Portage Lake Floating Ice Scuptures

Whittier, Anchorage, Palmer, Valdez
Prince William Sound and Wrangell-St. Elias NP
July 5 to July 22, 2008

State and National Parks and Monuments Visited:

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve
Chugach National Forest
Kluane NP

Independence Mine State Historial Park
Klondike II National Historic Site

Whittier and Anchorage (Again)

After the 4th, we headed back to Anchorage...in part to get our slider fixed but also to stay for a few days and just be tourists. But on the way, we stopped in Whittier and Portage.

Whittier is on Prince Edward Sound, and until recently the only way to get to it was by boat or by taking a train through a two and a half mile tunnel from the Kenai Peninsula. Several years ago they added a single lane roadway on top of the railroad tracks so now it finally is accessible by car. Trains always have the right of way, and when a train isn't using the tunnel, cars take turns going through.

Whittier itself isn't much. Prince William Sounds is beautiful, but the town is really little more than a former military base that has been converted into a small fishing villiage and tourist attraction. But from Whittier, you can take the Portage Trail which is how the early travelers crossed...going from the Whittier seaport to the other side of the mountain and then on to the rest of Alaska. It's a steep trail, it goes more or less right up the mountain, and then before you know it, you are looking down on the Portage Glacier and Portage Lake. And it was a great hike!

portage glacier trail
Portage Glacier from the top of the Portage Trail
portage glacier
Portage Glacer next to a tour boat!

Looking down from the top of the trail, it's easy to misunderstand just how big these glaciers are. But if you look at the picture on the right, you can see a fairly good size tour boat floating right in front of the glacier. Needless to say, these glaciers are huge!

After the hike, we went back to the Portage Glacier Visitor Center (where we had parked the Pursuit while we went to Whitter.) This gave Oliver a change to try to tame a few pieces of Alaskan driftwood!

Then from Whittier and Portage, we drove on through the Chugach National Forest and along the Turnagain Arm...and this is one of the many impressive and awesome roads in Alaska. The "bay" is right alongside the roadway, the mountains climb right up and out of the water, and along the way you can watch tidal bores, whales (sometimes), and all kinds of wildlife.

Oliver at Portage Lake
Oliver leaving his "mark" at Portage Lake
Chugach NF
Turnagain Sound

Anchorage and Eklutna

We stayed in Anchorage a little longer than we had hoped....in part because the manufacturer of the sliders parts we had ordered didn't send our RV dealer all the right parts and two very critical parts had to be sent again. Also, Oliver had developed a sudden growth in one of his eyelids which had to be removed.By luck, we heard about a wonderful veterinarian who not only had run the Ididarod, but also was the vet for the race for several years. (Only the best for Oliver, right?)

And so we ended up spending five days....giving us time to visit most of the significant museums, go on a bicycle hike (during which we came across several moose), and generally relax. Finally the slider parts came, the slider was fixed, and we left.

Just north of Anchorage is the town of Eklutna...which had been an Athabascan village. When the Russians were in Alaska, they really wereonly interested in exploiting the fur trade and in converting the Native Alaskans to the Russian Orthodox faith. They never really established Russian colonies in Alaska, and after Alaska was sold to the United States most of the Russians who were here left.

Nevertheless, they were relatively successful in converting many of the Natives. Consequently, many of the Native Alaskans today practice the Russian Orthodox faith.

In Eklutna, there is a beautiful orthodox chruch and cemetary. Together they combine many of the traditions of both the Russian orthodox and the Athabascan. In the cemetary, for instance, you see "spirit houses" which were built to "house" the spirit of the dead until they left for "the next" journey!

Russian Orthodox Church at Eklutna
Russian Orthodox Church at Eklutna
Eklutna Cemetary
Eklutna Cemetary
Eklutna Cemetary
Eklutna Cemetary

Palmer and the Mat-Su Valley

After Eklunta, we went to Palmer...the center of the Matsu Valley. During the Depression, FDR and the government sent some 200 families from Wisconsin and Minnesota to Palmer. They were chosen to start a cooperative society in which everyone worked for the benefit of the group. It was an amazing experiment in "American socialism" that worked.

From Palmer we went to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Up until the second World War, this was one of the many gold mines in the area that had been fairly successful. The owners of the mine felt "happy workers would be good workers" ....and so the mining camp has everything from dormitories and mess halls to an area for married employees. Needless to say, the area is slowly falling apart, but it was interesting, there was a lot of history there, and we spend a good many hours going on a tour and wandering around.

Independence Mine1 Independence Mine2
Independence Mine State Historical Park

Independence Mine3 Independence Mine4
Independence Mine State Historical Park and one of the last miners

Then the next day, we drove up to the Hatcher Pass which is next to the mine. The picture speaks for itself....the scenery was amazing, the weather was cloudy, and it was a good place a spend a few hours. And on the way back down the moutain, we stopped to hike on the Gold Mint Trail...and to give Oliver a chance to pan for gold in the stream (or just swim a little!)

Hatcher Pass
Hatcher Pass
Gold Mint Trail
A Spot Along the Gold Mint Trail

On the way out of Palmer, we passed the Matanuska Glacier...another one of Alaska's famous and amazing glaciers that can be seen right from the side of the road. It's huge!

Matanuska Glacier2 Matanuska Glacier2
The Matanuska Glacier

The Worthington Glacier and Valdez

From Palmer and the Matsu Valley, we were headed towards Valdez. On the way, we not only passed Manatuska Glacier, but the famous Worthington Glacier! Unlike the tidal glaciers found in many of the bays and sounds of Alaska, these inland glaciers are called either "hanging glaciers" or just glaciers with terminal moraines.

Worthington is another huge, impressive, and amazing glacier...and being so different for two people and a dog from New Jersey, we just had to stop and stare for a while!

Worthington Glacier
Worthington Glacier
Worthington Glacier
Worthington Glacier

Eventually we got to Valdez...and the Prince William Sound. Again, impressive, beautiful and amazing!

What we normally hear about Valdez is that it's the southern final terminus of the Alaskan pipeline, and the place from which the Exxon Valdez departed before it ran around years ago. But the oil terminal is on the "other side" of the harbor area, it's barely visible from the town, and the town itself is very interesting and relaxing.

A typical fishing town, we camped in a site right on the bay, and right across from a salmon fish cannery. And so in addition to some wonderful views and lots of magnificant scenery (complete with sea otters floating right by the campground), we also bought some fresh and some frozen salmon from the cannery.

Valdez Harbor
Valdez Harbor
South Terminal of Alaskan Pipeline
Southern Terminal of Alaskan Pipeline

Valdez and Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound has a reputation for being calm, for lots of wildlife, for lots of tidal glaciers, and for being just beautiful. And it is!

LIke many tourists, we went on a day cruise to see the whales and the Columbia Glacier. And we saw whales (several of them) and got very close to the glacier. Unlike our trip in Seward, where the boat could go right up to the glacier and we could listen to and watch the glacier calving, Columbia glacier is several miles behind the terminal morraine which is at the "water's edge." But unlike the Holgate Glacier, at Columbia we saw literally hundreds of ice bergs and pieces of ice....all floating from having been broken off from the glacier. Needless to say it was cold (see how bundled up Sara is in the picture!), but it was neat!

Valdez Sound
Valdez Sound
Sara at the Columbia Glacier
Sara at the Columbia Glacier

Sara at the Columbia Glacier Sara at the Columbia Glacier
Ice floating at the end of the Columbia Glacier>

Valdez Lions Valdez Whale
One of our whales diving down!

Wrangells-St. Elias NP

From Valdez, we drove up to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park----which is huge! Six times bigger than Yellowstone NP, larger than the country of Switzerland, and as large as the states of Vermont, New Hamshire, and Rhode Island combined. And yet ironically, Wrangell-St. Elias is probably one of the least accessible parks in the National Park system. There are only two roads which go into it...both are unpaved and both are not recommended for the faint of heart!

One goes for 61 miles on top of the old railroad tracks and line from the tiny, charming little town of Chitina to McCarthy and Kennicott. It's known for ruining tires and so the usual recommendation is that you have two spare tires with you. The other road goes for 46 miles to the former Nesbena mine in the interior. It also is unpaved, rutted, and in pretty bad condition.

With our old Subaru with over 235,000 miles and its "check engine" light on more than it's off, we decided to only go on the McCarthy Road until it crossed the Copper River, and then turned around. And on the Nesbena Road, we went about half way and then turned around by "Dead Dog Hill." Oliver had wanted to see this historic spot along the road that was named for "his kind", and so we drove there ...but turned around before we got to the part where the dog died and where cars have to ford streams!

Nevertheless, Wrangell-St. Elias is magnificant. Its mountains are among the highest, its wilderness among the best preserved, and with its inaccessibility, it probably will stay very much the way it is today for decades to come!

Mount Drum at Wrangell-St. Elias NP Mt. Drum at Wrangell-St. Elias NP Mt. Drum at Wrangell-St. Elias NP
Views of Mt. Drum from Visitor Center of Wrangell-St. Elias NP>

Mount Drum at Wrangell-St. Elias NP
More Views of the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias NP>

Main Street in Chitina, Alaska (in the middle of the National Park)
and some fish caught there on the Copper River
Chitina Fish

Finally after Wrangel-St. Elias, we headed north towards Tok where we would rejoin the Alaskan Highway and start heading home.

While in Tok, we had hoped to make it to Eagle...but once again the weather was bad. To get to Eagle, you drive 95 miles first to Chicken on a paved road, and then go for 65 miles on a winding, dirt and gravel road that isn't very well maintained. We had gone from Tok to Chicken and about a third of the way to Eagle on our way through when we first arrived in Alaska but turned back when it started to rain and the road began to get a little slick. We had hoped to go to Eagle on the way home, and packed for it....but again it was cloudy and rainy...and so we headed on south to the Canadian border, back to the Yukon Territory and past Kluane NP and Haines Junction (on a clear day this time), and then to Whitehorse (where we spent another two days including a night at the "Frantic Follies" and more time on the Yukon River.) From Whitehorse, we headed to the Cassier Highway---and the beginning of our 4600 miles journey home.

Kluane ANP
The mountains of Kluane NP
Miles Canyon
Outside Whitehorse,
where the Yukon River goes through Miles Canyon
Klondike II
The Klondike II
Canadian Parks

Bruce and Sara--Travels in 2008 (Opening Page)

Jan to April 2008---The SAM Shortline in Cordele, GA

April 1st to April 13, 2008---Driving from GA to Big Bend NP, TX

April 14 to April 23, 2008---Driving from Carlsbad Caverns NP to Mesa Verde NP

April 24 to May 4, 2008---Snow in Yellowstone, a Change in Plans, and a Detour to Zion NP

May 4 to May 11, 2008---From Zion NP to Salt Lake City and Glacier, and then to Canada

May 12 to May 16, 2008---Kootenay, Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks Yoho)

May 16 to May 25, 2008---The Alaskan Highway---From Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Skagway, Alaska

May 25 to June 7, 2008---Southeast Alaska--Skagway, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines

June 8 to June 21, 2008---Haines Junction, Fairbanks, and Denali

June 22 to July 4, 2008---The Kenai Peninsula: Portgage, Seward, and Homer

July 5 to July 22, 2008---Whittier, Anchorage, Palmer, Valdez Prince William Sound and Wrangell-St. Elias NP

July 23 to July 28, 2008---Driving Down the Cassier Highay: Steward and Hyder

July 29 to August 14, 2008---Driving Home after 13,600 Miles

If you want to write to or contact Bruce and Sara, their email addresses are: bruce@schundler.net and/or sara@schundler.net

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