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.


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