Adventure Caravans / tours by RV to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies in 2008
Adventure Caravans / tours by RV to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies in 2008

Days 44 - 45 - 46 in Valdez, AK

This is a view along the Matanuska River delta. The river splits into a number of smaller runs through the delta. At approximately 49 miles into this leg we were stopped for about 15 minutes waiting for our turn to bypass the road construction.
This is the temporary road they made around the road construction site. It was an overcast day but every now and then the sun would peek out and highlight a few distant mountain peaks.
This is the Matanuska Glacier. It is a hugh glacier extending down from the mountain. It is advertised as "the largest glacier accessible by car in Alaska". On the other side of the road from where I took the glacier picture was this hill of gray gravel covered by white stones that created peoples names. We couldn't help wondering how long people have been doing this. It takes time to gather the number of stones it takes to create your name in rock so you really have to be committed to the task.
Just a couple more views of the mountains from different vantage points along the way. The flowers on the left are called Fireweed.
The terrain varied from fairly flat with small lakes scattered around to steep and mountainous.
This is the Alyeska pipeline going to Valdez. Some facts about the pipeline:
  • The Trans Alaska Pipeline System was designed and constructed to move oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the northern most ice-free port in Valdez, Alaska.
  • Length: 800 miles.
  • Diameter: 48 inches.
  • Crosses three mountain ranges and over 800 rivers and streams.
  • Cost to build: $8 billion in 1977, largest privately funded construction project at that time.
  • Construction began on March 27, 1975 and was completed on May 31, 1977.
  • First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
  • First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
This is a nice pull-out at Willow Lake. A pull off on the road going to Valdez.
This is the Worthington Glacier. It splits into two prongs as it slowly slides down the mountain. The picture on the right is the left prong of the glacier.

This is what we encountered going over Thompson Pass at 2,678 feet elevation. Not very high, but in this area it is above the timberline. The visibility went down to less than 50 feet for about 2 miles.

By the way, those bent poles sticking up on both sides of the road are snow poles. They guide the snow plows so they know where the road is located when they plow. The record snowfall here was 974.5 inches in one winter. This is beautiful Bridal Veil Falls. This is a very common name for a falls. I believe this is at least the 3rd Bridal Veil Falls we have encountered.
Two pictures of Horsetail Falls. The motorhome and car are to give you an idea of the size of the falls.
This is the first RV park we have stayed in that allows washing cars and campers. So almost everyone was out cleaning their rigs shortly after arrival.
About 6:00 PM the fog started to roll in and it created an opportunity for some interesting pictures. This is the marina in Valdez. It looks just as crammed with boats as the one in Seward.
I took these as two boats were entering the harbor directly behind our campsite. The fog made it look very surreal.
Day 45 - Valdez, AK

Today reminded us of the song: "What a day this has been, what a great mood we're in......" I've used some poetic license with the wording, but most everyone thought this was one of our best days yet.

This morning we gathered at 9:15 AM to walk to the marina where we boarded the Valdez Spirit for a 9+ hour cruise on Prince William Sound to the Columbia and Mears Glaciers.

The ship is only 4 years old and was built for glacier cruising. The seating was very comfortable, as was the ride. Here Georgi & Rich and Nancy & Bobby prepare to get underway. The channel out of the marina was not very wide, but it made for interesting viewing.
The first WOW was in Port Valdez Bay were the water was glassy smooth and the mountains were bathed in sunlight under an overcast sky. Jill Baumann thinks she is on the bow of the Titanic. Not a good thought when we are headed to iceberg country in a smaller ship.
Our first wildlife viewing of the day were these sea otters. Sea Otters can dive to over 300 feet for their food. Many times they will bring a rock and a clam up together. They then use the rock as a tool to crack the shell and then use their stomach as a dining room table. They can live up to 14 years and get more gray as they age. Hmmm, the graying part sounds familiar.
Every buoy of this type was claimed by sea lions. I would have loved to see them get up on there.
Everywhere we looked the scenery was just spectacular and the calm water made is seem even more magical.
As we approached the Columbia Glacier, we started to see icebergs of all shapes and sizes floating in the water.

The Columbia Glacier is that small section of white, on the left side of the picture, which appears to come down to the water. It is 1800 feet thick, rises 230 feet above the water, and is over 2 miles wide. It is now 10 miles back from the terminal moraine where the large icebergs are stopped. Thes trapped icebergs form the solid line white you see in the distance.

A moraine is the pile of rocks a glacier pushes in front of it and the terminal moraine is where the glacier stopped and started to recede. This terminal moraine is so high underwater that it stops the larger icebergs from advancing thereby causing them to stop until they melt enough to float over the top of the moraine.

I was mesmerized by the beautiful blue color of the ice and how it was reflected off the calm water.
The tallest of these icebergs rose about 75 feet out of the water. One of the crew scooped an iceberg remnant from the water and passed it along. Here Susan Shallbetter is proudly displaying what is left of it.
Some of the ladies of the caravan posed in front of the line of icebergs. As we left the Columbia Glacier area, we spotted some humpback whales diving for food. None of them breached the water, so all we saw were backs and flukes.
It took us about an hour on Unakwik Inlet to get to the Mears Glacier. But again, the water was like a mirror. We saw more sea otters. However, now they had ice flows to rest upon.
Click here for a short video (4.5 MB file) of the boat going through the small ice flows present in the water as we approached Mears Glacier. This was our first glimpse of the Mears Glacier. That tunnel on the left was probably 75 feet tall.
This is the Mears Glacier. It is over 1/2 mile wide and over 150 feet high.
Those little dots on the ice flows are sea lions. They range in size from approximately 6 to 10 feet long; so you can get some idea of the height of the glacier wall. The blue color was very vivid on the walls of the glacier. Here is a close up of some of the blue layers visible on the glacier wall.
This little island reminded us of some of the islands we have seen in northern Minnesota. I took this picture so you could reference the size of one iceberg compared to the boat next to it.
This is a mama humpback with her calf, but I was not able to get a picture of the two of them on the surface at the same time.
These sea lions were sunning themselves on this beach (left) and on the ice flow (right).
These two beautiful shots of an eagle were taken by Rocky McEwan
After arriving back in port at about 7:15 PM many of us headed to the other side of Port Valdez Bay to watch bears feast on the salmon coming upstream to spawn. I thought this picture taken by Loren Mulkins was really choice; notice the "Bear Crossing" sign in the picture. Did the bear think that meant he had to cross here??? This little black bear would casually walk down to the water, snatch up a salmon, turn around and take about 4 bites of it, go back to the water, grab another salmon and repeat the process. The water was only about 3 inches deep but the salmon were all struggling to swim up stream.

We continued on down the road to view another stream that was packed with salmon, when this grizzly bear walked across the parking lot and down to the river for his evening snack.

To learn the difference between a grizzly and the black bear, click here

Day 46 - Valdez, AK
This is how our day started. Jerry Fox could not start his truck last night so I helped him locate 3 blown fuses in his truck. Unfortunately, the local NAPA dealer did not have the correct fuse type. So Jerry purchased two 50 amp and one 20 amp fuse; we took apart the blown fuses and soldered the new fuses into the old fuses. Now he could at least get the truck started and continue to a larger town where the proper fuses would be available. Dave Wilson supplied the umbrella to keep us out of the rain. Jerry is in the process of putting everything back together again. Everything works and he is back on the road again.
We visited the Valdez Museum today. Valdez was celebrating "Gold Rush Days" Friday - Sunday so the admission to the museum was free. Outside the museum was this lifeboat #4 from the M/S Prinsendam. For 12 harrowing hours on October 5, 1980 this life boat was all that stood between life and death for up to 80 persons adrift in the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
The Perry. This fishing vessel was built on Perry Island in 1939. The boat was sold in the 1950s and it passed through a series of owners, making its home port in Valdez, Whittier and Cordova. In 1989, the boat answered the call to help clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Perry's Last private owner donated the boat to the Valdez Museum in 1994. This is the main room inside the Valdez Museum.
This Ahrens Steam Fire Engine was built in 1907 and used in Valdez until 1935. It was normally pulled by a team of two horses. In the 1920s the fire department purchased a fire truck and it was sometimes used to pull the steam engine In the 1940s it was parked outside and a snowplow ran into it and damaged it. It was beautifully restored by the local firemen and volunteers from the city. The workmanship on this fire engine is absolutely amazing.
The detail work on the restoration was just incredible. The newly formed City of Valdez purchased an 1898 Gleason & Bailey hand-pumped fire engine second-hand in 1902. This has also been meticulously restored by the local craftsman.
This is the fresnel lens from the Hinchinbrook Island lighthouse located in Prince William Sound. Susan is admiring an Eskimo waterproof parka made of bear intestines stitched together using sinew.
Due to the "Gold Rush Days" celebration, this military band was playing outside the Valdez Museum. There were also a number of vendors setup in the middle of town selling their wares.
We drove up to the Valdez Glacier which is about 5 miles out of town on a dirt road. The end of the glacier is in the middle of the picture. It feeds a small lake where icebergs have broken off the face of the glacier and are floating in the lake. We drove to the other side of Port Valdez Bay to find these fisherman trying their luck on the spawning salmon.
This is a picture of the salmon swarming at the outlet of a small creek. It was like a small wave coming into shore. Here they are at the base of a weir where they are prevented from going upstream. They are forced into a fish ladder that leads to a hatchery on the other side of the river.
This small black bear was trying to join the fisherman on the other side of the road when one of the fisherman stood up tall, waved his arms and shouted "HEY BEAR". The bear stopped in his tracks and ran across the road.
Here are a couple more shots of the black bear. You may click on this link about bear identification to discover that this is a brown "Black Bear".
This evening was our "Christmas in August" party. To start the party we were giving 44 different paper bags with common objects in them. We were challenged to identify each object by feeling the bag and writing down our answer. Sue Schaaf is collecting the bags after the allotted time had expired.
Madi Schaaf reads off the correct answers. Loren Mulkins won with 23 answered correctly. Cathy is holding the fanny pack he received as the winner.
Then the feast began. The cooks on the trip again outdid themselves. All the food was just wonderful. Loren gave Rocky a Stud cup. If you remember, Rocky got the name "Stud Muffin" from his part in one of the dinner shows we attended and he still has not lived it down.
We each purchased and wrapped a gift to be exchanged at the party. Dean Blau holds a cup she received. Rick Farquhar also received a cup as his present.
Ann Rzepka was very proud of the pink Alaska cap she received as a present. It will be Lynne Arigema's birthday next Thursday, but we decided to celebrate it early by giving her a birthday cake.
Day 47 - Travel to Tok, AK

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