Whittier – A nice surprise at the end of a tunnel!

After setting up at the really nice Williwaw Campground in Portage that we learned about from our friends Joe and Judy, we decided to drive our car to Whittier, which can only be reached via The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  The tunnel  is the longest combo vehicle-railroad  tunnel in North America.  It is open to vehicle traffic to travel directly over the railroad track once per hour from each direction, subject to interruptions by train passages.  The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and takes about 7 minutes to get through.  The cost was $12.00 round-trip for the car, but a  large RV would cost over $125.

Whittier, Alaska
Lane designations and staging area
Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
Train has priority
Entrance to Tunnel at Whittier
Then other vehicles

Whittier is a very cool small fishing town that you might want to check.  It is the gateway to Prince William Sound.  The drive through the tunnel is a fun experience, and once you arrive and get parked there are several things you can do and see.

Harbor at Whittier Alaska
The town of Whittier
The small town of Whittier from a hiking trail
Fishing at Whittier
Boats of all sizes come to town to fish

We walked and hiked almost all day, since it was nice out and we wanted some exercise.  There is a great view of yet another glacier from the Shotgun Cove Hiking Trail, which is on the west end of town.  You have to go through a pedestrian tunnel, which passes under all of the train tracks, to get downtown and on to this hiking trail.  We stopped at a cove and saw some salmon trying to run upstream to spawn, as well as dead Salmon.

Whittier AK
Pedestrian Tunnel
Billings Glacier
Billings Glacier viewed from Shotgun Cove Trail
Pink Salmon running
Pink Salmon running
Dead after spawning
Dead after spawning
Shotgun Cove
Awesome view at Shotgun Cove
Whittier Alaska
Taking a quick break

This is an easy walk on a new road that takes you past the abandoned Buckner Building, which was built in the 1950’s and was once the largest building in Alaska.

Begich Towers
Begich Towers, a condominium with great views of glaciers, waterfalls and the Passage Canal.

We had lunch at the Swiftwater Seafood Cafe at the harbor, and can’t recommend it enough!   The food is very fresh, and the beer is served cold in frosty glasses.  After walking several miles it got a “gold star” from us.  It’s a tiny place, but you get just the right feeling about the atmosphere and service there.

Halibut fish and chips
We thought we’d had enough of Halibut fish and chips but this was highly recommended by the locals.  Folks in Palmer pay the $12.00 to drive through the tunnel just for this lunch!

After lunch, we walked all the way back to the tunnel to hike the Portage Glacier Pass Trail.   The hike is a moderate one – a steady ascent for a mile, finishing at a promontory (elevation 750ft) that offers views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal to the east.  It took us about 45 minutes to hike up the trail, after the 30 minute walk from town.  We were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Portage Glacier and surrounding mountains.  This hike was a “WOW!”

Portage Pass
Checking the details of the trail
Portage Pass
Enjoying surrounding mountains
Passage Canal
Passage Canal and gravel airstrip viewed from the top
Portage Glacier
Almost there…
Portage Glacier
Taking a moment to enjoy Portage Glacier

When the sun is out, it brings a whole new perspective of the surroundings. It was a beautiful day at Whittier and everyone we saw were all enjoying the break in good weather.



Water music – Seward adventure part 2

One morning in Seward we woke up with a surprise, the sun showed up!  When we reserved for the Kenai Fjords National Park tour, we were expecting rain and so were happy the sun chose to come out this day.  We took a 7-hour cruise tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park and on board was a knowledgeable national park ranger to point out interesting wildlife and answer questions from the passengers.  This tour also offered a prime rib and salmon lunch buffet that is actually very good.

Tour route
Seward Harbor
Clear sunny day at the Seward Harbor

We  saw  a lot of water wildlife on this tour, including humpback whales, sea otters, puffins, eagles and a bunch of dall porpoises that gave us a great show right next to the boat.

Raft of Sea Otters
Raft of Sea Otters
Isn’t the otter cute?
humpback whale
Our first humpback whale sighting
humpback whale
Here is a rare photo of a humpback whale fluke breeching the water. You normally only see this when the whale is doing a deep dive.
Steller Seal lions
Steller Seal lions
Steller Seal lions
Cute Steller sea lion
Dall Porpoises
Dall Porpoises
Kittiwakes, called as such due to their rhythmic calls of their names: kitty-weeeeik…it was really fun to listen.  Kittiwake is just a fancy name for a seagull…
Chiswell Islands
Chiswell Islands, where we heard harmonious singing from the sea birds

We learned how the fjords have been created as two tectonic plates collide and sea water fills in the glacier-carved valleys.  We really enjoyed hearing and watching the Holgate and Aialik glaciers calving, as we were able to get very close with the small boat and then sit there and experience them.  Very cool!

The many glaciers in the Kenai Fjords Park are spawn from  the Harding Icefield, named after Pres Harding. This icefield  is the largest icefield contained entirely within the United States and one of the reasons the park was established. Both Holgate and Aialik glaciers that we approached  are tidewater glaciers terminating at sea level and calves directly into the ocean.

Holgate Glacier
Holgate Glacier, has a face of 400 to 600 ft
Harbor Seals
Harbor Seals basking in the sun
Aialik Glacier
Aialik Glacier, where we saw and heard a lot of calvings, awesome!
Aialik Glacier
Calving at Aialik Glacier
Aialik Glacier
For perspective, check how small the tour boat is.
Aialik Glacie
Colorful kayakers with Aialik Glacier as the background

Although there were some swells as we crossed into the Gulf of Alaska (where Deadly Catch is filmed), it was a great tour and a great day.  We heard different voices from the moaning of the Murres, to the grumble of Puffins and chirping of the Gull chicks.  Not to be outdone, we heard the growling of the Steller sea lions and the slap of flukes of the Humpback whales and splashes of the playful Dall porpoises.

We recommend this tour (Major Tour Co) to everyone going to this part of Alaska!



Rainy Daze in Seward, Alaska

After basking in the sun in Kenai, we packed up and moved to the southeastern side of the Kenai Peninsula to  Seward. It is a  small picturesque city ringed by steep mountains on one side and the sparkling waters of Resurrection Bay on the other.  This is not only a fishing town but  it also offers a little bit of everything, hence tagged as  “Alaska starts here.”

Old Seward
Old Seward
Seward, nestled in by Mt Marathon
Seward, nestled in by Mt Marathon

We left the sun shine and drove thru rain again.  The plan was to stay here for five days but the forecast for that time was rain, rain and more rain.  The consolation however was that the RV park we stayed in had awesome views – we were entertained daily by playful sea otters, bald eagles, sea gulls, kayakers, and cruise ships passing over the bay outside our front window.

Miller Landing
Awesome view but surrounded by mud pools
Millers Landing
Kayakers ready to go
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle with prey ready for take off
Bald Eagle
Seagull flying after the fish that the Bald Eagle caught
Sea Otthers
Sea Otters frolicking right in front our window
Cruise ship passing thru

What to do on a rainy day and not get wet?  Go see some  animals at the Alaska SeaLife Center.  The center serves as a marine research center as well as an educational institution.  This sea life center is filled with amazing and wonderful displays of sea life and birds in Alaska that would otherwise be a rare sight.  There is a bird rockery display where beautiful and cute puffins were flying around.

Alaska SeaLife Center
Tufted Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Horned Puffin
Horned Puffin

It  continued to rain the following day, but we went ahead and explored Exit Glacier, one of the attractions in Seward.  Exit Glacier is one of the most accessible by foot and it emerges from the Harding Icefield .  We followed a moderately strenuous hike which lead us to the wall of the blue ice at the edge of the glacier.  The trail has markers showing where it ended on various years as it continues to recede during the past hundred years.

 Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier
Lines shows marking of moraine as glaciers extent in a year
Edge of Exit Glacier
Edge of Exit Glacier,note people at the edge
exit glacier
Result of a powerful river of ice carving the bedrock
Exit Glacier
The year where the toe used to be

After the 4th day we realized that the rain was going to continue, and we had seen just about everything we wanted to.  So we hooked up the car and headed to Portage, which also had some nice surprises to offer.



Some fishy facts about dip netting in Alaska

After a few days in Homer, we back-tracked on the Sterling Highway and went up north to Kenai, the largest and the oldest city on the Kenai Peninsula . This was a “lazy stop,” since we had been in this area before and didn’t need to explore much.  The RV park we stayed at had spectacular views of the Kenai River, Cook Inlet and on a clear day two of the four active volcanoes, Mt Redoubt and Mt Iliamna.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s Playground

When we pulled into the park we noticed immediately that all of the guests seemed harried and in a frenzy, full of energy.  We later learned that we arrived here at the peak time of the Kenai River personal use salmon dip netting season.  The season began on July 10 and ends July 31.  This is the period during which all Alaskans put everything on hold and fill their freezers with FRESH SALMON.

Watching the action below from the bluff at the RV park

So what is dip netting?  To dip net, anglers stand in the mouth of the River holding large nets with long handles.  As the fish move from the ocean to the river, they swim along the shoreline in large groups.  When the time is right, one can catch enormous amount of Salmon in this way.  And this type of fishing is exclusive only to Alaska residents, no tourists allowed.  However, the seasonal harvest limit is 25 per household, plus 10 per dependent, and all fish must be marked.  As you can imagine, it’s somewhat of an “honor” system.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, fishing regulations are complicated .

Mt Redoubt
Mt. Redoubt on the background

Old man showing off his catch

dip netting
Women are great “fisher people”, too!
Dip Netting
Bleeding a Salmon

The catch, Sockeye Salmon
Lady busy cleaning her fish

We  became spectators of the shore-based dip netting frenzy at the Cook Inlet shoreline while we were there. Especially on the first day, we saw hundreds of fish literally jumping out of the water and into people’s nets.  It was an amazing sight to see hundreds of people, including children, intent on the family project.  Only in Alaska can you see this kind of frenzy.

Both sides of the shoreline were packed with frenzied fishermen
Kenai, AK

The aftermath

The aftermath, and it really stinks here 😦
The clean up crew, not a great job and the odor is almost unbearable on the beach

On our last day here we were invited to a BBQ party in Nikiski, 17 miles from Kenai. I finally met Gemma in person whom I initially met on a Yahoo group for the high school I  graduated from. We continued our friendship on FB and finally visited her and family in Nikiski. That was an exciting day for me  and I met her husband  also named Steve, her sisters and cousins. We had a great time and we met nice local residents.