2009 Alaska travel blog

Portage Valley, AK - Willawaw Campground NFS - Site 28

The A-Frame entrance to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, more commonly know...

Somewhere inside the 2.5 mile length of the tunnel

One of the waterfalls coming down from the icefield at Whittier

The Alaska Marine HIghway Ferry Aurora arriving in Whittier

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Brown Bear

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - and another Brown Bear

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Bull Moose

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - another bull Moose

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Baby Moose

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - young Elk

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - mama Elk

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - and papa Elk

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - the Plains Buffalo

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Wood Bison

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - the Black Bears were really playful

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - another shot of the Black Bears

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Sitka Deer

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Fireweed is really in bloom now -...

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - Close up of the Fireweed blossoms

Another moose cow we just happend to see in a meadow just...

A shot of Byron Glacier and the stream beside the trail up...

Byron Glacier from about half-way up the trail

Byron Glacier from the end of the trail

Snow at the foot of Byron Glacier

Local children having fun snow sledding on July 11

Misty and I are starting up the snow field at the bottom...

Boy, it's a lot further up than it looked!!!

Are we there yet

A shot of Byron Glacier from across Portage Lake showing where Misty...

Burns Glacier and Portage Glacier

Close up of Portage Glacier

Middle Glacier above our campground

Close up of Middle Glacier

Friday's trip to Portage Valley was only about 100 miles and we arrived here in time to get one of the walk-in sites. This is a fantasic National Forest Service campground - probably the best I have seen. No hook-ups but very large sites, both pull-through and back-in, with paved access and paved site pads. Our site is at least 75 feet deep and 40 feet wide. It has a good fire ring and a picnic table that isn't going anywhere. It's about seven feet long and three to four foot wide, made of four by lumber it probably weighs 150 pounds!

After setting up camp, we headed for the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center that is the main visitor center for the Chugach National Forest. We obtained some maps from them then decided to go to Whittier and watch the ferry come in to show Misty what we had been riding on up the Inside Passage. To get to Whittier, you have to go through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This is a train tunnel that is 2.5 miles long through a mountain and was opened up to vehicular traffic on June 7, 2000. Trains and cars share the same space and it's one-way traffic only. They have schedules set up so that those going to Whittier leave on the half-hour, every hour and those coming from Whittier leave on the hour every hour. Everyone lines up on their respective sides in lanes depending on the size of your vehicle and once you get the green light, you drive through the tunnel. Every vehicle gets its own green light to make sure the vehicles are not on each other's bumpers. It only takes about 10-15 minutes for all vehicles going that way to get through then they shut the tunnel down for vehicle travel and send the train through if necessary. That allows about 15 minutes before the vehicles from the other side start coming through and they use that time to clear the air inside the tunnel so everyone doesn't get carbon monoxide poisening. It's all very neat and orderly.

Whittier didn't have much else to do so we came back through the tunnel and went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center about five miles back from our campground. The Center is a rescue center for injured or endangered wildlife. It was interesting but they didn't have a whole lot there. Several caribou,elk, and plains bison, but only a couple each of moose, brown bears, black bears, wood bison, and deer. They have extremely large pens and let the vegetation grow up like it would in the wild and it can make it difficult for you to see the animals at times. One of the problems Friday was the very large crowds. There were a lot of individuals there but the biggest problem was the tour busses that came through dropping their passengers off and boy could they be rude! Each pen only had 10-15 feet of good viewing area and with all the people there you add another 30 all at once and it wasn't very pretty. I am getting where I hate to go to anything that has large crowds - getting cantankerous in my old age! The best part was on the way back we saw another moose cow in a meadow. Now Doris has seen three but she is still complaining about not seeing a BULL moose in the wild! :)

After we got back to the Mothership, Doris tried making reservations for a glacier tour to the front of Portage Glacier but their boat is down awaiting parts and we will not be able to take that tour. There are six small glaciers (Shakespeare, Burns, Portage, Byron, Middle, and Explorer) in this small valley and all are high and dry, draining into creeks, except for the Portage Glacier which has created Portage Lake and still calves occasionally into the lake. Lake glaciers don't calve as often as tidewater glaciers since their water is so cold to begin with and the water doesn't have the tide action working on the glacier wall too. Portage would be much like Mendenhall was in that respect, only calving once every two or three days on average.

Saturday morning we had a big breakfast and went hiking up to Byron Glacier. It was about one mile each way but was a fairly easy hike. Misty and I decided to try hiking up the snowfield below the glacier and that was quite an experience and both of us managed not to bust our tails on the ice. :) Misty did manage to slip while trying to cross back over the creek and put her whole foot into the creek. Thank goodness her hiking boots are waterproof because the water was ice cold. The whole hike was good exercise and we all enjoyed it. In the afternoon we grilled out and then got the Mothership ready for Sunday's trip. We will be heading to Talkeetna for two nights before heading to Denali for a week. Talkeetna is supposed to be having their Annual Moose Dropping Festival finishing up Sunday and Doris wants us to leave early so she will not miss it!!

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