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Published on August 3, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.

I have been scooting south quicker than I originally intended. I decided to put in a couple of good driving days and maybe save a little time for the Cassiar Highway and the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper.

Familiar sight in Yukon and Alaska.

Familiar sight in Yukon and Alaska.

I’m back in Whitehorse tonight after driving the Tok Cutoff and Alaskan Highway that I missed on the way up. I stopped at a few pullouts to read signs and take in the views of the Saint Elias Range – Canada’s highest peaks. The weather today was gorgeous and I could see every mountain crystal clear.

The Tok Cutoff road was one of the worst roads I have been on and the first section of the Alaskan Highway past the border of Canada was not much better.

I texted with a couple I met up here that were going to Hyder after I told them about the bears feeding on salmon. They were there yesterday and saw plenty of salmon swimming upstream but no bears. I hope I will see bears.

 
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Published on August 2, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Columbia Glacier

Columbia Glacier

My visit to Valdez Alaska turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I have had so far on my trip. On the Stan Stevens Glacier and Wildlife Cruise, we witnessed the greatest calving event that anyone on our boat had ever seen. Crew members on our boat who have been coming to the glacier for years said they have seen nothing like it. But let me back up a bit…

Valdez is one of those seaport towns that gets a lot of rain from clouds trapped by the coastal mountains. It would rain off and on for the two days I spent in town, but there were two museums to wander through when the drops would fall.

Museum in Valdez

Museum in Valdez

There is a lot of history that took place in Valdez. It started as Gold Rush town where thousands of Stampeders landed to start their trek to the goldfields. The miners had to hike over the treacherous Valdez Glacier before facing the pass through the mountains.

In March of 1964, Valdez was hit by a massive earthquake of 9.2 magnitude, turning the ground to liquid waves, that heaved and broke for a terrifing five minutes. The town was injured so badly that it was decided to move everyone to a new location where the ground was more stable. The old town of Valdez lasted two more years as a new town was built four miles away on bedrock.

In 1977, Valdez became an important seaport for the Alaskan Pipeline terminus. The natural deep water of the port allowed easy access to oil tankers to load millions of barrels of oil on ships bound for refineries in California. Perhaps the most famous event to occur off the Port of Valdez was the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in1989. The tanker leaked 10 million barrels of oil into the waters of Prince William Sound before they could contain the spill.

All these events and more were on display in great detail in the museums in town. I spent several hours looking through the memorabilia and then wandered through town looking for a cruise boat tour. I found a company that offered a cruise to Columbia Glacier and booked passage for the next morning. Then I headed a few miles north of town and found a secluded spot to camp for the night.

Foggy cruise start

Foggy cruise start

The weather the next morning was total fog until we motored out of the bay into Valdez Arm. Then the fog lifted and we had great views for the rest of the trip. Our boat was only one-third full so everyone had room to move about and see the sights. It was quite chilly outside the cabin area when the capitan would bring the boat up to cruise and everyone would scurry inside out of the wind. You were allowed to go anywhere on the boat and I enjoyed spending some time up in the wheelhouse talking with the capitan and asking questions.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions

We saw sea lions, sea otters, Dall Porpoise, Harbor Seals, Orcas, and several different birds. Even though we couldn’t get real close to some of the animals, it was great fun to watch them in their natural habitat. I didn’t get many good pictures of the wildlife but I will have the picture in my mind always.

About to calve.

About to calve.

Fir seals on an iceberg

Fir seals on an iceberg

As we came closer to Columbia Glacier, the capitan had to weave in and out through the icebergs. He would even push through some of the smaller pieces of ice until we were about a quarter mile from the massive face of the glacier. Everyone on board waited in hushed anticipation to see if we would be privileged to see the glacier calve. Some days the glacier is quiet and many tours never get to see any activity on the face of the glacier. We were about to witness a spectacular show.

It started with several small slides every minute or so, and then we could hear loud cracking and rumbling as huge sections of ice broke from the face and plunged into the sea. It seemed like the whole face of the glacier kept breaking and falling, pushing up large waves, and sending ice flying into the air. As the largest pieces broke into the water they would bob up in slow-motion, towering high above the face of the glacier and then turn over and crash into the water. When it was over it seemed the face of the glacier had retreated the length of a football field and house-sized icebergs floated towards us on rolling waves.

The crew were as awestruck as the passengers! In all their years of coming to Columbia Glacier they had not seen any calving like that. A couple of people got it on video and said they will post it to YouTube. It was a great time. I’m really glad I went.

After the tour I decided to drive up through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass to look for better weather and maybe miss the road construction by Worthington Glacier. I made quick stops at the old Valdez townsite to read some plaques and stopped to marvel at Bridelvail Falls. The construction workers were gone and the traffic was light so I made a good choice to drive in the evening.

Bridelvail Falls

Bridelvail Falls

My next move will be towards Tok and then down the into Canada on the Alaskan Highway again.

 
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Published on July 30, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Hike to Thunderbird Falls

Hike to Thunderbird Falls

Alaskans love their weekend toys! If you live up here for any length of time, you probably have some combination of the following adventure vehicles: airplane, RV, fishing boat, ATV, snowmobile, mountain bike, and maybe a lesser chance because of the weather, a dirt bike.

It was quite evident to me as I left Anchorage and joined the Glenn Highway on my way to Valdez that ahead lay a popular area for off-roaders. I met trailer after trailer of vehicles pulling ATVs.

Motanuska Glacier

Motanuska Glacier

The road passed through some very pretty mountains and was quite smooth for most of the way. I stopped to take a picture of Motanuska Glacier, a long river of ice and snow that reminded me of Ruth Glacier in Denali. I added a little gas in Glennallen and found a scenic pullout a few miles south on the Richardson Highway headed to Valdez.

I just wanted to mention again what a good time I had visiting with Kleenex in Anchorage. She went out of her way to take me hiking in Whittier, drove me all over town to shop and show me the sights, and include me in a hike and outdoor potluck with people from her church. Thank you, Renee!

 
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Published on July 29, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Kleenex and Castaway at Portage Glacier.

Kleenex and Castaway at Portage Glacier.

On Friday, Kleenex and I traveled an hour south of Anchorage to hike a trail to Portage Glacier and visit the town of Whittier. The weather was cloudy and misting for much of the day, but the skies cleared and the rain held for most of our hike. It was a fun day.

Tunnel

Tunnel

Because it was a day trip, and we knew we would have to pay to got through Whittier Tunnel, Kleenex drove us in her car. Our first stop was at the Boggs Visitors Center where they had some information about points of interest in and around Portage Valley. We also went to check out the price of a tour boat that took you up to the face of the glacier. If it was better weather we may have taken the boat ride but voted to just enjoy a hike this day.

We proceeded on through the two-mile tunnel and drove on into Whittier. The tunnel is a marvel in itself. Blasted through solid rock and completed in two years, the one-lane tunnel was originally made in 1941 for train travel to connect the port with interior points. Sometimes the wait for your turn can be a half hour or more. We were lucky to hit the line as cars were being let through just as we arrived.

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Kleenex told me that weather in Whittier is almost always rainy. Because the coastal mountains trap the moisture from the bay, it can be sunshine in Anchorage and raining in Whittier. We saw a sign for a museum and decided to browse there for a bit and wait for the weather to improve.

The museum had many displays of pictures about early ocean explorers, building the tunnel, and the war of the Aluetian Islands. We read articles for about an hour then had lunch before driving to the trail.

Ready to hike.

Ready to hike.

The trail to Portage Glacier was only 2 miles up and 2 back but there was a steep hill to climb up to the pass and then a knee punishing decent down to the lake. When I start climbing hills I realize how out of shape I am. As we neared the lake where Portage Glacier entered the water, the clouds lifted and we had great views of the glacier and icebergs in the lake.

On the hike back from the glacier it rained some but we didn’t care; I was so hot and sweaty that the light rain felt good.

We had to wait 30 minutes to get back through the tunnel. On the drive home Kleenex took me to see the hippy town of Girdwood. There were lots of artsy places, a luxurious resort hotel, and a classic ski slope. We stopped for ice cream and arrived back in town about 6:30 pm.

I had a wonderful time with a great friend. We even made a date to go see a movie later that evening. By the time the movie let out I was ready to crash. On Saturday I will help Kleenex move some of her belongings to a room where she will be staying and then go with her to a pot luck meal with people from her church.

 
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Published on July 26, 2017, by admin in Alaska Trip.
Cold boxes for packing the fish caught by tourists.

Cold boxes for packing the fish caught by tourists.

I left Fred Meyer in Soldotna and drove northeast until I reached the turn to Hope, Alaska. The highway to Hope runs along the south side of Turnagain Arm, crossing many rivers that feed into the tidal basin. It was a pretty drive with views of Turnagain Arm in several pullouts along the road.

The Sixmile Creek that Hope Highway follows for a few miles is popular with rafters for its Class IV and V rapids. Only experienced river runners attempt the adventure. The company that offers the rafts and shuttle sometimes require participants to demonstrate they can swim across the river before they can sign on.

Hope is a ramshackle sort of town of 150 residents. Many of the old cabins have been preserved and the only new buildings are the post office and a well maintained bed and breakfast. It has a couple of cafes’, and of course, bait-n-tackle shops.

Mouth of Resurrection River.

Mouth of Resurrection River.

The main reason to come to Hope this time of year is to fish for salmon in Resurrection Creek. I saw many fishermen standing in the water as I crossed the creek. I’m not a fisherman and I don’t want to do a Class V rafting adventure so I went to the local museum for my afternoon entertainment.

Miner shacks.

Miner shacks.

The museum had many pieces of mining equipment on display along with preserved cabins that some of the first residents used in the early gold rush. I spent quite a bit of time talking with the lady that runs the museum. She has lived in Hope for the last 40 years, and explained in more detail than I wanted, extensive history of the town. I don’t think she get a lot of people that stop and visit for a while.

When I left the museum, she told me of a camping spot six miles out of town on the Resurrection River where it is legal to pan for gold. I drove up and settled into a spot for the night. I asked the Forest Ranger at the parking area if I was alright to camp here. She said that technically it was not for camping but no one would say anything about me staying a couple nights.

I took my pan down to the river after dinner and found several flakes of gold in my first two pans. I wanted to play gold-miner a little longer but the water was ice-cold, the bugs were out, and it was starting to sprinkle. I jumped back into Minnie just as a heavy rain started.

A while later a couple drove up on quads. The man was pulling a dredge on a trailer so I went over to talk to him. He said they own a claim up the river. He puts on a wet suit and crawls around in the river with a suction hose attached to the dredge. I figured it wasn’t any of my business so I didn’t ask him if the make much money dredging the river. I would like to know, though.

 

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