Friday, July 10, 2009

25-09 Valdez Alaska


Anchorage to Valdez Alaska

Campground: Boardwalk Rv Park, Glennallen AK. $20, Full hookups. Very basic, just a place to park for the night.

Campground: Bayside Rv Park, Valdez AK. $31 for a pull thru site, Full hookups w/cable Tv. Many Rv parks in Valdez, most within the city limits. Could have gotten a cheaper spot, but decided to splurge.

A couple of notes before leaving Anchorage. The highways in and around Anchorage are very rutted. What I mean is, that they have depressions just like the old wagon trains would have made, only on asphalt. Hard to see, but you sure can feel it. The first time I experienced the ruts, it felt like I was driving on glass as my wheels kept drifting to the depressions in the roadway. Very uncomfortable feeling.

Mosquitoes. I’ve heard from many folks that the mosquitoes would eat one alive and to use lots of repellent. One of the visitor center guys asked me if I’d been eaten alive yet. I said no and he proceeded to pull up his pants leg and showed me all the mosquito bites he has. Guess I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had any really bad experiences with the little vermin and haven’t come across any of the horrid horse flies that apparently take chunks of flesh when they bite you. Each persons experiences are different of course. I do use insect repellant if I’m going to be outdoors for long periods. Of course I’m keeping pretty covered up as well and haven’t put on my shorts even though many days they would be more comfortable. The extra coverage of keeping full length pants on does help and I don’t have to put on as much bug spray.

Leaving Anchorage.

I’m leaving my temporary home in Anchorage and heading out on hwy 1, The Glenn Hwy heading towards my next destination Valdez. I have become addicted to travel, to the point that while in Anchorage for 8 days, my last couple of days I was eager to get back on the road with my camper. The Glenn Hwy is a bit rough, having many perma frost dips along the way forcing me to go slower than I normally would go, even for me. 55 tops, with 50 being the speed most of these perma frost dips can be taken without dislodging everything in the camper.

I hadn’t seen any wild life along hwy 1 and just as I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to see a moose, I glanced over towards a pristine pond edged in a narrow band of green grass and black spruce trees behind it all. The moose was huge, just standing there at the edge of the pond. Probably trying to cool off. The last couple of days I’ve actually started to run my a/c in the camper. Today it got up to 90 while driving down the road. The campsite I stayed at overnight for $20 had signs everywhere, “absolutely no electric heaters”. Not a problem, I had the A/C running most of the evening.

As I left Glennallen AK, which is a cross roads town with all the basic services. Keep in mind, these “town“ with maybe a half a dozen buildings are usually 60 to 100 miles apart. So stopping to get gas etc are essential to make it to the next stop. I headed on down hwy 4, Richardson Hwy. Now my Mile Post book said the road descended and were they right. All except for an 8% grade, the other 75 miles was a constant gradual descent. Easy on the gas, that is until I take the return trip back uphill all the way. Only one road in and one road out of Valdez. The road was pretty bumpy as well from perma frost, but there was only one section of construction along the hwy.

Even with the smog and mist from the forest fires (there are 70 currently active fires in the state) the scenery continues to become more dynamic. From primordial forests and flat wet lands the scenery suddenly changes into mountain ranges as I continue to descend along the Richardson hwy. The mountain ranges with their numerous glaciers look so massive, at times, the closer I get to them, they completely block out my view of the sky. Even with them shrouded in mist from the forest fires, they occasionally peak out and I’m almost blown away by the size and number of mountains as I get closer to Valdez.
I’m able to see the Trans Alaskan Pipeline as well on my left side, gleaming in the diffused sunlight, between trees and the many lakes. Amazing to be going down a steep hill, looking over and seeing a lake along the side of a mountain range where it levels off just enough to have created a lake. I thought about starting to count the lakes as I passed each one by, but I’m not sure I learned how to count that high. And speaking of water, the Copper River and many tributaries follow along the same path as the hwy. A huge raging river, filled with acres of fallen trees being swept down to sea, many getting stuck on the vast shallow rock expanses of glacial debris along the rivers path. Everything seems to be bigger and more expansive up here.

Finally crossing over Thompson Pass and descending down into Valdez after numerous stops along the way, I pulled into the Bayside Rv park, right on the edge of New Valdez. You may remember back in 1964 when the earthquake hit, Valdez was the closest big town near the epicenter. It destroyed the Old town and swept away the shipping docks. They ended up moving the town a few miles west to safer ground, where I’m at today.

I’ve fallen in love with this seaside town the minute I entered it. I’ve heard from other travelers that there’s nothing here, just a small fishing port and that’s it. The big thing I’ve learned on this trip is to go find out for yourself. This is my kind of town. The Rv park where I’m staying is within walking distance of the harbor, less than a block away. I can ride my bike anywhere in town. The roads are wide and the traffic is light. We are literally at the end of the road. They even have some bike paths. I’ve already been out on my bike 4 times today.
Valdese, population: 3843.

Ta, dah…. I finally took a glacier tour here in Valdez. If you make it to Alaska there are many glacier tours one could take out of Whittier, Seward, Valdez and a number of other places. The timing was right and it was a perfect day for a tour so I took the Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife cruise. They have 6 hr and 9 ½ hour tours and I decided to go all the way and take the 9 ½ hour tour which included two fiords leading to the Columbia Glacier and the Mears Glacier.

I know my friend Linda Hill from work who will be taking a similar tour in a couple more weeks will really enjoy it. My tour was on a double hulled ship which was smooth as butter on the water. Right off the bat I met a couple named Doug and Peggy who know Ed and Sandy (Desert Trails campers) from Spokane Wash. Small world.

We all thought there’d be some down time during the 9+ hour tour, but we were kept busy the entire time viewing wildlife, scenery and the two main glaciers. Oh and the lunch and later on they served clam chowder as a snack. What a deal. I was exhausted running from one side of the boat to the other and back to get as many good shots as possible.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow description of the tour. Just know that it was great to see all of the wildlife. It was almost as if it was timed perfectly throughout the tour. I guess seeing the hump back whales was the most exciting. The sea otters were the cutest. Eagles fly overhead every once and a while. Wish I could have gotten a good shot of the puffins, but they fly off as soon as the boat got close to them. Though if they eat too much, they have trouble taking off.

And the views of the glaciers up close was as expected, awesome. We only saw one small section calving off the edge of the glacier, but just sitting there with the engines turned off, listening to the creaking, groaning and popping sounds of the ice, then if you were lucky, seeing some ice calve off was pretty darn cool. Occasionally seeing small avalanches of ice and snow billowing off of the glacier, creating puffs of snow clouds. Just one of those experiences in life that has to be seen to appreciate it fully.

That’s it for today, I’m sending out this report and celebrating my B-Day, though I don’t know why. I’ve reached that age where everyone assumes you’re a senior citizen… the face does not lie. But I will tell you, I feel young inside and my spirit has soared just by being on this adventure. So all in all, it’s a good day.

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