Friday, August 17, 2012

Valdez to Haines, Alaska

Wed, Aug. 8th - Tue, Aug. 14th                                              
Alaska Highway, winding in and winding out, fills my mind with serious doubt, as to whether the "lout" who planned this route, was going to hell or coming out!  A cute little poem I saw on a sign somewhere.  It seemed appropriate.  On Wednesday as we left Valdez and headed back up toward Thompson Pass, we passed a stretch of trees that only grow limbs on one side due to the extreme weather conditions here.  Kind of strange looking.  

We stopped for a closer look at Worthington Glacier, and a short walk.  This bike was in the picnic shelter there.  I really like to bike, but I sure like the way we travel better, especially here where there are so many mountains and so much rain. 

If you look really close, you can see a couple people hiking way up on the left side about half way up to the glacier.  They are just a little red and blue speck.  Gives you some idea of the size of the glacier and the distance to hike up to it. 

I think this is the Klutina River near Copper Center.  We drove all the way back to Tok and spent the night behind a gas station.  The next day we filled up, washed the RV, had lunch and headed out. 

A pair of Trumpeter Swans on a pond along the road.  Swans don't tolerate other swans (or humans) on "their" lake, but they coexist with muskrats, shorebirds and the only amphibian in Alaska, the wood frog.  Alaska has no reptiles.  The Trumpeter Swan mates for life and lives 15 to 25 years.  It weighs 20 to 30 pounds and has a 6 to 8 foot wing span.  

This is the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Tanana Valley.  Sandhill Cranes migrate here and Trumpeter Swans live here. 

In 1982 there were only 56 Trumpeter Swans in the Upper Tanana Valley.  Now there are thousands.  They say there are a million lakes in Alaska and I believe it.   Some are just ponds, but many are so large, that we drive along side them for many miles.  

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in the small town of Beaver Creek, just a few miles into the Yukon after we left Alaska.  It was built in 1961 from a salvaged quonset hut left over from the Alaska Highway construction days.  It is one of three Catholic missions on the north Alaska Highway.  The others are in Burwash Landing and Haines Junction.  Beaver Creek is the most westerly community in Canada.  It is 4,700 miles from the most easterly community of Cape Spear, Newfoundland. 

We spent the night at Yukon Government Lake Creek Campground.  The campground is in the trees just to the left of this picture and the Koidern River winds right around the edge of the campsites.  View of the Kluane Mountain Range, which has nine of the sixteen highest peaks in Canada. 

This giant gold pan is next to the Kluane (klu-ony) Museum of Natural History at Burwash Landing, population 84, on Kluane Lake.  The museum costs $3.00 and it's very good.  It has lots of wonderful animal mounts, native artifacts and art, and includes a tour of the Catholic mission built in 1944 using an unfinished army mess hall, a log cabin and other leftover materials.  The school was closed in 1952, but the church is still in use. 

This is down at the beach at Burwash Landing.  Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon Territory covering 154 square miles.  Just down the road, Destruction Bay, population 55, was one of the many relay stations during the building of the highway, placed every 100 miles or so to give the truck drivers a break.  Named because of a storm that detroyed buildings and materials during highway construction. 

 A little further down the road, another view of Kluane Lake.  I took about a dozen pictures out the window as we were driving by and they all turned out great.       

 It's hard to miss when your subject is so beautiful!  It's so clear and clean.  It looks so inviting.  Too bad it's way too cold to get in and swim. 

We spent the night at Yukon Government Pine Lake Campground, three miles outside Haines Junction.  This girl rode in on her bike and walked out to the end of the dock and just stood there.  I know how she feels.  Just another WOW moment.  

Oops, I guess I got momentarily distracted.  That zoom is good for things besides just grizzly bears. 

Our Lady of the Way Catholic Mission, also converted from an old quonset hut by Father Morriset in 1943.  I think he was responsible for the construction of all three missions.  This one has the distinction of being the most photographed church in the Yukon.  Notice the storage building in the back is also a quonset. 

View of Kathleen Lake from above, just a few miles south of Haines Junction.  Kathleen Lake is home to a type of Salmon called the Kokanee, a sockeye that no longer returns to the ocean as part of it's life cycle.  It became landlocked in the 1700s when Lowell Glacier surged across the Alsek River blocking it's drainage to the Pacific.  It created an enormous lake.  The dam broke in 1850 and the whole lake may have drained in a day.  The Coastal Tlingit natives still tell of the tragic flood that swept many lives into the sea.  The salmon were trapped and forced to adapt. 

Today they spend their first 3 years in Kathleen Lake.  The fourth year they swim the short distance upstream to spawn in Sockeye Lake and die.  The dam's been gone for 160 years, but the Kokanee still do not return to the ocean, living proof of Kluane's glacial past.  They are the only natural occuring population of salmon in any Canadian National Park. 

A few miles down the road we stopped at Dezadeash Lake to hike a short, but interesting trail, according to the Milepost.  We hiked about the half mile it was supposed to be.  It started out as a boardwalk and went over a creek into the woods where it turned into a trail of wood chips.  Then it started to head uphill with lots of tree roots,  Finally we saw a couple flights of stairs and a landing at the top, so we figured we had made it to the observation platform. 

At the platform, this is what we saw.  A very interesting trail indeed.  A rock glacier born from bare rock and old glacial ice amid the rugged peaks of St. Elias Mountains.  Once a trade route for the Tlingits, the trail climbs onto the toe of a rock glacier.  There is a sort of switchback trail among the loose rocks just about up to where the grass starts. 

From there, the trail continues way up into the hills where you might very well encounter grizzlies.  At the top of the rocks we met an older gentleman and his son from New Zealand and had a very nice visit, before we headed back down Rock Glacier Trail. 

Beautiful views of Dezadeash (DEZ-dee-ash) Lake for several miles aong the highway. 

Just a typical Alaskan with a big, old dog in the front seat, waiting for the pilot car, AGAIN.  I guess I shouldn't say typical, because the average age in Alaska is 26. 

I thought the cloud above this mountain made it look like an erupting volcano.  And another of those fun, winding roads, that are so typical of the Alaska Highway. 

Getting close to Haines now.  This is part of the Alaska Chilcat Bald Eagle Preserve on the Chilcat River.      

In late fall 3,000 to 4,000 bald eagles congregate here to feast on the late run of chum salmon and fatten up for the winter.  People come from all over the world to watch the spectacle. 

For a ten mile stretch just north of Haines, it is free camping in any pull out area you can find.  So we picked a spot and spent the night before heading into town.  Notice the sign. 

View of the small boat harbor in Haines.  We stayed at the Hitch-Up RV Park while we were in Haines.  It's a very nice park about six blocks from downtown and the harbor.   

We drove ten miles out on Lutak road past the ferry harbor to watch the bears fishing where the salmon were running up river.  Unfortunately, we didn't see any bears, just lots of people fishing and one seal swimming around. 

And some more very pretty scenery, of course. 

Just a little group of very rustic old buildings on main street. 
A war memorial in front of a church on main street.  Seemed a little unusual.  I don't think we've ever seen a war memorial in front of a church before. 
This is Dalton City at the fairgrounds in Haines.  It is an old movie set that was used in the remake of Disney's "White Fang" in the 90s.  It is also being used now for a new show called "Gold Rush" on the Discovery Channel, I think.  It's about a kid from here in Haines, who took over the running of his Grandfather's gold mine. 

This is an owl at the American Bald Eagle Foundation Interpretive Center.  They do rehab on injured birds. 

This is Scotty.  He is a permanent resident, because his wing is too injured for him to ever be able to fly well enough to survive in the wild.  So we got to watch his feeding and listen to a talk about eagles.  They also have a very nice museum here with all kinds of animal mounts and birds, fish and other sea creatures. 

We had to check out the hammer museum.  It was only $3.00 and they have over 1,500 different hammers.  He had his collection at home, but his wife got fed up and told him he had to get rid of it, so he opened the museum.  He claimed to be the only hammer museum in the world, but found out that some guy in Lithuania has started one, but it is much smaller. 

This is just one small corner, showing all the patents on different designs of hammers.  John making his usual joke, asked if they had a wrench hammer.  He said that's what they always used on the farm, when they couldn't find the hammer.  But it turns out they actually had one.  It is a wrench with a hammer head on the side of one end of the wrench. 

This is one he was inspired to create himself, when the octo-mom was so much in the news.  Looks to me like this was about as smart an idea, as she and her doctor had.  Probably the point he was trying to make.  They also have an autographed hammer from Tim the Toolman Taylor (Tim Allen). 

I wonder if these really work?  The husband trainer and the husband tamer.  I doubt it, or there would be infomercials on TV, and they would be selling like hot cakes.

Tomorrow we will be taking a boat cruise over to Juneau for the day, and then heading for Skagway on the ferry Wednesday for a couple days.  Then we will be leaving Alaska and heading back toward Montana to spend some time with our kids and grandkids before it gets too cold.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Palmer to Valdez to Tok, Alaska

Fri, Aug. 3rd - Wed, Aug. 8th

We left Anchorage on our anniversary and stopped in nearby Palmer.  Palmer was an agricultural experiment in the early 30s.   The Matanuska Valley Colony was one of the New Deal relief programs during FDR's first year.  Most of them came from the northern counties of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to get a new start after the Depression.  Palmer is the area where all the amazing giant, record-setting vegetables are produced.  This is a view of the Matanuska River as we were leaving town. 

Just a few miles outside town, we stopped to tour the Musk Ox Farm.   A native cooperative uses the fine wool, qiviut (keevute), native for "the bearded one", to knit beautiful and warm hats, scarves, etc.  The qiviut underwool is one of the finest fibers on earth, softer than cashmere and 8 times warmer than sheep's wool.  The musk oxen were in Alaska 600,000 years ago, but were extinct by 1865 due to harsh winters and natives hunting them to sell the meat to Russian whaling ships.  In 1930 Congress paid $40,000 to reintroduce 34 of them from Greenland, indigenous animals to support indigenous people.  They were captured, shipped to New York, sent by train to Seattle, boat to Seward and train to Fairbanks.  They all survived the four month trip and now there are over 3,000 in Alaska.  Human skin freezes in 30 seconds at -80 degrees, but it's just another day for the musk ox.  Our guide is feeding the calves some grass.  The native knitters are from different villages around the state and each village has a certain pattern they use that tells the story of their village.  They each pay a $2.00 annual fee to be in the co-op.  They are sent the yarn and when they complete a garment and send it in, a check is immediately sent back to them for 90% of the price it is sold for.  Our guide is wearing one of the items around her neck.  The price in their gift shop was about $320.00.  A couple ladies on our tour already owned one and another was buying one.   Each musk ox produces 4 to 7 pounds of qiviut in the spring.  It takes 2 oz. to make one cap.  The oxen are put in a squeeze chute and combed with a pick 3 to 4 times between April and June, taking two hours.  It will not shrink in any temperature, but cannot be dyed, because it ruins it's properties that make it soft and warm. 
Matanuska Glacier coming from the Chugach Mountains.  It is 27 miles long and four miles wide at the terminus.  We camped at the free campground at Little Nelchina State Recreaction Site.   

Just another pretty view along the way.   Fireweed and Red Squirrel grass in the foreground.  Somewhere along the way, we passed a nice little log home with a shiny, green metal roof.  There was a yellow snowmobile on the roof heading uphill and a big spill of red paint running down the roof to look like blood.  Once again, that Alaskan sense of humor.  A little further down the road, there was a full-size Clydesdale on the roof. 

We took a little side road to see Lake Louise, a popular recreation area with locals, and several other pretty lakes along the way.  On our return to the Glenn Highway we had great views of the Tazlina Glacier, but the pictures didn't turn out very good. 

This is a view in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the country, six times the size of Yellowstone, bigger than Switzerland with higher mountains and a glacier bigger than Rhode Island.  Mt. Wrangell is one of the largest continental volcanos in the world and had several minor eruptions in the 20th century.  It butts up against Kluane National Park in Canada where there are nine of the highest sixteen peaks in Canada.  Alaska has 15 national parks protecting over 54 million acres.  

We drove a little loop off the highway to check out the small town of Copper Center, that the book said was well worth a visit.  Unfortunately, their historic roadhouse has burned down recently.  They do have two small museums and a cafe that is supposed to have great burgers, but we didn't stop, except for this picture that I couldn't pass up. 

This is Worthington Glacier down toward Valdez, near Thompson Pass, which the National Climatic Center credits with the snowfall extremes in Alaska.  Their record snowfalls are 974.5 inches in 1952-53, 298 inches in February, 1953 and 62 inches in 24 hours in December, 1955.   There is extreme heli-skiing somewhere in this area in February and March. 

We spent our first night in Valdez across the bay from the town and right next to the Valdez Marine Terminal, where the oil comes down the 800-mile Alyeska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, to the northern-most, ice-free port in North America.  The pipeline cost $7.7 billion and, at the time, was the largest ever privately funded project.  At it's peak it carried 2 million barrels per day, over 15 billion barrels to date.  This is a really beautiful and peaceful place to camp.  I went outside about ten oclock and it was still a little light out.  I could hear a seal or sea lion each time it came up for air.  Kind of cool. 

This is the terminal next to us covering 1,000 acres with 14 storage  tanks.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill on Good Friday in 1989 was the largest oil spill in North America, but not even in the top fifty worldwide.  Exxon claims to have leaked 11 million gallons, but some experts say as much as 38 million gallons.  Estimated deaths were 250,000 sea birds, 2,600 sea otters, 300 harbor seals and up to 22 orcas.  They were getting 10 to 30 otters per day at the rehab site during cleanup, all screaming.  They were gouging their eyes out, there was so much pain.  

This is a view of the terminal after dark.  Tankers are now all required to be double-hulled and all tankers entering Prince William Sound must be escorted by two tug boats the entire way to the terminal.  There is a $32,500 fine for aproaching any closer than 200 yards from a moving tanker or .8 miles off shore from the terminal and all vehicles must stand clear whenever a tank vessel enters the Valdez narrows.  It's called the Alyeska Marine Terminal Security Zone, the Tank Vessel Moving Security Zone and the Valdez Narrows Security Zone.  

This is the view from our camper of the town of Valdez across the bay, about a five mile drive around the end of the bay where old town Valdez was located before the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964.  The earthquake caused water to slosh in wells in Africa, swimming pools in Puerto Rico and Australia, and canals in Louisiana.  Old Town was built on loose, granular, glacial outwash which began to saturate with water, a process called liquifaction.  The soil slid into the ocean with the entire waterfront and 32 townspeople who were never seen again. 

On our way into town we stopped at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery Fish Weir where pink and coho salmon are spawned, hatched and released.  They return a year later after maturing in the Gulf of Alaska. 

It is kind of crazy to watch them just keep throwing themselves at the gate trying to get upstream to spawn and die.   

This is an oil tanker making it's way into the terminal.  Before crude can be transferred to the tankers, crews must place an oil spill containment boom around the entire berth. 
This is one of a couple piles of snow almost as big as a building. August, and it still hasn't melted.  No wonder they have glaciers here.  It has been a cool summer, but wow! 
We went on a little hike to an overlook.  This is a view of a park with a little lake where the kids swim, and the waterfront, looking straight across to the Valdez Marine Terminal and where we were camped Saturday.  There are three campgrounds right in town about a block or two from the small boat harbor.  We stayed three nights at the Eagle's Rest RV Park.  

Nice bumper sticker.  Seems like a cause we could support. 
As luck would have it, it happened to be the 50th Anniversary of the Gold Rush Days the weekend we were here.  Sunday was the fourth day of their celebration and they had a parade.  Our favorite was the Marching Band.  Looked like a father and son.  Check out their sign. 

The Gold Rush Queen was an old lady.  I think she was one of the founders of the Gold Rush celebration. 

The saloon girls, young and old, were in the Hoosegow. 
A little local talent. 
A litttle younger local talent. 

Duct tape boat competition.  The boats had to be made entirely out of duct tape and cardboard and float with two people in them.  These were a few of the better ones.  As you can imagine, there were also some pretty basic to pathetic ones.   I wonder if they contacted Red Green for any advice. 

On another hike up in the hills, looking down over the waterfront, where the the stage is set up for the finale entertainment of the Gold Rush Days.  And guess who the entertainment was. 

Yes, the King, himself, all the way from Fairbanks.  Actually, he was really pretty good.  Believe it or not, old ladies were going up for kisses and to get one of his sweaty neck scarves.  Well, I guess if you can't have the real thing... no I did not go up, but I did enjoy the show... when the helicopter wasn't landing every 15 minutes to take people on glacier tours. 

They had a room of old pictures on display in the museum with comments the public had posted on them.  This one said, "Seriously Marge??  You 'forgot' to buy a derby ticket?"  Derbies are a huge deal in these seaport towns with prize money of a $100,000 or more.  There is a big sign at the small boat harbor that says, "Valdez, Alaska, where friends don't let friends fish without a derby ticket."  I actually saw the Weigh-In Station as we drove into town, and I thought, "If we have to weigh in, we're in trouble..., oh it's just for the fish, thank goodness."   

This one said, "OK Wilbur, it's not funny anymore.  Let me down."  If you don't get this, I guess Mr. Ed, the talking horse, was before your time. 

Walking around town, we came across this sculpture on the small college campus here.  It was done by Peter "Wolf" Toth, best known as a humanitarian artist with a dream to honor the American Indian.  He has traveled throughout America creating his heroic monuments.  He started his mission in 1971 and has more than 70 sculptures in all fifty states, Canada and Hungary.  The "Whispering Giants" are prominently displayed in parks, on museum grounds, Indian reservations, Interstate welcome centers and library and courthouse lawns.  This giant is carved from a Sitka Spruce, is 30 feet tall, 10 feet wide, weighs 85,000 pounds, is #40 and was done in October, 1981. 

While we were walking on the pier, we happened to visit with the guys from these boats, that are similar to the boats on the Deadliest Catch TV show.  They said those boats were likely in the area and that they would not want those camera guys on their boats.  They said it would not be worth the extra money, plus those shows are edited!  One guy repeated, "Believe me! They are EDITED!  I'm sure that's very true. 

Notice the name on this boat in the small boat harbor.  Some other interesting ones we saw were ViQueen, Reely Rok'n, Buoy Base, Pleasure Pole, Seaduction, Git-R-Done and Lip Ripper (with a picture of a hooked fish).  

Walking around town, I noticed this lawn ornament.  It was a wrought iron tree with colored bottles on the branches and it sparkled in the sun.  I looked kind of neat. 

They also have the world's largest floating dock here, the Valdez Container & General Purpose Marine Terminal.   Wednesday we left for Tok and spent the night camped behind a gas station.  In the morning we filled up with gas, washed the RV, had lunch at Fast Eddy's, which was recommended to us by a park ranger at Wrangell-St. Elias.  Then we headed toward Haines. 

Alaska, where the men are men, and the women are, too.