Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alaska Adventure–Days 25 & 26

Anchorage AK to Portage Lake & Prince William Sound Cruse

Before we left Anchorage, we made a supply stop at Walmart and Costco.  We were really surprised that the prices in Costco were basically the same as at home.  They are the only store that we have found where that is the case.  After leaving Anchorage we traveled along the Cook Inlet heading for Portage Lake.  The drive along the Cook Inlet was very nice with the water in the foreground and snow capped mountains in the distance.  The tide was out so there were huge mud flats along the shore of the inlet.  We set up camp in the Williwaw Campground, which is a really nice forest service campground in the Chugach Forest.  There are 60 sites but less than a third were occupied.


Lots of mud flats


On day 26 we headed for the town of Whittier to take a glacier cruise on Prince William Sound.  To get to the town you have to pass through a single lane tunnel nearly 3 miles long.  The toll for the tunnel is $12 and west bound traffic can go through at the top of the hour and east bound at the bottom of the hour.  If a train comes through, the schedule can get messed up.  The town of Whittier was built by the army in WWII because it had a deep water port, which the army needed to defend Alaska from the expected Japanese invasion.  In order to move men and supplies from the port, they built the tunnel for the railroad.  The tunnel was built in about 10 months.  Whittier would definitely not be the place to spend the winter, as they get something like 20 feet of snow a year!


We were very lucky that the weather cleared nicely for the cruise and the boat was nearly empty.  The boat normally holds 125 passengers but fortunately only 31 people boarded, which gave us a lot of freedom to roam.

Best spot on the boat was at the very front.  Also the coldest!


We watched two groups of Harbor Seals float by on icebergs


The wildlife highlight of the day was to watch a total of 4 humped back whales who surfaced every few minutes




Along the cruise, there were two Kittiwake rookeries.  There were thousands of birds nesting on the cliffs.  A special treat for the passengers was when a Peregrine Falcon swooped in and grabbed one of the kittiwake chicks in its talons.  It was quite a sight when all the birds scattered.


The highlight of the cruise was the visit to two major glaciers.  The sky was slightly cloudy which they said really highlighted the glacier ice.  As the sun would come out from behind the clouds the glacier would glow with different shades of blue.  Apparently the hard ice of the glacier absorbs the longer wavelengths of light, leaving only the blue color to be reflected.



A few icebergs in our path.  They sure made a loud bang when they hit the hull of the boat


The sun was just right to make the ice glow blue




Near the face of the glacier there were lots of icebergs


Notice the large rocks on this iceberg.  Most of the Prince William Sound is about 400 feet deep but there was a point where the captain mentioned that we were in only 28 feet deep water where a lot of the icebergs had dumped their rock payload.




Here a large section of the glacier caves into the ocean.  When the ice breaks off it sounds like a rifle shot.


Some big cracks forming




The glaciers are continuously melting, which of course produces some fantastic water falls


All in all we were very happy with the cruise and would highly recommend Major Tours who were the operators.  We thought the tour was a great value at $119 plus $19 for an all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib dinner.  Using the Alaska TourSaver book you can get a two for one deal.  The TourSaver book is a great value if you plan to spend any time in Alaska.  You can get the books online or at most Safeway stores in Alaska.  The books costs $100 but you can easily save many times that with the 100+ coupons it contains.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Alaska Adventure–Days 23 & 24

Denali National Park to Anchorage AK

On our last day in Denali we attended a sled dog demo presented by the park rangers.  Denali is the only national park that has and uses sled dogs.  During the 8-9 months of winter they are the sole means of transportation in the 2 million acre park.  For ecology and safety reasons they do not use snow machines in the park and rely totally on the dogs.  All the dogs used here are bred, raised, and trained in the park.  They are all Alaskan Huskies, which are specifically bred for strength, unlike other sled dogs in Alaska which are bred for speed.  These dogs can easily pull 200 lbs, but they typically limit them to 50 lbs each.  The ranger said in the winter it is not unusual for the dog team to be out in the park for 1-2 weeks at a time on research missions. 



The ranger riding the demonstration sled is from Kansas and is fulfilling her childhood dream of working in Denali


Before the sled demo we had a chance to interact with the dogs.  They were all very friendly but mostly were resting due to the heat.  It was only in the 50’s but these dogs typically work when its 50 below.  They had very thick coats.


This one knows how to attract some petting!


On Day 24 we left Denali heading for Anchorage.  The roads were really good with no construction which was a welcome sight, but it did rain all the way.  Everyone here tells us that they typically do not have much rain but we are not believing it.  They actually claim that Fairbanks is in an “artic desert” with less then 12” of rain a year.

We suspect this is one of the most photographed signs in Alaska.  We looked really hard but we couldn’t see Russia… must have been the low clouds.


Todays Stats:

Miles driven: 272 miles
Hours on road: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Gas prices: $4.11



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Alaska Adventure–Day 22

Denali National Park

Today we took the 8 hour bus trip up the Denali Park road.  Fortunately, the weather cleared for the most part and we were rewarded with some fantastic wildlife and landscape views.  Sorry for so many photos, but there were too many to choose from!

This Grizzly Bear was along the side of the road.  It didn’t seem too concerned with all the people watching.


This caribou was also right along the side of the road.  He posed for us for several minutes






This red fox walked along side the bus for quite a while



Another caribou.  There were so many caribou that the driver quit stopping for photos.


Dall Sheep way up in the rocks



This was our transport for the day.  8 hours on a school bus was long enough!  The only way to travel in the park beyond the 16 mile point is via these buses.


The following are landscape photos taken along the way.










The only negative for the day was we did not get to see the top of Mt. McKinley which is the highest peak in North America at 20320 feet.