Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bumps, Curves, Hills and Beautiful Scenery - Glenn Highway to Valdez

Saturday, June 27, 2009 - We left Girdwood and headed back north on the Seward Highway through Anchorage where we stopped for fuel. Outside of Anchorage we took the Glenn Highway heading toward Valdez. The highway which is designated as a national scenic by-way passes through beautiful mountains and forested areas, and passes the Matanuska Glacier. Although it is a beautiful drive it is strenuous due to steep inclines and declines, winding roads, and several areas with construction and frost heaves. We stopped for a break in Glennallen and decided to stay there for the night and go onto Valdez in the morning. We took advantage of the early stopover to do a little grocery shopping and laundry. I made a big pot of chili for dinner and after we ate we just relaxed for the evening.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 – Next stop Valdez. We left Glennallen and headed south on the Richardson Highway. Our first stop was at the ranger station of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park which is the largest park in the National Park System. This park is different from most national parks in that it is mostly wilderness, there is a sizeable amount of privately owned land, and subsistence hunting is allowed within the park boundaries. There is a single sixty mile long gravel road leading into the park with another ranger station and an historic copper mining town and mill. Since we have all had our fill of gravel roads we decided against driving all the way into the park. We continued driving down the Richardson Highway through amazingly beautiful mountains known as the “Switzerland of Alaska.” We stopped at the Worthington Glacier which is right off the highway and has interpretive signs and a path leading to a view platform. At your own risk, you are allowed to walk up to the glacier but it is not really advised and none of us was feeling particularly daring so we looked from a distance. There are many waterfalls throughout the mountains and we stopped and took pictures of one especially pretty one called Horsetail Falls. We got into Valdez around noon and checked into the Sea Otter RV Park. We have waterfront sites right on the Port of Valdez. We have seen barges and tugboats and there is a large cargo ship docked right near us. All evening we have watched and listened to thousands of birds feeding in the water. Bill and I drove around town a bit this afternoon and other than the mountains surrounding the town no one would ever describe Valdez as picturesque. The buildings are small, mostly older, and functional but not attractive. We had planned to go salmon fishing which is why most people come to Valdez but the salmon have not arrived so we will spend tomorrow taking a glacier and wildlife cruise aboard the LuLu Belle and perhaps be able to fish for salmon later in the trip.

Monday, June 29, 2009 – We had 2:00 PM reservations for a Wildlife and Glacier Tour aboard the LuLu Belle so we decided to go into town and look around before the trip. We visited a couple of stores and then met Bill and Pam at the Totem Restaurant for breakfast. The food was good, the portions generous, and the prices reasonable so you can’t get much better than that. Around 1:45 PM we made our way to the boat dock and after a few words of welcome from Captain Fred and his warning to wipe our feet before boarding so we don’t get his oriental rugs dirty we boarded the boat. With its oriental rugs and polished teak woodwork the LuLu Belle is a yacht more than a cruise boat. In addition, she is a smaller boat than those used by most of the other glacier cruises so it was easier to get up close to the shore to view sea life. We saw stellar sea lions, otter, porpoise, and horned puffins but despite the captain’s efforts we never saw any whales. The most awesome part of the trip was when he navigated the boat through a field of icebergs in Columbia Bay to get as close as possible to the glacier. We were able to get within 7 miles but were blocked from going further by the size of the icebergs. To stand on the deck of the boat and be surrounded on all sides by icebergs was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

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