and wildlife of Prince William Sound!



 

From peaks to port – Valdez pt. 1

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Leaving Glennallen, our adventure to Valdez (pronounced Val-DEEZ) began on the Richardson Highway.  We crawled along at a slow pace, negotiating 17 pavement breaks (yes I counted them) with abrupt edges, dips and frost heaves.  That meant Steve had to slow way down for every encounter so we wouldn’t empty our cabinets of their contents as Betsy displayed some serious hip action.

Richardson Highway

One of the 17 pavement breaks on our route

We climbed to the 2,800 ft. summit of Thompson Pass, where we encountered rain and fog. Visibility was so bad that we decided to pull off and take a break for lunch at the top. Thompson Pass received 26 feet of snow during January 2012, and there was still plenty on the mountain during our August visit.

Thompson Pass

Snow still on the mountaintops in August

Thompson Pass

Valdez is the snowiest place in Alaska.  Notice how tall the snow markers are here – they look like streetlights!

Our drive continued over Lowe River (Steve smiled), four beautiful waterfalls and through Keystone Canyon where we saw some gorgeous 5,000 ft. peaks.

Lowe River

This sign put a smile on Steve’s face

Keystone Canyon, Alaska

There were waterfalls all along the road at Keystone Canyon

As we entered the town of Valdez, the lush Chugach mountains and shimmering clear water were just breathtaking.  The sun was shining during our four-day stay here, allowing us to hike, bike and take a walk around the quaint town to learn a why it is called the “Switzerland of Alaska.”

It was also here that we enjoyed the amazing sight of salmon running at Solomon Gulch.  I’ll give more details about that fascinating experience in my next blog.

Town of Valdez

Valdez is surrounded by the lush snowcapped Chugach Mountains

Port of Valdez

Yet another place to go fishing

Lowe Street,Valdez

Steve also has a street named after him!

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Hiking Goat Trail at Keystone Canyon – the trailhead was at Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Looking down at Lowe River from a trail along the gulch

Biking at Valdez

Valdez is also a great town to bike around

Valdez Glacier

Valdez Glacier in the background

Chugach mountains

The towering Chugach Mountains surround the area

Valdez is rich in history that helped shaped this community.  In 1898, it was all about the gold stampede and railroad industry.  Then on March 27, 1964 a 4-minute, 9.2 earthquake triggered an underwater landslide which created a tsunami.  The tremendous waves washed away the entire Valdez waterfront.  Due to the fact that the town had been built on unstable soil, it was abandoned and a whole new town was built 4 miles to the east.

Gold Rush Days Story

Gold Rush Days Story

The 800-mile long Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was completed between Prudhoe Bay in the north and Valdez to the south in 1977.  And the town became a household name in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker ship ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.  Although the town was not direcly impacted by the oil spill, thousands of people arrived in response to the crisis.

Terminus of Trans-Alaska pipeline

Terminus of the Trans-Alaska pipeline at the base of the mountains

We visited two museums while here.  Both the Valdez Historical Museum and the Old Town Valdez Museum were excellent and a great learning experience.

Old Valdez now

Old Valdez now

Tsunami warning loudspeaker

A strange looking loudspeaker used for Tsunami warnings

The new Port of Valdez

The new Port of Valdez

Valdez Historical Museum

Valdez Historical Museum

We loved this town and the surrounding area so much that I couldn’t capture it all in a single blog.  To read about the rest of our adventure here, check out Valdez pt. 2!



 

Lazy Days at Tolsona Wilderness -Glennallen

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Continuing east we headed out to the town of Glenn Allen, 187 miles from Anchorage. The drive along the Glenn Highway designated as a National Scenic Byway  is one of Alaska’s most beautiful, traversing a broad tundra and because of that we are reminded once again of frost heaves, damaged roads, dips… The road winds through gorgeous mountain ranges with spectacular scary drop offs. One of the most breathtaking sight is another glacier, the Matanuska Glacier. We even had a glimpse of the Wrangell Mountains as we arrived in Glenallen.

Glenn Highway

Wildflowers along the Glenn Highway

Chugach mountain ranges

Snack break facing the Chugach mountain ranges

Sheep Mountain,AK

Sheep Mountain

Matanuska Glacier

Glimpse of Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Rive

Matanuska River flows through the valleys

We spent our days at Tolsona wilderness catching our breath and taking a break  from all the fun activities that we had. This is our 47th day since we arrived in Alaska and time is moving so fast.  We played scrabble and had a camp fire for the first time in a long while.  We were able to finally enjoy the sun, which made its rare appearance once again.

Wrangell Mountains

Plaque about Wrangell Mountains

Mt Sanford on the left and Mt Drum on the right

Mt Sanford on the left and Mt Drum on the right

Mt Drum

Mt Drum as seen from the highway

BearFooting in the Kenai Peninsula

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We completed our “bear footing” (having a good time), in Alaska’s playground – the Kenai Peninsula. It left us full of wonderful experiences and spectacular scenery.  The bountiful wildlife in the peninsula borough allowed us to meet the real locals (critters) in Cooper Landing.  We got hooked, we clammed and then traded clams for Halibut in Ninilchik. We gazed at volcanoes and walked and biked the well-maintained pathways in Soldotna.  We went all the way to the end of the road in Homer and to the most westerly point in North America at Anchor Point.  The Harding Icefields and Kenai Fjords National Park formed the backdrop of stunning scenery on the horizon at Seward.  We witnessed frenzy Salmon fishing (or combat fishing as they refer to it) and dip netting for subsistence at the Kenai River in Kenai.  ML even met in person, for the first time, Gemma,  whom  she has been communicating with through FB for eight years.   We spent an afternoon with her, her husband also named Steve and sisters at their home in Nikiski.  The sea life, the Alaskan life,  the glaciers and everything else in between were just astonishing to watch and to experience.

Kenai Peninsula

Kenai Peninsula

The two weeks we spent traveling through the area were not enough. The pictures below are some of the many we took, attempting to capture the essence of what its like to be in the Kenai Peninsula.  We had a great time and we urge you to come and play in Alaska’s playground!

Anchor Point, AK

ML modestly posing at another sign

Homer Spit

Viewing snowcapped mountains from Homer Spit

Homer Spit

Beautiful Sunset at Homer

Anchor Point

North Fork Loop road in Anchor Point

Floatplane

Steve’s first floatplane trip, out of Homer.

Harding IceField

The Harding IceField covers over 700 square miles at the top of the mountain ranges, and spills over the peaks as hundreds of glaciers.

Grewingk Glacier

Grewingk Glacier

Glacier view

Yet another glacier, as seen from the plane from Homer during Steve’s flight.

Mt Redoubt

Mt Redoubt

Mt Iliamna

Mt Iliamna

Gemma, ML, Joy and Wennah

Ninilchik, AK

Steve attempts to fly with the seagulls. They were very graceful, he crash-landed.

Bald Eagle

Bald eagle hanging out near our RV site