Friday, July 27, 2018

Day 6, Getting Close to Saying Goodbye to Alaska....

"The Potato"
A side note before we leave the town of Valdez. We forgot to mention some of the places we ate while we were there! Roadside Potato Head, or the Potato for short, right down by the wharf. A very different menu, a little on the exotic side for our taste buds, some Mexican influence, and great food based on the 4.8 out of 5 star rating it gets. It's a really cute, cozy place and the breakfast burritos were good. Here is the menu when we ate there...

We also ate breakfast at the Fat Mermaid in Valdez. It gets 3.5 stars. Sparky just had to pose out front. The food was fine for breakfast. It's a restaurant/bar, about half and half, not much atmosphere, but we enjoyed our breakfast there.

For dinner one night, we ate at the local Chinese restaurant called Fu Kung. Sparky got a chuckle out of that name because she thinks that someone came up with the name by reversing Kung Fu. The food was excellent at this restaurant!

We left Bear Paw Campground in the morning. Deciding to explore the town a bit before we left, we went looking for moose (of course!) but didn't find any, the fish hatchery--which didn't seem to be open, and so we decided to get on the road, headed towards Palmer. At MM15, there's an old railroad tunnel with a great story about how there was a fight over who was going to build it. Nine companies fought over the right to build it. There was a gun battle and it ended up never getting built! But you can walk through it today and feel a little bit of history. 

We went through Thompson Pass and the snow fields....and passed three glaciers--the Tazlina Glacier, the Nelchina Glacier, (MM132) on the Glenn Highway) and the Matanuska Glacier. And wouldn't you many glaciers we can't remember which one this one is!

The weather was so rainy, we didn't get any good photos. But it was so cool to see the glaciers while we were driving.....By the time we got to Palmer, it was raining so hard and we were VERY hungry! We found plenty of room at the Mountain View RV Park (full hook ups, 40.00 a night) 3 miles east of Palmer, and were told you could get pizza delivered to your RV site! SOLD! And that's just what we did....ordered a pizza and enjoyed the rain.....

Tomorrow, on to Anchorage...except we changed our minds...See you in......DENALI, one last time!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Day 5 in Valdez

We arrived in Valdez after a spectacular drive to get there. (See previous post about the two major waterfalls in Keystone Canyon). We picked Bear Paw RV Park and were very happy we did. Forty dollars a night right in the heart of Valdez with the harbor right across the street. The staff was super friendly, the sites were reasonably spaced apart even though it's basically a parking lot, and they offer plenty of services. They have TWO parks in one...their second park is right near the first one, and it's for adults only. The second park was for much bigger rigs when we pulled in. The main park has crushed gravel, very level sites. They have private restrooms, a laundromat, a dump station, cable TV, Wi-fi and hot, unmetered showers. The adults only second park is their waterfront park on Prince William Sound, with larger and more wooded sites.

Stellar's Jay-courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service
We loved Bear Paw. Saw a bald eagle who visits daily in a tree just outside the office. Saw a Stellar's Jay while we were there in the park as well. Beautiful navy and royal blue jay....

Plenty of things to see and do in Valdez (Val-deez) with some great places to eat as well. Valdez has FIVE glaciers in the area that you can see and visit. One of the things Sparky wanted to do was take a cruise around the Prince William Sound with Captain Fred of the LuluBelle. She had read reviews of the two main glacier/wildlife cruises before leaving home. One was called the Stan Stephens glacier/wildlife cruise, and the other one was called LuluBelle Tours . Either one is spectacular, but the LuluBelle is a smaller boat and we thought the experience would be better with not such a big crowd on board. Not only that, but the Stan Stephens appears to have to run on a much tighter schedule and not have quite the flexibility of staying in the area if wildlife is being spotted. Since we were there early in the season, we had no trouble booking our tickets the day before the cruise. And we chose the LuluBelle. It's a posh touring vessel. Oriental rugs inside the stateroom and in the captain's cabin, teak and mahogany woodwork throughout, it's gorgeous. 

Captain Fred has been running these tours for 39 years and he really knows where to go and how long to hang out. We saw EVERYTHING that the opening page of the website talks about. We were exceptionally lucky the day we went. Did we see wildlife? Is the pope Catholic? Does a bear shit in the woods? Oh, YEAH! 

Harbor seals? Check.
Bald eagles? Check.
Stellar sea lions? Check. One big fat mama. Check.
Go into a rocky cave in the boat (!) and bang your head on the rocks if you don't watch out? Check. He actually went part way into the tunnel and the rocks were right over your head! He kept saying, "Want to get closer?" Uh, ok....

Sea otters? Check. Up close and personal? Check.
Dall porpoise? Check. They look like mini orca whales. They swam and played under and around the bow of the boat. They were so fast! Sparky has a video of them on YouTube if you'd like to see them in action.

AND...tada...the whales...we saw several....AND Sparky caught the best shot of all, one on her bucket list...the tail end.

Captain Fred is terrific. He's a non-stop talker pretty much for the whole cruise, full of interesting facts and history. We learned a LOT about the wildlife and the area. We enjoyed his narrative very much. 
The Columbia Glacier was fantastic! We did not see much calving, however. Sometimes, there are huge chunks as big as houses cracking and falling off the front of the glacier, but not this time. It was still spectacular. You could hear booming and cracking, it just wasn't falling much today.....

The fresh air was too much for some, and people were in and out of the inside cabin, in and out. Eventually, some just had enough of the fresh cold air which was in the 30's by the time we got to the Columbia Glacier and sacked out on the way back. 

We had a marvelous time because we dressed really warmly, would be miserable if you don't wear appropriate clothing! Think dead of winter clothing and you'll be fine for whatever the weather brings.  We absolutely loved this tour. We would go back and do it again in a heartbeat. We'll tell you about where we ate while we were in Valdez next time.....See you soon!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Day 4 Driving to Valdez on the Richardson Highway

After leaving the Fairbanks city limit, we are heading southeast on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez. (The natives pronounce it 'Val-deez', just so you know). There is tons of construction on the Richardson Highway this summer. We hit sections of loose gravel on the Richardson, we encounter lots of slowdowns and worry about rocks flying up. We notice that the rocks and stones flying up are kicking up from our tires from our own RV, not from construction trucks. Sparky winces at every hit, because it's LOUD,but we get through the construction ok....

Right away, as we get started, we notice that the Milepost Directory tells us we will be following the pipeline all the way to Valdez and sure enough we see it above ground, then it disappears below ground some of the time, but it's always there. We stop more than once to read all the placards, and get this--YOU CAN WALK RIGHT UP TO THE PIPELINE IN PLACES AND TOUCH IT! What??!! No fences, no gate???  Nope, not in some of the sections. In other sections, very fenced off and NO ADMITTANCE. That totally shocked us, that it was so easily accessible. We couldn't see any cameras, although we are sure they must have been somewhere.  Guess they figure it's so remote that who's going to mess with it. Certainly, not us! This is Sparky, touching THE ALASKAN PIPELINE.
Regardless of how one feels about the pipeline traversing the beautiful Alaskan wilderness, it's interesting to learn about it. The above ground sections are built in a zig zag pattern to allow for the expansion and contraction of the pipe due to temperature changes. It's 800 miles long and the diameter of the pipe is 48 inches. It cost 8 billion in 1977 and was PRIVATELY FUNDED, the largest privately funded construction project at the time. It crosses three mountain ranges and over 500 rivers and streams. (THAT part scares the heck outta Sparky.)

Where there is permafrost, and the oil in the pipe might cause the ground to thaw and make the pipeline unstable, the pipeline is insulated and has unique supports above ground. There are vertical pips called Vertical Support Members (clever name) that sometimes contain heat pipes to REMOVE the heat and keep the ground frozen.  Here's one more interesting fact about the pipeline, and then we'll move on:
As we get closer to Valdez, we stop and see the Worthington Glacier (very small as far as glaciers go), but you can walk a short distance and get fairly close to it. We read in the Milepost of several cool things to see--an old railroad tunnel that was never completed that involved a gunfight, and waterfalls in the Keystone Canyon area. Are they ever SPECTACULAR!  Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. WOW! The scale and grandeur of these falls was jaw dropping. Wish there was a person standing at the guard rail for perspective but not at this time. This is Bridal Veil Falls.
And, Horsetail Falls.....

We arrive in Valdez, planning to stay at the Bear Paw Campground, having checked our Milepost directory for different campgrounds and calling around. There are several in Valdez, at least three right downtown. We picked Bear Paw because it was VERY centrally located and got great reviews. It's a gravel parking lot, but well done. We weren't disappointed! More about Bear Paw tomorrow, a fantastic trip out on the ocean on the Lulubelle, and great places to eat!
See you on the, ocean!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Day 3, Driving in Alaska

We really like heading to Alaska during early June. Tourists have not quite arrived in great numbers yet, it's easy to find pullouts, and the tours in towns are not quite booked up yet. The weather is in the 50's during the day, and the forties at night, which feels wonderful to us Floridians. We are on our way to Fairbanks, via the Parks Highway. Our plan is to check out Fairbanks, maybe stay a day or two and then head east and then south, eventually heading to Valdez. There is a lot to see and do in Fairbanks....You can check for a wonderful list of things to do. There's lots of culture in Fairbanks, but for us, we are geared towards nature this time. So we decide to pass on by Fairbanks. We're driving along, passing moose habitat after moose habitat. We see no moose. Sparky inquires, "How come with all this perfect moose habitat, we're not seeing any moose?" and just as she looks down at the Milepost directory which keeps saying, "watch for moose" and we keep seeing yellow moose alert signs by the road, Eldo shouts, "MOOSE! MOOSE!" Sparky looks up and there one is! But as she sees it, it's too late to get a photo, so Eldo knows, the question is coming, "Can we turn around?" Now mind you, we're in a 33 foot motor home and that's just not as easy as turning around in a car. But Eldo is so well trained by now, Sparky doesn't even have to ask. He turns the rig around and back we go to the pond. The moose sees us and shuffles off through the underbrush. DARN! But hang on, there's another one! 

Yay! Two moose in one day! And off we go again...

Sparky is intrigued by the name of the town, North Pole, Alaska. the Milepost directory says the whole town is decorated all year round for Christmas. Even the light poles are candy cane striped. So we decide to stop there, at the coolest Christmas shop ever, called the Santa Claus House. Not only is it BIG, but it has all kinds of ornaments (Sparky's favorite part about decorating for Christmas). There are reindeer right next door to the shop. The outside of the shop has cool painted tile artwork on it. Sparky buys a cool metallic Alaska ornament. The nice extra they do for the people who pass through their shop, whether you buy something or not (as long as you buy the postcard) they will mail it for you from the shop so it gets a postmark of North Pole, Alaska. AND they even pay the postage! Beautiful things in there, but many, if not most items were from China. Sparky found a cool few things made in the USA, like these Belsnickel Bells. 

Yes, it's a touristy shop, but it's still beautiful and fun to look around. They have inexpensive items and high dollar ones, like this Russian carving for $15,000. 

And they have the courtesy to let you know how much time there is left until Christmas! (Sparky better get rolling on her Christmas crafts when she gets home!)

We press on....We stopped by the Delta River, which is a braided river. So much silt is deposited by glacier runoff and glacier melt, that the river winds and turns and the pathways it travels are many in number, giving it the "braided" look and therefore the name. 

We see a willow ptarmigan on one of our stops and a bald eagle. Sure, we can see bald eagles at home in Florida, but something about seeing them against the magnificent mountains in Alaska, makes seeing them more special. Sparky is in 7th heaven. The scenery is non stop spectacular....

And the moose signs many.....
We were thinking of visiting Wrangell St. Elias National Park, but you can't take an RV in very far at all. The roads are too rough and restricted to RV rentals. It's huge,  13.2 MILLION acres and has very few visitors compared to other national parks. We do visit the park entrance for the required tourist photo and the visitor's center which was very informative. 

We boondock for the night at MM112.6, at the Simpson Hill Overlook.  In the Milepost directory, it says it "has a long paved parking area east side of the highway. Wide paved access road with a big turnaround and an excellent view.  On a clear day, you can see the Wrangell Mountains." We did....It was very spacious, an excellent boondocking spot. The Wrangell Mountains consist of Mt. Sanford, 16,237 feet, Mt. Drum, 12, 010 feet, and Mt. Wrangell, 14,163 feet. They were beautiful. Unfortunately, Sparky has so many photos of all the beautiful mountains in Alaska, she can't find a specific shot of that range. There are many mountains in Alaska which are not named, simply because there are just so many! Our plan is to head to Valdez in the morning.....We are having no trouble sleeping despite the many long hours of daylight this time of year in Alaska. It doesn't get darker until about 11:30PM and even then, it's more like dusk back home. 

We did put a black cloth over the bedroom vent in the motorhome to block out the bright light at night and that helps some. Some people bring or purchase a piece of aluminum "shade", like the silver sun blocker shades you put in car front windows during the summer. They just get a cut piece the approximate size of the vent opening and push it up there and it stays without any tape, helping to reduce the light and the heat loss during the cool/cold summer nights in Alaska. Other people put aluminum foil all over the windows in the bedroom, but we were so refreshingly tired every night from the fresh air, we didn't need to do that. 

See you tomorrow (or soon...) on the way to Valdez with the Alaskan Pipeline!