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. Continue reading Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We have arrived in Alaska in one piece! We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in our journey, with a tale for this stretch of the drive.
Mile 1083: Destruction Bay was the stopover we chose between Whitehorse and Tok. Getting there was a slow 4-hour drive. The highway between Whitehorse and Destruction Bay was rough and required slowing way down and paying close attention to the changing road conditions.
However, Steve complained that it was hard to focus on the road with the beautiful scenery surrounding us. Leaving Whitehorse took us into about 10 miles of dusty gravel breaks. Here our speed was between 17 and 20 mph, and we were happy to let other vehicles pass us. Whenever they did, or whenever a fast-moving vehicle approached from the other direction, we simply pulled over and stopped to prevent rock damage.
We encountered several marked and unmarked frost heaves as we approached Destruction Bay.
The highway skirted the shores of Kluane Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world! Wow, even my new favorite, Muncho Lake, was surpassed by its size alone – Kluane Lake is 43 miles long and gorgeous.
Destruction Bay has a place in Alaska Highway history – it was one of several camps built to supply the army during construction of the highway. It got its name after an extremely violent storm destroyed buildings and much of the highway construction material that was stored there for the project.
We stayed overnight at Destruction Bay RV Park, and the owner Loren was very happy to see us, since we were the first customer to show up there in several days. We got to pick the spot we wanted with a mountain and lake view. Nothing fancy, just electric and we did not bother extending the slide outs, since we wanted to leave early the next morning.
The mosquitos were very excited to see us, too! This was our first encounter with the big suckers on this trip, and they were living up to their reputation so far.
We were aware of all the warnings and cautionary reminders of the tough road ahead, so at this point Steve placed a modified tarp cover over our Honda CRV to protect it from rocks and gravel.
Our drive from Destruction Bay to Tok, AK was 225 miles; about 100 miles of it being the worst Steve has driven. Although not a problem for cars, the frost heaves and dips in the road gave Betsy’s upgraded suspension a real test. It’s difficult to see the upcoming dips from so high up in the RV cab, and running through them with 60′ of RV and car caused some interesting moments for us. However, we were moving very slowly and the vehicles seemed to have survived the ordeal.
The bummer is that we will need to travel most of this stretch of road again when we return to Haines to catch the Maritime Highway in September. Our average speed on this stretch was 39 mph and it took us seven hours – including a lunch break and a 30-minute wait at the U.S. border, to get into the state. It was a long day.
This stretch of the Alaska Highway remains the wonder of the north, for it has been rebuilt and straightened several times. The annual outbreak of frost heaves is a never-ending challenge for road maintenance crews, and they have a short window of time to repair them before the “crowd” of summer travelers arrives. We can see they are trying their best to patch them up.
We were so happy to see the U.S. border, thinking the road would be better on the American side. However, we were given only a 14-mile reprieve and after that the frost heaves and dips prevailed for the next 91 miles.
We gave each other a “high five” right after crossing the border – we were so pumped to finally be in Alaska. After over a year of planning we had arrived to fulfill our trip of a lifetime. We had arrived at Tok, the first community in Alaska that weary travelers like us see after crossing back into the U.S.
But hey, where are the Walmart and Costco stores? Oh, I guess we need to wait until we get to Fairbanks in a few days.
We are staying at the Sourdough RV Park, very quiet and big-rig friendly. There was power and water available, which we are learning is fine for short stays. We simply dump our tanks at the dump station when we leave these parks. And it’s usually a few dollars cheaper when using partial hookups. But for stays of a week or more we still prefer full hookups so we won’t risk filling the waste tanks and having to move the rig just to empty them.
One thing we’ve learned about RV parks in Canada and Alaska – sewer is optional or not available, and 30-amp power is standard. Since we don’t need air conditioning this time of the year (which pretty much requires 50-amp service if running at full power) the 30-amp service with water is fine.
While in Tok we checked out the Visitor’s Center, a required stop for getting information ranging from road conditions to “things to do” around town and in the state of Alaska. We also took a 13-mile bike ride along the highway. We’re just relaxing for a few days and taking a break from the tedious drives.
The sun rose at 4:30AM and set at 12:30AM…the long days enabled us to enjoy every minute of our summer in the Last Frontier. We haven’t seen darkness and stars in quite a while. And oh, Alaska is on its own time zone, an hour ahead of Pacific Standard Time.