Valdez to the Kenai Peninsula
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06/11- Left Valdez traveling north on the Richardson Hwy (Hwy 1) to visit several of the attractions recommended by the Valdez Visitor Center. Stopped briefly to visit the Worthinghton Glacier. They are studying here to understand the movement patterns of glaciers. Had bored holes 600 feet through the ice to bedrock to analyze the contents for age. Also studying the 'ice worms'. Next to the 'Fish Wheels' on the Copper River at Chitina (pronounced chitna). Chitina is a town of 132 residents and has one of the oldest buildings in Alaska. Will do a drive by shooting on the way out. (camera only). Looked at the local airport. Interesting parking arrangements. Stopped at the Ranger Station for the Wrangel-Elias National Park. (manned by town volunteers) and was directed to a campground close to the fish wheels. No hookups. No TV. No phone. No water. No FEE! (and this is government owned?) Found a campsite and provided the evening entertainment backing in to what would be a large tent space. Asked one of the other campers about the fish wheels and got the story. Special resident only permit. 500 fish per year limit (for family subsistence) on the upstream side of the bridge. Dip neting limit is 30 fish. AND if you are 60 or older, the license is free. These are Red Salmon. He showed me his coolers (plural!) of his weekend catch. Then instructed me to obtain a plastic bag that would hold a fish that I didn't know where it had come from. Lots of friendly conversation. Later I got out the barbeque. DELICIOUS! It was so fresh it jumped on the grill by itself. Two more pieces are in the freezer for later in the trip. Life is good! Saw the fish wheels, each one with an individual design, but all like a ferris wheel that scooped up an unwary passing fish and dumped it in a basket. No pole. No line. No bait. Just FISH. Today we definitely got off the beaten path. There are no tour buses that come here. It was 35 miles off the highway on a narrow road that turned to gravel every so often. I would love to continue on to the Kenicut Copper mine, but the locals highly recommended against it due to the conditions of the road. one said "Well, there's a little water on the road in places but no more than about 2 feet". We passed on the opportunity.
06/12 - Started the day with the usual pot of coffee and a stroll up the road to take a few pictures of the fishermen camping with their fish wheels on the bank of the Copper River. Beautiful morning. 51 degrees and sunny. Stopped briefly as we passed back through Chitina to shoot the Chitina Hotel. Has been completely renovated but we did not go in. Must have fresh eggs for breakfast as there was a chicken coop on the front 'lawn' with a rooster welcoming the day. Surprising numer of homes along the road varying from old cabins to new modern construction. Even had a place offering Lattes and Mocha. But NO STARBUCKS! Give them time. Heading for Palmer for the night we ran into a lot of road work and some light rain. Some beautiful views along the road so had to stop and get the camera out. The scenery going through the mountain pass was great. Saw many flight services and small airports as we traveled. Almost all single engine and many float planes. Arrived Palmer to find a fairly new style small city. All of the homes seemed to be well kept with no old style cabins in sight. Palmer is the heart of a large agricultural district of primarily Scandinavian residents. Found diesel at $2.84/gal. Checked into the Homestead RV Park on the west side of town and barbequed lamb skewers as the light rain began.
06/13 - The trip through Anchorage to Whitier was interesting. Left Palmer on a normal two lane road that a few mile later turned to a FREEWAY. FOUR Lanes. Then 6. Divided. Speed limit 65. Traffic stopped when we arrived in Anchorage. Seems we had found the first stop light in Alaska! The freeway ended and we were on a city street lined with businesses including a mall with Gottschalks, and a STARBUCKS. Saw one of every store we see in the lower 48 in the next few miles. Saw the sign for SEWARD pointing left and being that we were now in the right lane mad a series of turns to get back on route. Leaving town a few moments later we were on another 4 lane that became a good two lane along the shore. The Alaska Railroad and the highway paralleled the shore along the way. Stopped for pictures at several of the many turnouts and then found our destination near the Portage Glacier on the road that leads to Whittier. Unhitched the trailer and on our way to Whittier. The tunnel to Whittier was built during WWII to transport military supplies and is 2 1/2 miles long through solid rock. Toll $12 for passenger vehicles. Open to Whittier one the half hour and return on the hour. (unless a train is going through). Very strange driving through a tunnel over railroad tracks. Had lunch on the dock and spent 10 minutes touring the town. (it's really small) Saw no homes. Just one large condominium much like a New York apartment building. The railroad yard and freight dock occupy the majority of the town. Many day cruise, kayaking, and gift shops on the waterfront. Also a cruise ship was in port. Went back through the tunnel at 1 PM to visit the Begich - Boggs visitor center for the Portage Glacier. Nice new building with outstanding exhibits and a film on the glacier that was so good I bought the DVD in the gift shop. Many scenes of the glacier "calving" big chunks of ice with the actual sounds. On to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center www.alaskawildlife.org to see some rescued animals. Much like a zoo in natural surroundings that contains animals that have been orphaned or injured. Learned that Reindeer are in the same family as Caribou and only the females never loose their antlers. Therefore Rudolph is really a girl! Hmmm. Enough for today. Back to the trailer for a pot of coffee, dinner and a good nights sleep. Beautiful evening. Sunny, a few fleecy clouds, about 65 degrees. Still light at 10 PM. Tomorrow Seward.
06/14 - Started down the road to Seward to find both a beautiful highway, beautiful scenery and major construction on the road. Looks like they are widening what winter narrowed! Stopped for a few pictures along the way. Got set up and headed for town. First, to book tomorrows cruise and then to the Alaska SeaLife Center, a very well done aquarium featuring Alaska sea birds and fish. Saw their film about global warming complete with the bicycle and compact fluorescent light propaganda. Kept my mouth shut (not easy) and planned a trip in my private jet as soon as possible. Been eating seafood for the past week (good diet) so decided it was time to burn a dead animal on the BBQ. Stopped at Safeway and found a top of the line store with prices not much higher than we are used to. Except for fresh fruit. Apples @ $2/lb, Peaches @ $3.59/lb and Potatoes @ $1.29/lb. The steak was excellent @ $6/lb.
06/15 - Down to the dock for another day cruise. This time, even a larger boat. Did not realize this when we bought the tickets yesterday. 250 passengers. And just about full. Saw some wildlife, but not as frequently as the other cruises. Could not see several of the glaciers due to the fog. The ride was smooth and overall a satisfactory experience. Got some nice photos of the fog hanging over the snow capped mountains and one several shots of an Orcha Whale fin. The return to port was mostly in the fog with foghorn sounding. Had a Parks Service Ranger on board that did a nice job with narrative, very pleasant and anxious to answer questions. One report from last week was 20 foot seas and a shortened cruise with half the passengers sick. Fortunately, the waters cooperated today and we had no problems.
06/16 - Heading towards Homer we stopped for the night at Soldotna. We are now in an area that has strong Russian history. The trip was through one of the prime salmon fishing areas. One fishing resort after another all the way. At the visitors center we saw pictures of the world record salmon caught. 97 1/2 lbs. The world famous Kenai river runs through Soldotna and the city provides 'fish walks' along the banks to eliminate erosion. Unfortunately, the salmon are a bit late in coming this year and only a few early arrivals were being caught. The technique here is called 'combat fishing' with fishermen lined up shoulder to shoulder along the bank. Limits are normal as the run is heavy. Did a bit of shopping at the Fred Meyers store (a northwest Walmart clone) and had a good dinner at the Bear's Den. The temperature got up to 73 degrees and the natives were complaining about the heat wave. We were pleased to not be cold!
06/17 - Back on track to Homer and the famous Homer Spit, a narrow peninsula sticking out in the water. It was Sunday and the entire spit was covered with cars and RVs. Fishing charters and gift shops occupy the entire place. Several RV Parks with nightly fees of $78. We opted for a quieter park on the bluff overlooking the spit at half the price! The view was spectacular. We are about 150 ft from the shore with a view of the water and several glaciers. Toured the town in about 20 minutes and decided to have lunch at a local hot spot. Ordered halibut, but the owner explained they had none as it was running $17/lb and he refused to pay the price. Instead had a bowl of some of the best oyster stew I have had since New Jersey. I counted 18 oysters. Quite a meal. Back to the trailer to warm up. It is cold, oozing rain and nasty here. NOT a pleasant climate. Talked with the group next to us. Traveling in a cabover camper and pulling a 22 foot boat with Michigan license. Under the front of the camper is a 6-8 cu ft freezer which they plan to fill with halibut. Watched a beautiful sunset between the mountains and the cloud layer. It was now 11 PM. Sunset!
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