From peaks to ports – Valdez pt. 1

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

 

 



 

Bearfooting in the Kenai Peninsula

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

 



 

Land of ice and rock – Portage Valley

We back-tracked on the Seward Highway heading north.  The drive on Seward Highway, which is designated as National Scenic Byway, would have been spectacular for the scenery it offers along the way.  The highway winds along the coast and through two separate mountain passes, Chugach and Kenai Mountains.  But we could not enjoy it as much for on both ways in and out of Kenai Peninsula it was pouring rain.  Oh well,  the beautiful and colorful flowers adorning the highway were still visible and we enjoyed it.

Portage Valley
Portage Valley

Our destination was Portage Valley, a 14-mile isthmus that connects the Kenai Peninsula to mainland Alaska. It was carved by numerous glaciers that still straddle mountain peaks visible from the valley floor.  Portage Glacier once extended the entire length of the valley and has receded to the point where it is no longer visible from the valley, but there are cool icebergs floating in the lake which is visible from the visitor center.

Voices of Ice
When the curtains opened….what a fantastic view!

And for the first time we checked in into a US Forest Service managed campground, Williwaw.  Upon entrance to the campground, Middle Glacier greets you, Wow!  This campground though primitive  has breathtaking views of mountains and glaciers and for the first time our site was asphalt, not gravel.  It is primitive for it has no dump station, no hook ups, no shower facilities and just a hand pump for water.  But this place rocks!

Middle Glacier
Middle Glacier greets you at the entrance to Williwaw Campground

It is just beautiful and a quiet respite from our water views.  We recommend this campground if you like dry camping, which we did for 3 whole days – a record for us.  Our neighbors were trees, mountains, glaciers, and birds, and maybe wild animals that we did  not see or meet!

Williwaw Campground
Site #3
Birds mating next to our site
Birds mating next to our site

The campground is named Williwaw from the 130 mph winds that gust through the valley and we noticed trees and shrubs that are bare of branches on the side facing the wind.

Flag Tree, Williwaw
Flag Trees- branches only grow on the side out of the wind

The glacial remnants that can be seen today are Explorer, Middle, Byron, Burns, and Shakespeare glaciers.  In short we are surrounded by glaciers!

Byron Glacier
Byron Glacier

Byron Glacier

Burns Glacier
Burns Glacier
Explorer Glacier
Explorer Glacier
Shakespeare Glacier
Shakespeare Glacier

Our short stay here was enjoyed by viewing the glaciers, mountains and rivers.  We walked on the Trail of Blue Ice trail, a 4.7 mile route which we learned is the most expensive trail in Alaska, costing $4.4M  to complete.  We felt privileged to walk on this trail for it is really a gem.  We would have loved to bike it but the weather was once again conspiring against us.  Just our luck to pick a record-setting cold and wet summer to go to Alaska!

Trail of Blue Ice, Portage AK
Trail of Blue Ice
Views on the Trail of Blue Ice
Views on the Trail of Blue Ice
Portage Valley
Rain Clouds are gathering
Striking a pose at the trail

 



 

Mile 1422: end of the Alaska Highway – Delta Junction, Alaska

The journey of 1422 historic miles along the Alaska Highway without any mechanical failures is another milestone for us (we like to complete milestones because it means we get to open a bottle of good wine). The highway begins at Dawson Creek, British Columbia Mile 0 to Delta Junction, Alaska, Mile 1422.  All our trials and tribulations driving on this highway were surpassed by the chance to explore and enjoy the most magnificent sceneries and experience its beauty first hand. Why drive ? Driving gave us the freedom and luxury of stopping where and when we want, enjoying the sights we want to see and do the things we want to do.  And by traveling on our own we can take as much time as we wish.

Alaska Ranges
Alaska Ranges seen near Tok, as we head out to Delta Junction.

Along the way historical markers and points of interests  informed us and entertained us with the highways intriguing history. It is named Alaska Highway when in fact only 20% of it is in Alaska while the rest winds through Canada. On this highway we have seen and met travelers of different kinds and sizes; cyclists, motorcyclists and motorhome caravans, all braving the elements wanting to experience the adventure of a lifetime. I even met a couple from San Jose, CA driving their pick up truck and travel for three weeks!

Alaska Highway
This looked like a parade! A pilot car was guiding us through the Road Repairs.
Alaska Ranges
A brave  Cyclist
Alaska Caravaning
Motorhome Caravan

The first thing we did upon arriving here at Delta Junction was the mandatory pose at the monument mile post marking the end of the Alaska Highway. We also posed  in front of the giant Mosquitos.  And speaking of mosquitoes, Oh my,  they are really after your blood, and swarm around you a soon as you get out.

Delta Junction, AK , end of Alaska Highway
Monument signifying end of the Alaska Highway at Mile 1422
Delta Junction, AK
A representative of the hundreds swirling around us, but this one is admittedly a little larger than most of them.

Since we are also low on food supplies we ran down to the local family run  farm and homemade sausages from reindeer, buffalo, elk beed and pork. We bought different kinds of sausage after tasting  a range of tasty samples.

Family owned sausage plant
A peek at the sausage packing plant

This was also the first time we got a glimpse of a portion of  the Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline. The 800 mile Alaska Pipeline bisects Alaska from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. This section of the  pipeline is suspended across Tanana river en route to Valdez.

Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline
Pipeline is suspended over Tanana river
Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline
A section  of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline
Different diameters of pipes used to transport petroleum products over the years.
Trans-Alaska (Alyeska) Pipeline
The “pig” is a device used for scouring wax and water from the inside of the Trans -Alaska Pipeline.

Our plan to hike today was hampered by rain, oh rain!  Might as well do laundry and catch up on our reading. Tomorrow we leave for Fairbanks!