Travels with Jim & Geri

Gallery of photographs

Alaska: Anchorage to Valdez

5/31/2011  Anchorage to Valdez

We were the first customers in the door at Enterprise this morning ready to pick up our car. We had specified a pick up time of 9 am but assumed earlier wouldn’t be a problem. It was a problem. The Ford Focus we were expecting hadn’t been prepped yet so they put us in a Dodge Journey for the same price. It’s a bright red SUVish vehicle that does not impress us.

We drove 308 miles averaging 51 mph while moving but only 30.7 when our stops are included. Our total stop time was 4 hours and moving time was 6:02. The road was quite good all the way. There were a few frost heaves where the road takes a sudden dip or rise, or both. The speed limit was generally either 65 or 55 with a few slower limits in built up areas or construction zones.

We topped off the gas tank in Anchorage at a Chevron station for $4.17 per gallon. During the drive we saw gasoline as high as $4.50 per gallon. Shortly after leaving the gas station we stopped at a Fred Meyers store to pick up some car food. We will compare prices when we get back home but they are higher.

The Mantanuska Glacier was the background for lunch. There was a lot of moose scat around the picnic table where we ate.

The scenery along the way varies from not very interesting to spectacular. The 40 miles or so into Valdez is very dramatic.

Shortly after turning from the Glenn Highway onto the Richardson Highway we stopped at the Wrangel-St. Elias National Park visitor center. With 13.2 million acres it is our largest national park at six times the size of Yellowstone.

The Worthington Glacier was another stop. A lady working there said when she first came to Valdez in 1965 the glacier was all the way down to the highway. Now it is probably a couple hundred yards back up the hill. It is however getting thicker on the top.

Farther down the road toward Valdez we stopped several times in Keystone Canyon to view and shoot waterfalls.

A restaurant was our first stop in Valdez when we finally arrived a little after 6 pm.

6/1/2011 Valdez, AK

The weather gods did not smile on us today. In fact, they cried on us for much of the morning. The young lady at a coffee shack told Geri that last summer they had only five days of sunshine. Janice at the Valdez Visitor Center told us that was true until late August, then they had five weeks of sunshine.

We spent much of the morning in our room watching the bunny rabbits by the hotel. Jim added worked on our reports since he ran out of time and energy last night. Several new photos have been added along with a map of our trail from Anchorage to Valdez.

After lunch at Ernesto’s Taqueria we walked the Dock Point Trail which is on the other side of the harbor from our hotel. Several of the new pictures were taken during this walk.

Perhaps the main reason we came to Valdez was to take a wildlife and glacier cruise on the Lu-Lu Belle. This morning we learned the Lu-Lu Belle ran aground about three weeks ago and will be out of service for the entire summer season. Captain Fred Rodolf, his wife Megan and her two dogs live on the boat. They spend the winter in Bellingham, Washington and the summer here in Valdez. They were bringing the boat to Valdez for the summer when the accident occurred. In one sad moment they lost their home and their business. The boat is now sitting in Valdez with four pumps running around the clock to keep her afloat. Hopefully the boat can be repaired and placed back in service by next summer. Apparently it’s not clear yet whether it can be repaired.

Tomorrow morning we will try to get on another boat for a cruise much like the one Captain Fred offered. is still (at 9 pm) saying there may be some sunshine tomorrow afternoon.

There is a large wooden sculpture in town by the artist Peter Toth. He has created more than 70 “Whispering Giants” since 1971. They appear in all 50 states. The one here was completed in 1980. Carved from sitka spruce it stands 30 feet high and weighs 85,000 pounds. It was the Indian carving #40.

During our visit to the visitor center Janice told us about a guy at the Bayside RV Campgound that frequently feeds eagles. If it happens, it usually happens about 5 or 6 o’clock. We just happened to notice the eagles circling as we were on our way to dinner. Wouldn’t you know that we didn’t have the necessary camera equipment with us so we dashed back to the room. You can see some of our eagle shots in the Valdez album.

6/2 Valdez – Prince William Sound cruise

We did only one thing today – a seven hour cruise in Prince William Sound aboard the 80 foot Glacier Spirit with Captain Randy at the controls and microphone. He did an outstanding job at both tasks.

He took us by large grain elevators that have never had a drop of grain in them. In December 1982, the Storch Corp. of Vancouver, WA completed phase one of the construction of Alaska’s first and last grain export terminal, a 584,000-bushel concrete elevator in the Port of Valdez.

Phase two, the construction of the ship loading system, was never started, and except for barley handled during the initial testing stages, the elevator was never used. In fact, this $10 million venture was a colossal failure.

We went by several large groups or “rafts” of sea otters. Can anyone look at a sea otters face and not smile?

We saw Stellar Sea Lions lounging on a buoy, a large rock island with a face on one end of it, lots and lots of black-legged kittiwakes (birds), fleeting glimpses of a couple of humpback whales, and several eagles. Several times Randy announced the presence of Dall’s Porpoises but we got only very fleeting glimpses. One needed to be on the bow of the boat for a good view of the porpoises as they road our bow wave. He would slow the boat to entice them to play in the bow wave.

There were two or three Mountain Goats way up on the side of rocky cliff. We took a picture of a kid. Mom stayed behind some bushes.

A major stop on the cruise was the Columbia Glacier. It is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world. The glacier was stable until the 1980s when it started a rapid retreat. The face has retreated a total of 10 miles at an average rate of approximately 0.4 miles per year since 1982. There was lots of ice in the water from the glacier.

Our last major stop was on the at Point Bullhead on the south side of Glacier Island where there is a large colony of male Steller Sea Lions. We spent several minutes watching them fight for position while growling up a storm. California sea lions bark, these guys growl.

On the way back to Valdez we passed a oil tanker that had just filled up in Valdez at the end of Alaska Pipeline. Captain Randy said it probably was carrying about a million barrels of oil and probably was headed to a refinery in Washington state. It was trailed by two tugs, one of which was tethered to the tanker so it could act as a rudder should the steering fail on the tanker. The use of these tugs is a result of the 1989 Valdez Exxon oil spill.

About two hours into the cruise we were served a yummy bowl of rich clam chowder, a bagel with cream cheese and package of four bite size Oreos.

It was a very fulfilling day. The weather was fantastic. We even had quite a bit of sunshine which is unusual in these parts. Last summer Valdez had only five days of sunshine until late August.

Tomorrow we will sail across Prince William Sound to Whittier on the State of Alaska Ferry FVF Chenega.