Subj: 91. Where are we?
Date: Monday, July 8, 2002
After spending 8 days in Homer, we're on the road again. We've been at this same RV Park before, in fact, just a couple of weeks ago. We are in a small village right on the Kenai River.
Homer was great. We really enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Homer, as we said before, is in a beautiful setting. There are velvet green hills on one side, the Kachemak Bay on the other, and across the bay are glaciers and mountains and beautiful wild flowers of all colors. It's really a gorgeous setting.
While in Homer, both of us went out for a 1/2-day of fishing for Halibut. It was a nice trip and both of us caught our limit of 2 Halibut each. The fish were small, about 20 pounds, but they will be tasty when we eat them. The smaller Halibut are supposed to taste much better than the big 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400-pound fish. We aren't sure we would really like to catch one of the big ones, they are way too much work. As it is, we ended up with about 30 pounds of Halibut fillets.
There are a couple of scenic drives in Homer. The two we took were in the hills above the town. In those hills there are some really nice homes but the views are fantastic.
Homer is a very interesting town. Most of the activity is on the spit, a five mile long finger of gravel and sand that goes about 5 miles into the Bay. This is where all the sport fishing and sightseeing boats are located. There are also shops, restaurants, a place to have fish processed, an Alaska Ferry Terminal, and several Bed and Breakfasts. Of course there are also lots of tourists. There has been a fishing hole dug in one part of the spit. Here the Alaska Department of Fisheries plants King and Silver Salmon every year. Somehow they use a container to plant the fish in fresh water (Salmon are born in fresh water). Once the salmon get big enough, they swim out of the fishing hole into the bay and ocean where they grow up. After several years, they return to the fishing hole to spawn, but there is no fresh water. The fish are confused because of the lack of fresh water but the fishing is supposed to be excellent. We did see plenty of people fishing in Fishing Hole. It's an interesting way of getting people to visit Homer.
On the 4th of July, we stayed at the RV Park to participate in their potluck. The RV park provided both fried halibut and two types of baked halibut, hotdogs, as well as cake and ice cream. Everyone else brought a dish to share. The RV Park also provided door prizes. We didn't win one but it was still fun.
On Saturday we took a boat trip across the bay to a town called Soldovia. Soldovia was originally a Russian town that was established in the 1700s for the fur trade. The Russians really liked the local Seal and other pelts and had a big trade in them. After the fur trade ended, Soldovia became a fishing village. That too has disappeared and it is now mainly an artist and Native American community. We talked to one Native American who lived in Soldovia and worked at the Native American museum. She didn't feel like it was isolated at all. She moved to Soldovia from Kodiak and described Kodiak as a rock. Soldovia was heaven compared to Kodiak. She said that once a year they took their truck to Homer to shop for the year. Imagine, shopping for groceries and everything else just once a year.
It was fun to wander around the small town. Soldovia can only be reached by boat or airplane. Although it isn't an island, it's really part of the Kenai Peninsula, you can't drive to the town, there are too many glaciers and fjords in the way. Some of our time in Soldovia was spent fishing for Salmon. This was snagging and we weren't too good at it. We did see a number of fish caught but, alas, we didn't catch any. That's probably a good thing since we are running out of freezer space for fish.
That same night, Adrienne was putting the dinner dishes in the sink when she really got excited. After shouting, "Oh My Gosh" several times, she finally told Larry to get the camera. Larry had no idea what was happening but he grabbed the camera anyway and went outside. What was the excitement? Well, a mother moose and her two baby moose had walked right by the RV. Remember, we were in the town of Homer with businesses on both sides of the RV Park. Maybe this helps to explain why Alaska is called "The Last Wilderness!"
Where are we? We are back in Cooper Landing on our way to Anchorage. When we were last here, we fished (remember the combat fishing story) and caught Sockeye Salmon (also called reds). The first run of reds is over and the second one won't be starting for a week or so. We'll have to fish for salmon some other time.
Still on the Kenai Peninsula.
We only stayed one night at Cooper Landing before heading north again. We are now camped at an RV Park where we've stayed before. We are in the City of Flowers, Alaska's largest city. We'll be here for a few days before we head to another location.
When you figure out our location, you might ask why we came back here. The answer is simple, to go anywhere from the Kenai Peninsula, you have to go through this city. Alaska only has about 9 numbered highways, and at least three of those are not paved! Most of Alaska can only be visited by plane or boat. So, we are limited on where we can go. Many of the Alaska cities that are well known, Barrow, Nome, Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak, and others cannot be reached by road! Even the capitol of Alaska, Juneau, can only be reached by plane or boat! How's that for the political capitol for the largest state in the country.
While we were in Cooper Landing we talked to the Human Resources office at the Princess Resort. We may have jobs next summer at the resort. Of course we don't know for sure but we do know we will be considered. We talked to some people who have been summer employees there for years and they love it. No, they don't pay well but you do get some discounts. For example, after you've worked for Princess for two years, you go on one of their cruises for half price. If you're camping you get some significant discounts at their RV Park. Who knows, next summer we may be working for Princess! Princess Resorts is part of Princess Cruise Line. They have a number of Cruise Ships plus several resorts that are generally used by people who take their cruise ships. The one in Cooper Landing is the only one we are aware of that has an RV Park as part of the resort.
Now where are we? We are back in Anchorage Alaska, stocking up at WalMart, Sam's Club, and Costco. In a few days we will head out again for new parts of Alaska. By the way, we both now have hip boots. Now, hopefully, we can go stream fishing (or claming) and won't have to rent hip boots that leak.
We left Anchorage today (Sunday, July 14) and started toward our next location. We are actually in between locations but, we may stay here a day or two to explore. We are in an unincorporated community that has an RV campground, a state highway maintenance station and two lodges. This area was originally a stop used by Natives traveling from Lake Tyone to Tazlina Lake. In the 1800s, prospectors came into the area searching for gold.
Our five days in Anchorage was spent getting resupplied for continuing our adventure. Stops at Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, and a grocery store resupplied us. Of course we did much more than shopping. In exploring the RV Park, we managed to stumble across a cow moose and her calf; we did get a couple of good pictures. We found the moose within 100 yards of the entrance to the campground. That just shows you that the largest city in Alaska, Anchorage, still has abundant wildlife.
We took a day trip to a town called Whittier. Whittier is about 60 miles south of Anchorage and is on Prince William Sound. Whittier was created by the US Army as a port and petroleum delivery center tied to bases further north by the Alaska Railroad. Until just two years ago, you could get to Whittier only by rail, boat, or airplane. The railroad went through a 2 1/2-mile long tunnel through a mountain between Portage Glacier and Whittier. In June 2000, it was opened to car traffic. Because the tunnel made for the railroad, it isn't wide enough for a two lane highway. So, at each end the traffic is monitored. Every 30 minutes, the traffic in the tunnel changes direction. They allow cars to enter the tunnel for 15 minutes, then halt traffic for the last of those cars to get to the other end. Then they allow cars to enter the tunnel from the other end for 15 minutes and allow another 15 minutes for the last car to complete its journey through the tunnel. Twice a day the tunnel is closed to car traffic to allow the passenger train to use the tunnel. Driving the tunnel was an interesting experience to say the least.
When the Army pulled out of Whittier in 1960s, the deep-water port was used by the cruise ships. However, Whittier politicians decided to create a "head tax" on passenger ships to increase the city's income. Low and behold, the cruise ships decided to go to Seward rather than Whittier. We wonder how many politicians lost the next election because of this.
Both on the way down to Whittier and on the way back, we saw lots of Dall Sheep on the cliffs along the Seward Highway. We took lots of pictures and got some good shots. On the way back to Anchorage we stopped at the Bird Point rest stop and watched the Boar Tide in the Turnagain Arm of Cook's Inlet. We have to explain a boar tide since they are unusual. You should know what a high and low tide are. These are changes in the height of ocean waters caused primarily by the gravitational force of the moon, but also the sun and the planets. Cook's Inlet has tidal extremes of over 30 feet. This means that the level of the water in Cook's Inlet changes by about 30 feet every six plus hours. Cook's Inlet is a relatively narrow inlet from the Pacific Ocean. Turnagain Arm of the Cook's Inlet is even narrower. So, during extreme tide levels, the tide comes into the Turnagain as a wave, similar to the wave you will see at the beach. Except, this wave travels for many miles. It was interesting to see a wave travel up what looks like a wide river.
The drive today was, like most of where we've driven in Alaska, simply beautiful. We saw lakes, rivers, mountains (still with snow), and glaciers. Some of the road was fine and we didn't have any construction zones. Unfortunately, some parts of the road should have had construction zones. Parts were certainly rough and narrow. We survived and we're glad to stop and rest.
Where are we? We are in Mendeltna Alaska, about 30 miles west of Glennallen.
Enjoying The Last Wilderness
We are now at the end of the road again. This is the third time we have been at the "end of the road" since we arrived in Alaska and we aren't including the two ends of the Alaska Highway. These three "end of the roads" are highways that end and you can't drive any further. The first was in Seward, the second was in Homer, and the third is where we are now.
We are in a large RV Park in a small, but well-known town. This town is often called Alaska's "Little Switzerland." It is on a majestic fjord that opens up into Prince William Sound. It seems to be surrounded by 5,000 foot tall mountain peaks. This is a well-known Port. It was established for the gold seekers bound headed for the Klondike. Copper discoveries in the Wrangell Mountains in the early 1900s brought more people. The original town was actually located about 4 miles from the current town. The 1964 Good Friday earthquake virtually destroyed this town. After the quake, the Army Corps of Engineers determined the town should be relocated as it was situated on unstable glacial remains. This town is also the end of the Alaska Pipeline, the 48-inch diameter, 800-mile long pipeline begins at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean and ends here. Unfortunately, this town is best known for the 1989 oil spill when an oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef causing an 11-million-gallon oil spill.
After we arrived in Mendeltna Sunday, we wandered around the RV Park, did laundry, and just relaxed. While Adrienne was doing laundry, Larry went to the RV Park lodge to use the telephone to send our email. While he was there, he helped some of the employees finish the Sunday crossword puzzle. There were only six words needed to finish the puzzle and Larry was able to get four of them. For dinner we went to the RV Park lodge and ate a home-made pizza. This was hand tossed pizza and was really good. Although we didn't finish all the pizza, we had to try their homemade blueberry pie a la mode (with ice cream). Boy was that good.
Yesterday we took the truck to Lake Louise, a local lake known for good rainbow trout and grayling fishing. We didn't fish but we sure enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We also drove in to Glennallen just to see what it was like. Frankly, there wasn't too much to the town.
The drive today was tiring, but beautiful. The Richardson Highway from Glennallen south to the end of the road was all paved but it was rough. We just drove slow and enjoyed the sights. Yes, the sights, we saw all kinds of lakes, rivers, glaciers, and waterfalls. The road goes through Thompson Pass. The pass is only 2678 feet above sea level, but is known for its snowfall extremes. In the early fifties, they had 974.5 inches of snowfall, a world record. In February 1953 they had 298 inches of snowfall, another world record. In December 1955 they had 62 inches of snowfall in 24 hours, still another world record. Fortunately, in July there was no snow in the pass. But there was still a lot of snow on the mountains.
Adrienne wanted to do more of the driving. So she drove the truck yesterday when we visited Lake Louise and Glenallen. She also drove most of the way today. Larry took over only when we got close to the town where we are located. Now Larry gets to take pictures and Adrienne gets to drive.
Where are we? We are in Valdez Alaska.
Subj: 95. Where are we?
Date: Saturday, July 27, 2002
After a week and a half we left Valdez. We didn't drive too far, only about 100 miles or so. Now we are camped in a small, unincorporated agricultural community. We are close to a Dip Net Fishery, where Alaska residents can use dip nets or fish wheels to catch salmon for subsistence. We are also close to the largest National Park in the US; it's equal to six Yellowstones. Four major mountain ranges meet in this park. Nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the United States are inside the borders of this park.
We really had fun in Valdez. Before we visited Valdez people we met during our travels recommended taking a wild life cruise on the Lu-Lu Belle. After taking the cruise we understand why it came highly recommended. First of all, the Lu-Lu Belle is a hand built ship. It's probably about 60 feet long. You start to appreciate the work that went into building the boat when the captain meets you and requests that you wipe your shoes before boarding. Why wipe your feet? He wants to try to keep the Oriental Rugs clean! The entire ship is polished to a high shine. The hand fitted wood trim is varnished to a high gloss. The seats in the dining area are soft leather. Wow, it is really outfitted with class. By the way, the captain takes his boat to Lake Union in Seattle in the fall to take people to the University of Washington football games.
Besides the boat being very luxurious, the trip itself was fantastic. Starting when we left the harbor, the captain maintained a constant, continuous, and interesting narrative about Valdez, the history of Valdez, the 1964 Earthquake, the Valdez oil spill, Prince William Sound, as well as the animals, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and everything else we saw.
Our first wildlife sighting was sea otters. These are the cute little animals that you often see off the coast of California. They rest in the water on their backs. When they feed, they dive down to the bottom to get shellfish (oysters, crab, and other crustaceans). Then they come back to the surface, float on their back, break open the shells with a rock, and enjoy their feast. The sea otters carry their babies on their tummies. Really a neat sight to see.
After the sea otters, the captain headed for an island where there was a sea cave. He nosed the boat into the sea cave where there were all sorts of sea birds, including everyone's favorite, the puffin.
After backing out of the sea cave, he stopped by a rocky beach that was a sea lion rookery. Along about 100 yards of rocks and sand were hundreds of Stellar Sea Lions. This too was an interesting sight.
There was even more to this trip. After the sea lions, we started looking for whales. The captain managed to find several pods of Orca Whales. These are the black and white whales that are also called Killer Whales. We watched the Orcas play for a long time. They didn't seem to be afraid of the boat; in fact they seemed to like it sometimes surfacing within a few feet of the boat. They also jumped out of the water like Shamu does at Sea World in San Diego. These animals are just awesome.
After seeing the Orcas, we headed closer to shore to see Humpback whales. We found a mother and her baby. They also put on a show for us. It wasn't quite as spectacular as the Orca show but it was still a great show.
After the Humpbacks, we headed to Columbia Glacier. The Columbia Glacier is an active tidewater glacier. That means it comes out of the mountains to the water. It's constantly caving icebergs. In fact, there were so many icebergs in front of the glacier; we couldn't get closer than 6 miles from the face of the glacier. The captain looked for a lead through the ice but couldn't find one. We had to be satisfied with seeing the glacier from a distance and seeing all the icebergs up close.
We also have to mention that this was schedule to be a half day boat trip, leaving Valdez at 2:00PM and returning at 7:00PM for a five hour trip. That didn't work out too well. We were about 15 minutes late leaving (because his morning trip went long) and we were 2 1/2 late returning (because of all the wildlife we found). We learned that the morning trip went long because they found an Eagle dive into the ocean to catch a salmon. Then take the salmon back to a rock to eat. That would have been a great sight to see. If you're ever in Valdez and want a wildlife tour, look for the Lu-Lu Belle. It's a great trip. To try to illustrate how impressive the trip really was, we took over 500 photographs on the boat. Thank heaven for digital cameras.
Since Valdez was significantly impacted by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, we went to the Valdez Earthquake Museum. That too is worth a trip. The earthquake virtually destroyed Valdez. In fact, after the earthquake Valdez was moved four miles from the original town site to more stable land.
Twice we went fishing from the shore for Pink Salmon. These are the same salmon that you normally get if you get the canned salmon. We have to admit we were successful. Both times we fished for pinks, we caught our limit (six salmon each). We had to quit fishing because we were running out of room to freeze it. We did cure and smoke a lot of the salmon. Pink salmon is especially good if it is smoked.
Near where we fished was the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal. We always referred to the pipeline as the Alaska Pipeline, but it is operated by a consortium of oil companies by a separate company called Alyeska. There used to be tours available of the terminal. However, after September 11 those tours have been cancelled. We did see the oil tankers loading up with oil at the terminal but could not get close. Remember the Alaska pipeline? It transports crude oil from Prudoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Port Valdez on Prince William Sound, some 800 miles! Some of it is above ground and some below ground. One of the major concerns when the pipeline was designed and built was the impact of the pipeline on the wildlife and tundra in Alaska. From all accounts we have heard, it was a tremendous success.
One evening we went to a local show called Boom Town. It's a musical comedy about the history of Valdez. It was certainly worth the price of admission. Even though volunteers put it on, it was great. This should be a must see for people visiting Valdez.
While touring around, we saw a baby black bear coming out of the bushes. As soon as we stopped, he ran into the bushes and came out at another location. Well, bears are really very shy, so he did not stay long enough to get his picture.
About a mile before you reach Valdez, there is the Crooked Creek National Forest Service information center. Crooked Creek is a salmon spawning area. At the right time (and we were there at the right time) you can actually see the wild salmon spawn in the creek. The information center even has an underwater TV camera so you can see what the fish are doing. In the lush velvet green cliffs behind the information center you can see a very tall waterfall, one of the many waterfalls in the mountains behind Valdez. While we were there, someone had spotted a black bear and two cubs nearby. We tried to spot them but were unsuccessful.
Now, where are we? We are at Kenny Lake. It's about 25 miles from Chitina where the dip net fishery is, and just beyond the dip net fishery is where the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and National Preserve starts.
Subj: 96. Where are we?
Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2002
We left Kenny Lake today and headed north. We are now at the intersection of the Richardson Highway and the Denali Highway. Frankly, there's not much here except for the lodge (with sort of a seedy RV Park). We can't say much for the RV Park but there are full hookups and the cost is very reasonable.
Kenny Lake was fun. When we arrived, we took a drive to Chitina (pronounced Chit-na) on the Copper River. We did drive across the river to get a better view of the fish wheels. These are typically home made devices kind of like a waterwheel. The current makes the wheel turn. The wheel has two baskets that will pick up the salmon swimming upstream and deposit them in a container on the side. That way it is fairly easy for the residents of Alaska to get their subsistence limit of salmon each year. There were also people dip netting for salmon. We had heard about this but had not really seen it. We aren't sure why some people can use fish wheels, (which is fairly easy) and some people have to dip net (which has been described as "extreme fishing"). However, we did talk to some of the people there and have to admit they were very interesting people.
We made arrangements to take a tour to the towns of McCarthy and Kennicott inside the Wrangell-St. Ellias National Park and Preserve. From Kenny Lake to Chitina the road is paved; however, after Chitina, the road is gravel and follows an old railroad line. We're glad we took the tour and not our truck. The sixty miles from Chitina to the river takes about three hours. Then you have to walk across a footbridge to take a van to McCarthy and Kennicott. We are glad we did the tour. Kennicott was founded in 1907 shortly after very rich copper deposits were found. The deposits were so rich that a railroad was built to take the ore from Kennicott to Cordova, about 120 miles away. There were lots of stories about the railroad but we aren't sure which ones to believe. One story says that the gold and silver taken from the mines were enough to pay for the overhead and the copper ore was pure profit! We do know that the McCarthy Road follows the old railroad bed. Our driver even found a bent railroad spike on our trip.
Kennicott is an interesting place. It was the location of the copper mill and only a few miles from the mine itself. The mill buildings are huge, probably a testimony to the wealth that was found in the area. There are also glaciers near by. One of the glaciers is right next to the town. This glacier, the Kennicott Glacier, is called a "dirty glacier" because the rock and dirt moved by the glaciers have surfaced. It looks like tailings from a mine, but underneath all that dirt and rock is ice.
A few miles down the hill from Kennicott is McCarthy. It appears that everyone in Kennicott and McCarthy knows each other. The two towns are isolated from the rest of the world. Most of the supplies come during the winter when snow machines can cross the Kennicott River with supplies. It was really an interesting trip and well worth the effort.
By the way, on the way back to the campground, not too far from the footbridge over the Kennicott River, we did see an Alaskan Black Bear. Unfortunately he was camera shy and we didn't get a picture.
The next day, Monday, we drove around Copper Center. Copper Center is a relic of the gold rush. Frankly, the gold was probably in the Copper River all the time. This area is really known now for its red salmon (Coho Salmon). In fact, when Larry's younger daughter, Denise, graduated from the University of Washington, we all went to Ivar's Salmon House in Seattle for dinner. Larry had smoked Copper River Red Salmon for dinner (and it was excellent).
Anyway, Copper Center is a small community located on the Old Richardson Highway (Alaska Highways have names). Copper Center was the first white settlement in the area. It was established in 1896 as a government agriculture experimental station. The gold rush miners, who went to Valdez to get to the gold fields, came down from the glaciers to Copper Center to take another trail to Dawson. Anyway, it was an interesting place to visit.
Today, after taking some time to set up the RV, we decided to explore part of the Denali Highway. From where we are, only the first 20 miles of the Denali Highway is paved, the rest is gravel. We drove 42 miles along the highway in the truck before we turned around and came back. That 84 miles of highway took about three hours to travel. BUT WOW, that was a beautiful trip. In one direction we could see the snow covered Alaska Range of mountains. In another direction we could see the snow covered Wrangell Range of mountains. It seems like no matter where we drive in Alaska, it is beautiful. We saw spruce forests, low growing bushes on the tundra, lakes, rivers, mountains, and glaciers. Alaska is truly a wondrous place; John Muir would have a difficult time finding the words to describe this place.
Speaking of highways, we have now traveled all but one of the paved highways in Alaska. We have traveled those paved highways from beginning to end and three of those highways ended abruptly (the Richardson in Valdez, the Seward in Seward, and the Sterling in Homer). The only paved highway we haven't taken is the Tok Cutoff from Glennallen to Tok. We really feel sorry for those people who try to see Alaska in a week or two; it just can't be done.
Where are we? We are at the eastern end of the Denali Highway, where it meets the Richardson Highway. The "town" of 30 people is called Paxson, named for the people who started the only business here, the Paxson Lodge and Cafe.
Subj: 97. Where are we?
Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2002
We left Paxson this morning and headed north again. We only drove about 80 miles but it took 3 1/2 hours. It wasn't that the road was bad although there was a 4 miles section of construction. It's just that the scenery driving over the Alaska Range of Mountains and along side the Alaska Pipeline was so beautiful we made a lot of stops just to take in the grandeur of the area.
We are now back at the Alaska end of the Alaska Highway. Yes, we were here before and we're here again. This town began as a construction camp for the Richardson Highway in 1919. Originally the town was known as Buffalo Center because of the American bison that were transplanted here in the 1920s. Of course it was also a construction camp for the Alaska Highway during World War II. In the 1970s, the state encouraged the development of agricultural industry in this area. Nearby is Fort Greely, the Army's Arctic Test facility.
Since we've already described what we've been doing and what we did in Paxson, we'll just tell you where we are. We are in Delta Junction again for a few days. Remember that Delta Junction is actually the end of the Alaska Highway, not Fairbanks. The reason for Delta Junction being the end is that there was already a highway between Delta Junction and Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway.