A Travellerspoint blog

Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Alaska

Thursday, July 12, 2007

rain 0 °F

Another morning with raindrops hitting the roof of the trailer, but it’s a brief shower. We get an early start since we have a long drive through Wrangell St Elias NP.

We first stop at Chitina to read their roadside signs and take a few pics. Chitina is a small, picturesque town that reminds me of how Chicken, Alaska looked years ago (before the tour buses). Downtown Chitina has a few old, wooden buildings, including two saloons. It’s at the end of the Edgartown Highway, a 2-lane road off of the Richardson Highway. I’m guessing that as the national park becomes more developed, Chitina will also become more touristy and developed, but today it’s classic small-town Alaska.
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There are only two roads in Wrangell-St Elias NP. We are taking the McCarthy Road, which is the larger of the two roads. McCarthy Road starts at Chitina and ends near McCarthy. It’s 60 miles of dirt and gravel. The road crosses the Chitina River and we get a nice view of Mt. Wrangell.
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The first ten miles are horrible – pot holes and very washboardy, but then it gets better. McCarthy Road is an old railroad – they didn’t bother to remove the rails or trestles when they made the road. They simply covered it with dirt and gravel. We come to a long, one-lane bridge which was built for the railroad. The canyon it traverses is really deep and the bridge doesn’t look that sturdy, plus they are working on it – but it’s the only way to get to Kennicott, so off we go.
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It rains off and on during our drive, but stops when we reach the park’s small visitors’ center. The last 5 miles to get to Kennicott Historical Park is not accessible by car, since there is no bridge big enough for cars. So we need to switch from our truck to our bikes. We could have walked across the pedestrian bridge and then paid for a shuttle to get us there, but it's only 5 miles to Kennicott (and the shuttle is $10/person) so we decide to bike it.

We bike about a half mile to get to the town of McCarthy, where we have lunch. The place is a converted lunch truck with quirky décor. We are twice the age of anyone else there, but we enjoy the ambiance and enjoy our lunch.
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Kennicott is only a 4.5 mile bikeride from McCarthy; however, it is entirely uphill! When we finally arrive at Kennicott, it begins to rain. We go into a few buildings that are open til the rain stops and then take a ranger-led tour of the town. Kennicott was a large copper mining town in the early 1900s and is the home of the largest wooden building in North America (14-stories tall). The National Park Service acquired the town in the late 1990s.
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After our tour we take off for a 1.5 mile hike to the Root Glacier. It rains off and on, but we ignore the rain and take a walk on the edge of the glacier.
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The glacier is slippery and we have sneakers on, so we don’t go very far on the glacier.
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Then 1.5 mile hike back to Kennicott
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and a 5 mile bike ride back to the car, BUT I coast downhill for the first 4.5 miles. I can’t believe I actually biked up this hill:-)

We drive back the bumpy McCarthy Road, seeing no wildlife except for rabbits and squirrels. We have a few occasional sprinkles and then see a rainbow when we get back to Chitina near our campground.
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Posted by jengelman 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Palmer, Alaska to Chitina, Alaska

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

We wake up early today – I think the fact that there are no raindrops hitting the trailer invigorates me -- I’m anxious to see scenery without rain. We are planning to drive 280 miles to Valdez today, so it’s good that we get an early start.

We only drive about 10 miles til we get to our first stop, The Palmer Muskox Farm.
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It’s Jere’s idea to stop, but it actually turns out to be fairly interesting for all of us. They raise muskox for the quivohute (sp?) fur that the animals shed each spring. The fur is worth $150/pound. Apparently the yarn made from the muskox fur is extremely warm, lightweight and waterproof.

The Glenn Parkway is very scenic
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so we make lots of stops, including an unplanned 30-minute stop for road construction. We stop to have lunch at a very nice rest stop that overlooks a glacier and meet a guy who is bicycling from Prudhoe Bay (the northernmost city in North America) to Argentina (the southern most city in South America). He’s been on the road two weeks and is still very excited. Jere finds the guy interesting, but says he’s crazy to be bicycling so far alone.
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The fireweed along the Glenn Highway is gorgeous:
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We stop in Glenallen for diesel and a snack, and then head south to Valdez. At least that’s where I think we are heading, but apparently Jere neglected to tell me that he is thinking of stopping at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park visitors center. We look at the exhibit and watch two films at the visitors center, and then Jere says he wants to go into the park tomorrow. So, no Valdez today.

We drive to Chitina, Alaska, where we find a small RV park near the airport. We are the only tourists at this campground and I’m a little nervous about the place, but the scenery is nice and there are no other choices, so we stay. It’s odd: I can look out one window and see this incredible vista of mountains, including Mt Wrangell, and I can look out the other side of the RV to what appears to be a rundown trailer park.
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The road into Wrangell-St Elias NP turns to gravel after Chitina, so we can’t take the RV any further than Chitina. We are stuck at this campground, whether I like it or not. I’m trying to focus on the incredibly blue, cloudless sky and the snow-covered mountain in the distance.
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Jere and Joe take a walk down to the river but I elect to stay at the trailer and read. Joe is concerned that I am not going with them and picks me some wildflowers to cheer me up.
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Posted by jengelman 13:21 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Rain Going into the Kenai; Rain Going Out of the Kenai

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

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We wake up to the sound of rain again. The steady rain lasts all morning as we drive out of the Kenai Peninsula and onward to Palmer, Alaska. The scenery is beautiful between Anchorage and Seward, but the rain puts a damper on the scenery. We see some mountain goats on the rocks, so we stop and Jere hikes up the hill through the rain to take some pictures of them.
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We arrive at the Homestead RV Park in Palmer in time to watch the All Star Baseball Game. The park has a nice view, so I decide to take our cat, Rosdale, for a walk. He’s only been out of the trailer a few times on this trip. He normally gets upset and wants to go back inside the trailer, but today I get him outside for about 30 minutes and we both enjoy some fresh air and patches of blue sky.
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I do some laundry while Jere and Joe watch the game. A mother from Holland, who is also home-schooling while they are RVing, is doing her laundry at the same time. She’s from Holland and explains to me that home-schooling is illegal in Holland, and they will probably have to pay a fine when they return. Holland requires children to attend a brick-and-mortar school, not a homeschool. Interesting that a country that is so liberal in many other ways is so strict about schooling. A young woman who is tent-camping across Alaska this summer joins us and we all have a nice conversation, so laundry time seems to go very quickly.

Jere and I take a walk around the full campground after dinner. There’s actually another Colorado 5th wheel trailer here—we have not seen another Colorado 5th wheel like we have for the entire trip and this is the first time we’ve ever had an opportunity to talk to another Colorado RVer.

Posted by jengelman 13:07 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Seward, Alaska: Mt. Marathon Hike

Monday, July 9, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

Despite hearing raindrops on our roof again this morning, we decide that we want to stay at least one more day at Seward. We really enjoyed Seward’s Municipal campground in town along the inlet, where we stayed for one night before coming to Stoney Creek. So we pack up and empty our tanks. While Jere is doing the smelly tank emptying, I take the trash and notice lots of eagles in the sky. I count 8 bald eagles circling around the sky above us, but another woman who is watching them says there are 10! What a beautiful sight—I love to watch eagles soar.
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When we drive over to the Seward campground, we find a front row spot open. So we back in our trailer and have a terrific view of the inlet.
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After lunch Joe and Jere decide they want to hike up to the top of Mt Marathon. It’s a very steep trail up to the top of the mountain behind Seward. It’s ‘claim to fame’ is the famous Mt Marathon 4th of July race, where runners race up and down the mountain. It’s dreary out with a possibility of rain and I have no desire to hike up the very steep trail, so I stay at the trailer. I catch up on some chores and watch a sea otter playing in the water near our trailer.
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Jere and Joe return from their hike covered in dirt. Apparently on parts of the trail it is too steep to climb down the mountain so they slid in the dirt.
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They also admit that they didn’t make it to the top of the mountain -- Jere was concerned about their safety when it started to rain and decided, much to Joe’s dismay, to not go the whole way. He says that anyone who climbs that mountain to the top is either foolish or fearless. He took some pictures to try to show the steepness, but he says the pictures can’t really show the steepness.
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Jere took this photo of our campground from halfway up the mountain:
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While Jere and Joe build a campfire beside the water, I make dinner. After dinner Jere and I spend the rest of the evening by the campfire. Well, actually we stay outside til the cold and dampness chase us inside. Joe elects to stay inside on his computer—he doesn’t even come out for s’mores. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but Joe does NOT like s’mores. Who doesn’t like s’mores?!
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Posted by jengelman 09:55 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Kenai Fjords National Park All Day Cruise

Sunday, July 8, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

Today is the day we take the Kenai Fjords 8-hour wildlife and glacier cruise -- we’re very excited. The cruise doesn’t leave til close to Noon, so we watch a church service on TV and have a big breakfast. The church service is televised from the Anchorage Baptist Temple and they have a good musical program to start off the service for the 4th of July week. Very patriotic and a salute to our troops. As the minister said, “Some of us may not support this war, but all of us support our troops.” The sermon is about freedom and the many freedoms that we have in this country that are supported with bible verses. I was raised in a Baptist church and find it interesting to watch a Baptist service – they’re still focused on the devil and they still think young people’s music is the work of the devil. I remember how rock music and dancing were not allowed in our church when I was a teenager. Anyway, I enjoy watching the service.

We arrive at the boat dock an hour before sailing, as instructed, and then sit around and read the booklet that they gave us about wildlife that we’ll see.

We get on the boat and find our assigned seat, stash our backpacks and head outside to stand on the deck. During the day we will spend about half of our time on the outside deck and about half downstairs at our warm table. Although the day starts out as partly sunny, it quickly turns overcast and cold – the captain tells us that it is 52 degrees, but with the windchill it feels like 32 degrees –it is really windy. I have a winter jacket on, with hats & gloves, and my hood up; but after about 2 hours on deck, I am frozen and have a hard time warming up.

The reason to take the 8-hour cruise vs the 3-hr cruise is for the chance to see more wildlife. We do see 4 humpback whales, but they stay pretty much under the water. No breaching whales today.
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The bottom line is that we don’t really see much wildlife, and then when the boat arrives at the tidewater glacier (Holgate Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP) our table is called to get dinner. We are starving at that point (it’s served an hour late) and need to get our food, so for the 30 minutes that the boat is stationed at the bottom of the glacier -- we’re inside eating. However, the glacier never really calves any large pieces while we’re there anyway, so I guess we don’t miss much, but I would have liked to have been outside when we were so close to the glacier. I did get up in the middle of the meal to take a picture outside.
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It is a little frustrating to not see much wildlife and then when there is something to see on the outside of the boat (Holgate Glacier), we need to sit inside to eat (which is not next to the window). The meal was good though– salmon and prime rib. Also, I do get outside to take pictures on the way into and out of the Holgate inlet.
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The pictures don’t really show the size of the glacier. In the photo above there is another tour boat at the base of the glacier—the tour boat is at least 50 feet long.
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After stopping at Holgate glacier the boat takes us to two different small islands. One is filled with Stellar sea lions
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and the other is filled with birds, mostly kittiwakes, but also many tufted puffins and a few common murres.
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So I am a little disappointed in the cruise, but at least it’s not raining. In hindsight we wish we would have taken the shorter cruise.

I had taken medicine for seasickness this morning which eventually makes me very, very sleepy, so we drive back to the trailer and I fall asleep as soon as we get back.

Posted by jengelman 13:22 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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