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

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

6 thoughts on “Day 21 July 26 A Different Alaska, Anchorage to Soldotna”

  1. I'm sorry the wildlife sightings have been few and far between. I think it's a combination of the time of year and the crowds. Last year (August), we had the one really great moose sighting on Portage Creek and that was it. In 2001, we were there in early June … a lot fewer people, and lots of sightings including moose in Potter Marsh (sorry), dall sheep in the roadside cliffs, eagles on the alluvial plains. No bears, until we got on the Dalton Highway to head up to the Arctic Ocean. Then we saw a grizzly sow with two cubs, two lynx, several musk oxen, a golden eagle, and some reindeer.

    As for the tunnel, it must have been retrofit in 2000 since we drove thru in 2001. I was so disappointed when I found out we would not be able to put the car on a flatbed train car … but I got over it. Mui had the best halibut fish and chips in Whittier … at the only restaurant at the only hotel in town. (Things may have changed a bit since cruise ships now come calling at Whittier.)


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