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

Day 23 Homer to Seward

Homer Day 23-11morning on Homer SpitCan you imagine a more perfect morning wakeup call than the wild cry of an eagle, especially when he lands right in front of your window on the beach? We woke up to incredibly beautiful clear skies this morning with sun pouring in the back windows of the MoHo and illuminating the beach in front of us at low tide once more.  This eagle was searching for breakfast, and as I tried to get a bit close for photos he flew off with his friend to see what else was lying around after the tide receded.

Homer Day 23-15I could enjoy staying on this beach for awhile, just enjoying the views and the lovely water, but the road calls and we will be heading back north today toward Seward.  Our plans included a stop at our favorite Fred Meyer store back in Soldotna, a free dump there, and a nice fill-up with our gas discount which was still .20c per gallon!  Pretty nice, especially when the store had the lowest price gas around without the discount at 4.17 per gallon.  We also filled up the Tracker and bought a bit of chardonnay to last the rest of the way before we enter the land of no wine in Canada in a few days.

Homer Day 23-25Our trip from Homer to Soldotna was gorgeous, with the volcanoes in full view and the gorgeous sunlight illuminating every turn in the road.  The Kenai Peninsula is truly a magical place, a definite destination to enjoy for more time than we had to spend. 

The line at the free dump station was much too long to spend waiting on this gorgeous sunny day, so we just decided to wing it and keep going to the next stop where we decided maybe it was time for some hookups. We continued east along the Sterling Highway to the junction with the Seward Highway with a perfect stop for chips and that wonderful salsa I bought yesterday while looking out over the magnificent mountains.  Wow. 

combat fishing on the Kenai RiverOn the entire trip today, I spent the whole time in awe, taking deep breaths as I watched the wild Kenai River open up into huge Kenai Lake and the mountains rising all around me, jagged spires reaching to the heavens spiked with ice and snow and metamorphic rock so shiny it glistened like mirrors.  As we approached Seward it just got better and better, with the turquoise fjord of Resurrection Bay stretching south toward Prince William Sound.

Kenai River near Kenai LakeThere is nothing at all tacky about Seward, at least not on this sunny day.  We found the city campground with a spot with electric and water for 30 bucks.  It’s a good thing we get in as early as we do, because after we parked the campground filled up fast with folks jockeying for slots here by the beautiful water.  The old town is on a slight hill behind us, and there is a beautiful walkway all along the water that enticed us to spontaneously just start walking, no map, no visitor center instructions, just walking.  We found the lovely town center of Seward, with its charming shops, murals, and incredible vistas.  The park is perfect, and was originally created to welcome President Harding when the mayor attempted to convince him that his town should get the coveted name of Seward.  It worked, and Seward is still important as the major port city for much of Alaska as it remains ice free all year.

the beautiful bay with the beautiful bayside walkResurrection Bay from our campgroundI felt the push of time because I wanted to be everywhere and do everything in the gorgeous remaining hours of sunlight. The Exit Glacier hike was high on my list of priorities, so our little wish for some kayaking in the bay gave way to the drive north to the Kenai Fjords National Park and the small but beautiful little glacier that descends from the biggest ice field wholly contained within the United States, the Harding Ice Field.

These signs mark the extent of the Glacier in the year 1917There were many folks walking the excellent but tame trail to the side of the glacier, with view of the dramatic outwash plain and wild water rushing from glacier melt.  The most impressive signs were simple: 1917, on a brown sign along the trail, indicating where the glacier was that year.  The visitor center has impressive displays documenting the glacier as it recedes into the warming climate and another favorite 3D map of the Harding Ice Field.

Seward Day 23_2701I know we will probably see more glaciers as we continue home, but this was truly beautiful and the sun was in just the right position to capture that magical glacial blue of the ice.  I loved it, in spite of the black flies that accompanied us on the short but lovely 2 mile round trip hike. I took some photos of rouche mountonees, a glacial landform that we have in very minor abundance in Klamath County in the glaciated mountains, but this was a prime example that I have to take home to my boss Chris back home.  I laughed as I remember our discussions of this particular landform as we worked on the soil survey geomorphic terms.  This spot was one of the best up close laboratories of glacial landscapes that I have had the pleasure to see so far.

the blue is surreal, and yes, that is the actual photo, no color enhancementHome to our slot in the park, I made a great quesadilla to carry the rest of the salsa, and really wished I had bought another pint! We watched folks come in and try to find a place to park for many hours into the evening before Mo gave up and went to bed while I worked on finally catching up on my writing with the pleasure of full electric power.  Writing takes a long time, especially as I attempt to manage my excessive photo habit, and it’s nice to not have to worry about the inverter, or the generator, or running out of computer battery power.

Seward Day 23_2705In all my excitement about the beauty of the day, I almost forgot that we were having battery problems, and for the last few days we had to start the MoHo with the auxiliary power of the house batteries.  We also were having a bit of a problem with the charge staying high enough for a decent length of time.  Finally when the MoHo refused to start in Homer Mo decided it was time to get a new battery.  We stopped again at Johnson’s Tire in Soldotna where a great guy named Mike checked things out and sent us over to an auto parts store, warning us that the batteries there at Johnson would be way to highly priced.  After getting the new battery, we went back to Mike and he put in it no charge.  Of course Mo slipped him some cash, what a nice guy!  Now there is no more hesitation when we start up the rig.  The battery was five years old so it was time for a new one.

Sue at Exit GlacierIt was an absolutely perfect day.  I am now in a little espresso joint called Sea Dog Café in Seward, uploading photos and one more time catching up on my “job”.  Of course, the minute I walk out the door I will start getting behind once more, and that makes me laugh inside.  I told Mo I really have to figure out how to write while she is driving, but she wondered how I would manage to take photos and navigate while writing!  Sometimes when things are happening it is easy to write it, and then later I have to go back and look up names and such and it’s such a pain, so I am going to try to document as we go.  Laurie, stop laughing at my documentation obsession, right now!!

CaptureMiles traveled today in the MoHo: 168

Road conditions: irrelevant again, we are in the easy part of Alaska

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

Day 22 July 27 Homer

Homer spit from Skyline Drivethere we are, boondocked at Fred Meyermorning view from the Fred Meyer parking lotWaking up in the fog in the parking lot of Fred Meyer wasn’t near as bad as it sounds.  We had a beautiful dog potty zone right out our door and it was quiet.  I had about 50 yards to go to find fresh morning pastries and do our little bit of required shopping.  Amazingly, we are still eating food from home, although the freezer is getting a bit empty. All I need to add now and then is milk and salad veggies.  With all the RV folks in the parking lot, Freddy’s stocks a good supply of RV goods, but a man in front of me walked away with the last two packages of RV toilet paper.  Not to worry, they have a large stock out at the gas pumps with the sodas, cigarettes, and little bags of firewood for ten dollars.  You think this store caters to the RV folks?! They even have a free dump station in the parking lot.

but we could see the tourists along the wayWe didn’t need to make use of the dump, and decided that we didn’t need gasoline either since our travels yesterday were so short, and we could make it round trip to Homer and back with no problem.  Homer is just a short 70 miles from Soldotna, and for reasons completely lost on me, Google Maps says the trip takes an hour.  Hmmm.  I think the speed limit along most of the way is 55 mph.  Paved highway or not, I probably wouldn’t drive 70.

there is our panoramic view of Kachemak Bay Cook InletAfter tea and a pastry breakfast we ambled on down the foggy road toward the south and the end of the Sterling Highway.  Along the way are gorgeous views of Cook Inlet and the volcanoes, including Redoubt, the one most recently active, and St. Augustine, the one most likely to have another big blowup. I know because I took a photo of the sign and saw the pictures in the slick magazine we got at the Visitor Center yesterday.

As we approached Homer, we stopped at a beautiful wayside with lovely gardens and a gorgeous view of Cook Inlet, Homer Spit, Kachemak Bay, and the mountains beyond the end of the road across the bay.  It was gorgeous, at least that is what the sign said. 

later we drove back up to try to see Homer spit.  better than beforeI have to say that even though I knew we would have weather, fog, rain, and clouds while visiting this part of Alaska in the rainiest month of the year, it was still hard for me to stay upbeat about not seeing all the beauty around me.  I worked hard at appreciating the mist, the gentle softness of the rain, all that.  I kept quiet about it, but I didn’t succeed very well.  I was seriously bummed.  I wanted to see Homer in a different light.

Homer Day 22-52We drove through town and followed the signs out to the spit.  This time it was Mo’s turn to get a bit grouchy.  In the fog and clouds, the beauty of the spit was invisible, and the only thing in sight for the entire distance were a bazillion cars, RV’s, and pickups hauling boats.  Homer is about fishing, all about fishing, and more fishing.  It’s a lifetime dream trip for people wanting to take charters to the sea and catch halibut and big salmon.  Visiting this part of the Kenai Peninsula felt a lot to us like trying to go to the Oregon Coast in summer and walking around the Newport Old Town area.  It’s always foggy and full of people and traffic.  I know I probably refer to it too much, but again Mo couldn’t help remembering her visit here, camping all alone on an empty beach with one restaurant at the end of the spit, no services to speak of, no cute little shops, no huge line of RV’s waiting to try to squeeze into a tiny slot on the gravel overlooking the invisible water.

Homer Day 22-23It's an eagleWe knew that the city parks had dry camping in several places, but the shop was closed with a sign that said basically, “figure it out”, so I attempted to do just that.  At the beginning of the spit is Mariner’s Park, one place that didn’t seem quite as jammed as the rest of the spit, so we drove back there and settled in to a spot on the edge of the gravel making sure to avoid the soft sand warning signs. 

Marina Park camp on the windward side of Homer SpitOnce we set up, as level as we could manage and looked out our front windows, I decided that this was better than I expected.  It reminded me of the day I stood on a Destin Florida beach surrounded by high rise condos and looked out over the gulf.  When you look toward the water, you can’t see all the people around you, and it’s gorgeous.  It was gorgeous here, with a 180 degree view of water and clouds, but the fog was lifting and the beauty of the place was beginning to sift into my consciousness. 

walking to the Beluga SloughWith the rain becoming more sporadic, we thought it might be nice to go check out the town, maybe find the historic section and see the visitor’s center.  The Alaska Islands Ocean and Visitor Center provided a window to the seabird refuge world surrounding us, but it was filled with many children, so instead we decided to take advantage of the increasing sunlight and walk the Beluga Trail to the slough below.  There was a nice path, and some strange plastic spongy boardwalk that kept the slough safe. 

mama sandhillRight in front of me in the slough, walked a sandhill crane and her little one, eating nonchalantly and ignoring the screaming children that were running along the boardwalk behind us.  The sun was out and beautiful, and then suddenly it was pouring rain.  UhOh.  I am hauling Deanna’s big telephoto lens with me and it’s raining!  Off came the rain jacket to cover the camera, and we hauled it back to the car and gave up on the rest of the walk.  I know, I know.  In Alaska, wear rain gear all the time and be ready to walk in the rain if you want to walk, right?

farmers market bountyWe drove around a bit searching for the historic homes, but didn’t have a decent map and decided that the Farmer’s Market was a better bet.  It had just opened up for the afternoon, but with the rain there were many vendors not in residence.  The best one there was a salsa maker with perfect fresh salsa and we bought a pint and I wish I had bought more.  I also got a huge bunch of gorgeous easter egg radishes which served as a great munchie snack. I had just purchased fresh organic salad greens back at Soldotna Freddys, so couldn’t take advantage of the big bunches of fresh lettuce we found, but they were beautiful to look at.

Homer Day 22-54We drove back to the Spit to take advantage of the lightening afternoon and look at the exciting shops all ready to catch tourist money.  Many of the cute little buildings were dedicated to charters of all kinds.  There are many things to do in Homer if you do something special.  I am sure that the ferry to Soldovia would be wonderful, and there were row after row of charter boat and plane trips advertising bear viewing and trips to the state park across the bay where the road doesn’t go.  If we were here for a longer bit of time, I might have liked to spend a day over there, I might have liked to fly in to see some bears.  Mo and I decided instead that we will come back to Alaska, using our air miles, fly to Anchorage, and then plan a special trip to Kodiak where we can focus on bears and the beautiful island. 

Homer Day 22-58I did leave a goodly chunk of money behind on the spit, however, since I found the perfect small carving of a loon, signed and numbered by the Inuit artist who created it. Ever since our encounter with the loon early in the trip at Fraser Lake I had been keeping that purchase in the back of my mind.  Some I found in Anchorage were too big, too expensive, to stupid looking and cheap.  On the tacky shores of Homer Spit, I found the perfect little loon to commemorate this journey.

Homer Day 22-17For this trip, however, we aren’t into spending big bucks on charters and fancy trips.  The trip is already big bucks enough and our goal is to travel the roads and see the sights in the rig.  I said once it was an epic journey, and that it was about the road trip more than anything else.  At supper by our campfire, we met the neighbors who have traveled to Alaska repeatedly for the last 40 years.  They were full-timers for 16 years before finally building a small home near Houston two years ago.  We loved talking with them and hearing about their son who loved their trips so much that he relocated to Nome to teach there for several years before retiring with his wife to Ketchikan.  I can’t believe I forgot their names, but the man was commiserating with Mo about how tame the whole highway was now, and he grumbled that he missed the gravel and the silence of the old highway.

Homer Day 22-62still tryingWe are all like that I guess, we want to come here and see it and want to slam the door behind us.  The affluence that provides simple people like Mo and I with a fancy rig, and the prosperity that allows folks to travel the highway, has contributed to the loss of the wildness once found on this journey.  Maybe a bit like finding McDonald’s and Starbucks in every big city in the world.  It is all a bit dummied down so that the masses can enjoy it.  I am here enjoying it, so I shouldn’t complain, but I would have liked to have been on that 1974 trip with Mo.  Instead, I was raising kids and trying to figure out how to get some kind of job other than waitressing!

Homer Day 22_2569Homer Day 22_2574We didn’t eat the famous halibut, and instead brought out the Weber, cooked some superb pork chops and made a fresh salad for supper while watching the water and sitting by Mo’s campfire.  After supper, it seemed that the clouds were lifting and we decided to go for a walk along the water.  Looking up to a brilliant 8pm clear sky, we looked at each other and at the same time said, “I think it’s time to try to see Skyline Drive!”  The slick Homer magazine from the Chamber talks about Skyline drive, and the instructions say something like, “Take East Hill Road to the top to Skyline Drive”.  Well, where in the heck is East Hill Road.  Google maps doesn’t work here, the Alaska Gazetteer just shows a tiny red line but we have no clue where we are in relation to the tiny red line called Skyline Drive.

Homer Day 22_2587We wandered around a bit, traveling back up the big hill to at last find Diamond Ridge with the supposed view of the volcanoes.  Of course, once on top everything was fogged in again until we eventually reached Skyline Drive and the most gorgeous view I have seen in a very long time. Spread out below us was the spit, stretching out between Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay, with the Harding Ice Fields across the bay, and the forests and mountains beyond all accessibility visible in the evening light. 

Looking down, we could just barely make out the MoHo in her slot at Mariner’s Park overlooking Cook Inlet to the west.  Yes, that is the MoHo, in between all the white rigs on the spit

The clouds were very nearly gone as we returned to the MoHo to settle in and watch the water and the sky across the Inlet. I can’t believe how much better I felt about Homer in that 10PM sunlight.

CaptureMiles traveled today: 75, not counting a few in the Tracker to see the sights

Road conditions: irrelevant.  We are certainly not in wild Alaska any more

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here


Day 21 July 26 A Different Alaska, Anchorage to Soldotna

still cloudy but at least we can see the Chugach MountainsOur first business of the day was to take care of MoHo business.  We were slide in, jacks up by 7 and decided to drive separately across Anchorage to the Johnson Tire Service shop south of town.  We had called last night to double check if they serviced motorhomes but wanted to be first in line when they opened at 8.  The sun was actually shining this morning, and it wasn’t raining, so we were encouraged.

This outfit is a well run, efficient store, and we were done in no time, with a full inspection, and complete oil change on our Ford 450 V-10 in less than half an hour and around 60 bucks.  It costs that much at home! On the road again, we traveled south through morning city traffic on Alaska 1, merging from the “almost” freeway to the Sterling Highway. 

Turnagain Arm from Beluga PointThe beautiful sunshine was fading and by the time we reached Turnagain Arm, it was completely gone, shrouded in deep, dark clouds.  Again, we couldn’t see the mountains around us to their summits, but the cloud cover was at least high enough that we could get an idea of their grandeur. Even in the misty cloud cover, Turnagain Arm was a magical, beautiful place and we stopped at every pullover provided to take photos and search for beluga whales.  I can’t imagine how you can see anything in that silty, silky gray water, fresh from glacial melt, but there were telescopes at strategic locations to help out if you spotted one, which we didn’t.

finally, a bit of light on Turnagain ArmSomeone recently asked about wildlife.  We haven’t seen much at all on this trip.  Two moose, which I photographed, three bear which I couldn’t, 1 fox near Dawson, and that is it.  No moose wandering through our campgrounds, or on the city streets of Anchorage, and as we passed a place called Potter’s Marsh, south of Anchorage, we chorused in unison, “Here you can see moose, bear, caribou, dall sheep, and fox”.  We have read this phrase so many times on this trip and still have yet to see the great number of wild animals proclaimed.  It may be the time of year, it may just be the fact that Alaska is full of people right now, lots of people and lots of cars.  It may be that we drive at the wrong time of day, although you would think our 530 am drive in Denali would have been early enough.  But I digress…

Kenai P Day 21_2261Turnagain Arm is so named because Captain Cook had to turn around AGAIN when he was trying to find a route for the inland passage.  Turnagain is an arm of the Cook Inlet.  Another surprise for me was when I suddenly realized that Cook Inlet is really just somewhere in the middle of Alaska, not the western part as I imagined.  Studying a map of Alaska yields surprises, especially if you have traveled up the southwest coast and the towns of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.  They are east of here but very much on the western coast of Alaska. 

Kenai P Day 21_2281The drive to Portage wasn’t long, and we decided that we should take the time to travel east to the Portage Glacier and then on to Whittier, port town on Prince William Sound.  These places all are names I have heard, but I had never really paid attention to just how they related to each other in the landscape.  At the visitor center at Portage Glacier, the large 3 dimensional map of Prince William Sound put it all into better perspective. 

Prince William SoundPortage Lake was lovely, even in the clouds, with a couple of little icebergs floating by to add to the ambience. The glacier itself has receded greatly since Mo saw it last, and there is no easy way to approach it.  The Byron Glacier is closer, with a short mile and a half trail to it’s viewpoint, but the pouring rain made it less than an exciting prospect, so we decided to forego the hike.  The visitor center was beautiful, though it’s movies cost an extra five bucks.  I can only watch so many movies about bear, caribou, moose, dall sheep, and fox, so we didn’t do that one either. The glacier movie wasn’t scheduled until five, and it was something like ten in the morning.

into the 2.5 mile long tunnelBy this time, I am starting to feel that we are still in DisneySka, with all the beautiful media attractions and visitor centers with their lovely displays and huge rv parking lots full of people and traffic.  Still, we unhooked the rig for the short drive to Whittier, only to discover that we were in the staging line for the tunnel to Whittier that is 2.5 miles long and costs 12 bucks round trip.  This brought back lots of memories to Mo, since she traveled through this tunnel with her car on the train.  It was the only way to get to Whittier and the ferry back then. Although the 13,200 foot tunnel was built in 1942-43. it was only retrofitted to accommodate both trains and cars in 2000 (or 2002) I can’t remember which. 

the ugliest building I ever saw the abandoned Bucknell BuildingDriving through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a real treat, especially since we were in the baby car without having to pay the big fees for the MoHo!  Once on the other side of the tunnel in Whittier, the rain opened up in earnest and the small port town of Whittier looked a bit tattered.   Whittier was developed by the the marina at WhittierArmy during WWII as a debarkation point for cargo and troops for the Alaska Command. Looking for a hiking trail to the waterfalls, we saw one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen, the Bucknell Building. Once the largest building in Alaska, it was built in the early 50’s as rental units for civilian employees and soldiers who were stationed at the strategically located Port of Whittier.

waterfalls everywhere coming off the glaciersEven in the clouds and mist, I could see the dozens of waterfalls crashing down steep canyons all round the bay from the glaciers above. It was a moody, misty place, without much around.  The trip back through the tunnel revealed more clouds and rain on the other side and we traveled the few miles back west to the highway junction and continued south toward Soldotna and Kenai.

Right after leaving Portage, the highway climbs the dramatic and beautiful Turnagain Pass, and the clouds began to thin enough that we could see a bit higher.  The landscape is dominated by huge moraines from the last ice age below high glaciated mountain peaks.  The tree line here is only 1,500 feet above sea level, and the variations in habitat are clearly visible on the mountain slopes around the pass. The sun came out again, with just enough billowing clouds to make things look really beautiful, and we stopped for an Abby swim at a small lake before turning west on the highway toward Cooper’s Landing.

moraines at Turnagain PassCooper’s Landing is renown for salmon fishing along the Kenai River and the sockeye red salmon run is now in full swing.  The traffic was heavy and the river was lined with people fishing from the bank and rafts going downriver. They call it “combat fishing”, and if you are interesting in the whole fishing thing on the Kenai Peninsula, Judy at Cool RV’rs on the Road, has done a fabulous job describing this unique culture.

Judy also was the one who mentioned the Fred Meyer boondock site in Soldotna.  Mo and I originally planned to use our CampClub USA card here, since there are two parks that honor that 50 percent discount, but when we saw the digs at Freddy’s we decided it was perfect.  They even have a free dump and support the RV’rs who park there with a minimal amount of rules, the typical ones for parking lots, no chairs, no awnings, no bbq’s, and a three day limit.

Kenai P Day 21_2388heading down to dip net coho salmonWe settled in, turned on the fan for Jeremy, loaded Abby up with us in the Tracker and continued west to explore the little town of Kenai and the Cook Inlet coastline.  It was almost five and the clouds were gone and the early evening sunlight was warm and brilliant.  Perfect for a walk through the small historic town following the visitor center brochure.  The girl at the center said to be sure to go to the park to watch the “dip net fishing” and that we were lucky to be here to see it.  We, of course, had no clue what she was talking about until  we passed a couple of old guys hauling a huge dip net down to the beach.

Kenai P Day 21_2408It’s an amazing scene that could have come from thousands of years ago except for the plastic ice chests and cars.  But the idea was the same, hundreds of people lined the shore and waded into the incoming tide with nets as large as 5 feet diameter.  The salmon, anxious to get home to spawn, swim right into the nets.  Big salmon they are, too!  Each Alaskan head of household is allowed 25 fish, with 10 more fish for each member of the family.  It’s subsistence at it’s finest, and there seems to be enough for everyone, including the fish, because the runs are still strong. It was an amazing thing to see, with old white guys in brand new waders, and native Alaskan families of different tribes all catching fish, cleaning them, throwing the entrails to the tide, and the fish into the ice chests.  There were big salmon heads littered everywhere on the beach and Abby thought incredibly interesting.

dip netting on the Kenai RiverWith that awesome sight in mind, we wandered back through town and after a short drive north along the Inlet to an oil town with views of 13 platform rigs in the inlet, we headed back toward Soldotna for the evening. 

We were pretty worn out, and ready to crash and burn, but instead were routed a very long way around and back into town due to some kind of accident.  The traffic still in this area was incredibly heavy and most of the license plates were Alaskan. 

dip netting on the Kenia RiverI was glad to get back to our boondock site at Freddy’s.  The few RV campgrounds we had passed were jammed in slide to slide, front to back, and here we only had neighbors along the curb and everyone was pretty quiet.  We even had a grassy forest outside  at the edge of the curb, and sitting at the sofa with the view out the door we could have been all alone in the middle of nowhere.  I slept like a log.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here


Miles driven today in the MoHo: about 150

Road Condition: better than many in the Mainland, 2 lane and 4 lane with excellent surface