We wrote about the wildlife and glaciers that we saw on the trip to the Columbia glacier. The trip to Whittier was a continuation of that great experience. We hate to overuse the term, WOW!, but it best describes the beauty and majesty of the trip. Prince William Sound was originally discovered by Captain Cook and named for the Earl of Sandwich, later named for Prince William who became King William VI. It now is part of the Chugach National Park (5.4 million square miles, the size of New Hampshire) with Prince William Sound comprising 3,500 miles of intricate coastline,hundreds of tidewater glaciers and bountiful wildlife. The earthquake on Good Friday of 1964 made huge changes to the landscape of Prince William Sound. The people on the ferry pointed out one point where a large peak had actually been split and you could see between the two pieces. As we arrived in Whittier we learned that it had been a secret port build during World War II as an alternative to Seward in the event of a Japanese attack. We departed the ferry and drove through a railroad tunnel that is a one way tunnel for cars and trains in both directions for 2.5 miles,
the longest in North America. Upon exiting the tunnel we viewed the Portage Glacier above Portage Lake.
This was our entry into the Kenai Peninsula, considered Alaska’s premier recreational playground. We spent the night at the Williwaw campground with 4 other RoadTreks.
In the morning we visited or viewed the six glaciers in the Portage Valley that include Portage, Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, Middle, and Explorer Glacier, that make up the park.
Driving up towards Highway One, that goes north to Anchorage we were amazed to see how the earthquake had changed the area. There were many trees that stood dead from the seawater that had flowed into the Portage Valley.
The valley experienced 100 foot high mud and waterspouts as the land slumped down eight feet, the incoming tides then flowed into the valley burying the buildings in silt, with the town then abandoned.. This made the valley very marsh like and supportive of new trees over the last 47 years. Our next stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We saw many various animals that were being nursed back to health for re-entry into the National Forest. One of the most exciting was the Musk Ox.
Known to native Alaskans “Oomingmak”, which means “The Bearded One”, this once-endangered animal produces an annual harvest of qiviut, the finest wool in the world. We also saw two Kodiak cubs that had lost their mother.
The interesting fact about the Kodiak bear is that actually grow larger that the brown grizzly bear. Genetically that have the same DNA, the Kodiak bear has been separated from the other browns for over 1200 years on the island.
As we drove towards Seward we took the road to Hope Alaska.
Hope, which was named for Percy Hope, 17 years old and the youngest to get off the boat for the gold rush, was the largest town in Alaska in 1896 with 5,000 residents (current population, 150). There was gold in “them there hills” called the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush and the fortune seekers came to stake their claims. Hope’s population dried up quickly as word of gold being found in Nome had the prospectors move on. The town continued and mined gold will into the 1940’s on a smaller scale. The earthquake of 1964 was another blow to Hope the last 2 blocks of town disappeared into the water.
If you stop in Hope there is a spot on Resurrection Creek open to the public where you can pan for gold, it is only 1.5 miles from the original gold find. One great event across from the museum is an ice cream store.
Get this; great ice cream sandwiches made with home-made ice cream and home made chocolate chip cookies!!
On to Seward…The beauty of the drive to Seward just continued, we arrived around 6:30 at the RV site we made reservations at. Right on the water with sensational views, only a few problems, no fresh water and the space was not level. All this at top rates. We drove back and demanded a refund and took off for greener pastures. On the way we stopped for dinner in town and had some fantastic halibut and salmon. On to the new RV park and found two of our friends Hal and Kim already there. A few glasses of wine and off to bed. In the morning we went on our third glacier cruise, you kind of get to a point, see one, you seen them all, like the churches in Europe. On the way out we came across a pod of orca whales, about 11 in the family.
The mother runs the family and the males may leave,
but they return. The gestation period for the mother is 17 months and they on average have 3-4 babies in a lifetime.
Tom Colbern, from the National Parks, that was our tour guide said that this was very unusual to see this many at one time. What a thrill for all of us on the tour. We visited the Holgate Glacier
which was sensational. What was of interest to us was that there was no ice flow because the entire glacier was on land as opposed to the Columbia and Sawyer glaciers were tidal glaciers and the ice when it broke away went right into the water as icebergs.
We headed back into Seward where we spent the night with the intent of heading to Homer in the morning.
On the way to Homer we stopped at Cooper Landing on the upper Kenai River and checked with the local National Parks ranger about the fishing that was going on.
Out on the river people were lined up on the opposite bank literally 10 to 15 feet apart as far as we could see down the river. Each was in hip boots well above the waist. We thought someone was going to fall over with the speed of the water. They were all fishing for sockeye salmon that were swimming up the river to spawn.
The ranger explained to us that the sockeye at this point in their life do not eat. Catching the sockeye is a game of luck where the fish has opened his mouth and the fisherman’s hook is caught in his mouth. Catching a fish by snagging it on any other part of the body is illegal. Most salmon have a 4 year cycle from the they are born from the eggs. They make their way out of the spawning area and then down the river and survive the years in the ocean and they return to lay their eggs. Once the eggs are laid, they die and become food for the new fish. The fish need to be caught early in the cycle of spawning since the closer they are to the spawning area the closer the fish is to dying and loses the firmness that we enjoy in the fish that is commercially available. Commercial fisherman catch the fish in the open waters not on the way up the river to spawn. We were told that in the later part of the season the fish are so thick in the river, it would be hard not to snag one. Later when the King and Silver salmon travel up the river to spawn, they do it and they give a good fight when caught. Michener in his book Alaska tells the story of the life of the salmon and it gives you a great sense about what this life cycle is all about.
We traveled along on the way to Homer and saw some just fantastic views of the ocean looking west towards a number of mountains that were across Cook Inletand on the Aleutian Islands, part of the Aleutian range that is an extension of the Alaska Mountain Range. Arriving above Homer the views out to the Homer spit
with the mountains in the background were stupendous. We traveled down into the town of Homer and looked around before heading out to the spit. We stopped at the “must visit” Salty Dawg bar. We met a few young US Navy people who were in port on their destroyer and after thanking them for their service bought them a few beers. We had a great conversation with them and it was just a great pleasure to spend some time with these fine young people. Needless to say, we are very partisan about our service people because of James’ service in the Air Force and Chris Wilson serving in the Coast Guard. It was then off to the local city RV park to enjoy our BBQ chicken from the store, come on we can’t cook every night! We woke up in the morning to a beautiful sunny day. This was the view outside the RV looking west.
We then spent the morning walking through the spit. The weather was about 60 degrees and sunny, just perfect, almost sweater weather for us and bikini weather for the Alaskans. We completed the walk around 1:00 and ran into our friends Ann and Ruth. They suggested lunch at a place called Lands End; we went there and had a great lunch. It was there we saw the young men and women we met at the Salty Dawg leave in an US destroyer from Homer .
We also observed people fishing off the beach. The men were catching some large cod and
we saw one 4-year-old boy catch his first fish. We ran out with the camera and got a picture of him smiling holding his fish, what a wonderful day!