July 30 Day 25 Glenn Highway to Valdez

118.8 on the Glenn HighwayOur boondock site overlooking the Chugach Mountains wasn’t as quiet as it seemed to be when we first parked.  On Friday night it seems that everyone in Anchorage and the surrounding area must have decided to travel east on the Glenn Highway to the wild rivers and mountains.  lakes along the Glenn HighwayFalling asleep early, I was awakened repeatedly by rigs pulling into the paved turnout for views of the still light valley below.  As night wore on, we were joined by other rigs very close to us, one in front, one behind, and one that even parked beside us for a time in the darkest part of the night.  The view was gorgeous, but all that company wasn’t really what I expected.

Waking with the brilliant sunlight  we took our time, cooking a good breakfast, turning on the hot water heater for showers, and in spite of the neighbors, turning on the generator for a little extra heat. When we left around 8:30, the folks behind us were still buttoned up tight, with no sign that our reasonably quiet generator bothered them at all.

M t Drum in the center and Mt Wrangell on the rightThe Glenn Highway east to Glennallen has a magnificent view of the three major volcanoes of the Wrangell Mountains.  The one that looms highest on the horizon is Mt. Drum, but the other two flanking it on the north and south are actually higher. Mt Wrangell was a broad rounded snowfield visible through the clouds in the morning light.  I am fascinated by volcanoes, and this one is still hot.  There are shifts in the CO2 emissions that indicate magma may be rising.  It last let off steam in 1902, but all indications are that it could erupt at any time.

Mt Wrangell, hot and activeWrangell actually looks like a broad shield volcano, similar to Mauna Loa, rather than a composite cone like Rainier, but theories are that the lava emerges under deep glacial ice which causes it to flow laterally and form that rounded off summit. Mt. Drum was beautiful, but Mt Wrangell looked mysterious and ethereal with only the top visible and the rest hidden.

frost heaves on the Glenn Highway west of Mt DrumWe stopped at the Hub of Alaska, partly because we knew we should gas up before going on south to Valdez at the junction of the Glenn Highway and the Richardson Highway.  The other reason we stopped is thanks to a nice long phone call with my daughter Deanna while we were descending to the junction from our morning summit location.  Deanna and Keith love Alaska, and she told me the Hub was a great place to stop.  They always gas up their big rig there when traveling the Glenn Highway delivering engines to Anchorage.  Before they started driving, the two of them traveled to Alaska on their Harleys and when Keith was still director of the museum in Wenatchee, they spent some time in Homer consulting with the museum there. It was so much fun talking with Deanna about their favorite places, places we had just traveled.

the Copper River ValleyTurning south on the Richardson Highway, we were traveling a path that followed the route of the Klondike gold rush miners as they rushed north.  Many came to Valdez, walked across the Valdez Glacier and on to Whitehorse before building their water crafts to take them on down the Yukon to Dawson City. The history of this short lived rush and the people who traveled such wild lands for gold never ceases to amaze me. What were they thinking?? It was a lot harder than buying a lottery ticket, without much better of a chance for the big win.

lovely visitor centerOnly 8 miles south of the Glennallen junction on the road to Valdez, is the Information Center for the Wrangell-St Elias National Park, the biggest and one of the newest parks in the US, only established in 1980. The sun was shining, the air was clear and fresh and Mo hung out in the parking lot with Abby while I explored the center.  There are viewpoints overlooking the Copper River Valley and the Wrangell Mountains.  The center was all shiny neRichardson Highway to Valdezw and fresh, and extremely well done as usual, with lovely exhibits and another one of those huge 3D maps that I love.

Southward to Worthington Glacier and Thompson Pass, the road is 2 lane paved, but the frost heaves and bumps are enough that I had to put on my wrist bands.  I love these little bands.  In addition to keeping me from getting sea sick on a ship, they keep me safe from the car-sick bug that gets to me more on rough roads than it does on curvy roads.  Jeremy did fine, though, without many disapproving looks, but Abby sat up looking forlorn for much of the rough parts. Neither one of the animals much like it when the road gets rough.

Worthington Glacier from the roadwhich way to the glacier?Thirty miles north of Valdez lies the lovely Worthington Glacier, with a state park, a tiny visitor center, trails to the glacier and no fees! We stopped in for a break and another chance to hike to a glacier, this time with the opportunity to actually get close and touch it.  The large paved and signed trail from the parking lot led to an overlook, but then you were pretty much on your own to figure out which primitive trail you wanted to follow to get up close.  We first started up the east side, since we could see tiny people actually hiking on the glacier.  As we got closer, however, we decided that we would rather be on the west side of the glacier where all the blue ice shone in the sunlight.

Valdez Day 25_2890Mo went ahead scouting the trail while I came along behind carrying the camera.  It’s a bit scary to be on rough, slippery glacial blue inside Worthington Glacierground carrying an expensive camera, and I tottered along with my walking stick like an old lady.  Ah well, maybe I would have tottered without the camera, who knows.  I hate slippery loose rock, one of the reasons I so love hiking in Utah on slickrock, which isn’t slick at all.

Our efforts were rewarded with another up close encounter with a glacier, slipping inside the crevasse at the toe to capture that magical blue light.  The hike back down was much easier, mostly because we had a clue where to go this time, and when we got back to the rig Abby and Jeremy were doing fine.  It seems that more and more Abby is getting a little bit more comfortable when we leave her in the rig, but it still can be a worry if she barks in a populated place.

Valdez Day 25_2910Once again on the road, we reached the summit at Thompson Pass and thanked the weather gods for another gorgeous sunlit day with just enough clouds to keep  it interesting. The road dropped suddenly down to the river and the deep gorge of Keystone Canyon stretched west to Valdez.  The mountains rise vertically in all directions, lit up with glaciers and snow, their shifting shades of green turning to grays and browns and timberline. 

Valdez Day 25_2917All along the canyon waterfalls pour down the steep sides to the river, and we stopped to take photos of two of the named falls, Bridalveil and Horsetail Falls.  Valdez is another placed dubbed “The Switzerland of America”, but here it must be true. As I walked around the falls and breathed the crystalline air, I realized that for several weeks now I haven’t seen smoke on the horizon or brown air over a city.  I have breathed clean, pure air for so long I almost forgot how much it means to me.

plank salmon on the weberQ 100A few days ago, at the Portage Glacier, I looked at the map of Prince William Sound and thought that I really wanted a chance to see some of those pristine waters, to see the wild tidal glaciers calving into the sound.  As we approached Valdez, I said out loud that maybe this was the place to do it.  Mo agreed, and we drove directly to the Three Bears RV Park where we were lucky enough to snag tickets for tomorrow’s noon cruise with Stan Stephen’s Glacier Cruises. With that important detail handled, I asked about Copper River Salmon, and was pointed to Peter Pan’s Seafood right across the small boat harbor. 

a few mosquitos and black flies kept us inside until the repellants kicked inThey actually had no fresh Copper River, but the young woman told me that Prince William Sound sockeye was better anyway and had just come in that day.  The halibut was the other catch of the day, but I really had my heart set on some of that wonderful salmon. I wait for every year when it has a three week run at Freddy’s in Klamath Falls.  I bought a beautiful filet and a package of cedar planks and we were set.

Even though there are several RV campgrounds right in Valdez, we really weren’t ready for a full hookup full price kind of night and Mo wanted to go back out of town to check out the Valdez Glacier Campground.  We pulled in to the private, treed site and when Mo walked back to the pay station, she discovered it was a military campground and we got our dry camp site for only $10 with her discount.  There is a dump station and potable water as well, and best of all we weren’t too close to anyone nearby.

where did that little black bear disappear to?This was especially important, since we called around and could find no kennels with an opening for Abby, and she would have to wait in the rig while we did our seven hour cruise. I pulled out the Weber to cook that beautiful salmon, and for the first time on the trip, we had a real problem with a few mosquitoes and a lot of tiny little black flies.  Mo brought out her citronella coils, I brought out the propane bug repeller, and the cedar plank contributed a lot of smoke to the scene as well.  By the time the salmon was done, it was bug free enough that we enjoyed our meal outside at the picnic table.  That was without a doubt the best salmon I have ever eaten, and the whole meal was probably a lot better than anything we would have found in a restaurant.

back home after a good walkAfter supper I decided to take our garbage, especially that fishy plank, to the bear proof container down the road while Mo enjoyed the after dinner quiet.  While she sat there at the table, she was surprised by a black bear who must have thought that the salmon smelled great.  When he saw Mo, however, he turned and disappeared back into the brush.  Of course, the bear shows up when I am gone and the camera is tucked away in the MoHo! 

Later we went for a walk around the campground exploring, but saw no more sign of Mr Bear.  We did run into a couple of guys who looked quite familiar.  We visited with them a long time ago back at the Teslin Overlook in Yukon, and shared stories of our travels since then.  They had a pickup and camper, and had done the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle.  He said the road wasn’t bad at all, nothing like the scare stories going around about it.

Home to read and fall asleep thinking about our exciting trip to come the next day,  Prince William Sound and the Columbia Glacier!

(note: We are now in Tok and I am catching up on writing and also on reading blogs.  Just read Judy’s blog to discover that they were in the same campground and SHE got a photo of the little black bear.  Also discovered to our dismay that we missed the big brown bears feeding at the fish hatchery.  Not sure where I should have found out about this, except we haven’t had internet for awhile, and I guess that is the price I pay for boondocking and staying out of touch!)

CaptureMiles traveled today: about 200

Road condition: 2 lane paved with some small gravel areas and a few frost heaves here and there, steep pass with an 8 percent downgrade, but nothing particularly difficult

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here


July 29 Day 24 Seward to Glennallen or somewhere close

Radiance of the Seas lands at SewardI tried hard to keep my expectations in check before we left on this journey.  I didn’t want to be disappointed and was afraid that maybe the reality might not live up to the hype.  I expected a bit of what Mo has experienced; some disappointment that much of the wildness has been tamed.  What has happened in the last few days, however, is a growing appreciation of this beautiful state with all its diversity and magnificence.  The hype IS the reality, and at last I have accepted that even with the smoothed highways, the many RV’s plying the roads, the lack of the “Big Five” game animals around every corner, Alaska is still a magnificent place.  While it may not be an epic journey, I think it may fit the billing as “The Last Great Road Trip”.

The Chugach Mountains north of Seward looking southToday on an interpretive sign for the Chugach country I saw a quote: “There is one word of advice and caution to be given to those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means.  But if you are young, wait. the scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything of is kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first” Written by Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaskan Expedition, 1899. I guess that said it all more than 100 years ago, and I think it’s still true.

the Chugach Mountains east of the Seward HighwayThis morning we found the free dump at the park and left town by 9:30.  With 300 miles planned for today, it wasn’t fair for me to keep procrastinating.  On this journey, I have had a very few places that made me really really want to stay longer and Seward was one of those places.  I could hang out in this town, exploring the trails, wandering the charming streets, finding the hidden nooks and crannies, exploring the museums and searching out the beautiful murals tucked away here and there.  I could sit in the campground along the water watching the cruise ships come and go, and spend some time finding the small lagoons and bays on a quiet windless afternoon in my kayak.  I was hooked by Seward and would love to spend more time there.

approaching Portage on the Seward HighwayInstead we are traveling the return route to Anchorage, with an entirely different perspective, and some great memories of our time on the Kenai Peninsula. As we traveled again through Turnagain Pass and down to Turnagain Arm, we had enough sunshine and cloud free skies to see the snow and glacier covered mountains across Cook Inlet.  The Arm was wild today, with its heavy load of silt, even in the sun it looked dark and spooky only today the tide was coming in and the winds were blowing up whitecaps on the dark murky water.  I was surprised that it really didn’t look as lovely in the sunlight as it did shrouded in cloudy mystery.  After a couple of attempts to pull into the turnouts in heavy traffic we just gave up and were happy for the photos from our previous day of traveling this route.

Jeremy is not impressed by Anchorage trafficGasoline at the small station on the arm was 2c less than in Anchorage, so we filled up again to be ready for the jaunt to Glennallen.  Traffic in Anchorage was thick, but we made it through town quickly enough and were soon on the Glenn Highway exit toward Palmer.  I once looked into a survey job available in Palmer and considered going there so I was interested in seeing it, as well at the lush agricultural MatSu Valley surrounding the area. The valley is named for the two mighty rivers that intersect and form it, the Matanuska and the Susitna Rivers.

farms and fields in the MatSu valleyAn interesting story about the MatSu Valley tells about the US government offering free land to immigrants to help develop the agricultural resources of the rich valley. More than two hundred families were hand chosen from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, assuming those hardy folk could handle the rigors of farm life in the cold climate.  Many failed, but several remained and their descendants populate the valley to this day.

The Matanuska RiverOnce again, Mo and I managed to hit a very small town during some kind of very busy festival and decided that we needed to just get through rather than taking the time to fight the crowds and traffic.  Palmer was small and in a lovely setting, but certainly didn’t have the ability to capture my heart the way Seward did.

We then drove east along the Matanuska River, a wild, wild, braided river fed by the Matanuska Glacier to the east.  The road was initially just fine, but after milepost 60 or so, things started to change and I was a bit white knuckled as Mo negotiated the tight curves and narrow road while I looked down over the very steep, no shoulder drop offs to the river far below.

the glacial matanuska RiverWe originally thought to make it over 300 miles to Glennallen for the night, but also really wanted to boondock.  By the time Mo finished negotiating the curves and construction on that stretch of the highway, she was ready to call it a day.  We started looking for a boondock site around mile 80, but it just so happened that the construction started about there as well and all the pullouts were filled with equipment.  Finally, at mile 118.8, we found the site written up in the Milepost and even though the construction was still evident, we decided to stop.

Glenn HWY Day 24_2776It is a beautiful site overlooking the river valley and we stopped just in time for the rain to start in earnest.  Tomorrow the plan is to drive all the way to Valdez, but with our Jell-O plans, who knows exactly where we might land.  Our waste tanks are empty, our water tank is more than half full, we have a new battery and anything else we might need. Of course, we don’t have internet, but even in this crazy wild place I have a cell phone connection. I also have a good book to finish on my kindle which is now fully charged after our last night in an electric site so I am ready to go.  The traffic is now almost non existent, with an occasional rig pulling into the turnout for the view, but that should stop once it is dark.

I think we will park right here for the night at marker 18.8 on the Glenn HighwaySunset now is around 10:30 and the darkness, while not total, is still plenty dark enough to sleep comfortably.  Another perfect night out.  I love these sites with views that go forever out my window, and nope, not a telephone pole or a power line to be seen.  I guess that is my personal test of the wild.

seward to glennallenMiles driven in the MoHo: somewhere around 200

Road condition: still excellent Alaska highways to Palmer, and then some very scary, narrow winding miles on the Glenn Highway near the Matanuska River.  No shoulders, steep drop offs.

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here