Our trip to Valdez on Tuesday was on much better roads than yesterday's adventure to Tok. They still had a lot of frost heaves/dips but were designated as "rough roads" better than the Canadians had done. We were on the Tok Cutoff (AK-1)about 20 miles from the left turn going down to Valdez on the Richardson Highway (AK-4) and saw a sign "Rough Roads for the next 112 miles" and my first thought was "you mean it's going to get worse?" That is about 92 miles of what we will be traveling when we go on over to Anchorage in a few days. At least that drive will be for a much lesser distance than yesterday or today. The 254 miles today took almost six hours, some of it due to reduced speeds during the "rough road", but most due to 30 minute wait as they repaired one of those "rough areas." They just shut the highway down while they put three truckloads of asphalt down, leveled and rolled it. Thank goodness they were almost half done when we got in line!
Tuesday's trip also had much better scenery. The countryside between Destruction Bay, YT and Tok was really unremarkable but today we were back in the mountains and they are beautiful. The trip down from the mountains down into Valdez was especially scenic. It's unbelievable how much snow is still on these mountains. We passed right by Worthington Glacier as we were at about 2,500 feet. We then came down over 2,000 feet in one long grade which wasn't too steep but did require me to pay more attention to driving and less able to enjoy the views we were experiencing. Now I'm already thinking about tackling that long climb back up on the way back. :)
We are staying at Eagle's Rest RV Park here in Valdez. We decided to splurge a little and get a large full hookup pull-through site with 50 amp, cable and great WiFi. The view from the campground is snow-capped mountains all around us. Life is good!!
Wednesday we went on a glacier tour to see the Columbia Glacier. The Columbia is the second largest tidewater glacier in the word, second to the Hubbard Glacier about 250 miles to the east. A tidewater glacier is one that terminates in the ocean as opposed to an alpine glacier whose terminus is on land. A glacier is formed when the snowfall doesn't completely melt during the summer and over many, many years subsequent snowfalls continue to accumulate and eventually compact the earlier snowfalls into ice. This continues until the ice becomes so thick and the weight becomes so great that the ice begans to slowly flow down the mountains, accumulating rocks and anything else underneath it and scouring the mountains, forming valleys and fjords. The Columbia is one of the fastest moving in the world, sliding about 80 feet per day. This results in a spectacular amount of icebergs being calved (broken off) at the terminus where it meets Prince William Sound. The boat we were in went as far as it could but was still about two miles away from the terminus due to icbergs preventing us going further. The terminus is about 1,700 feet thick with about 250 of that being above water. When it calves these huge icebergs break off but are still grounded due to the water not being deep enough for them to float. They just become a large roadblock to getting any closer. I have included several pictures of these enormous pieces of ice but the pictures just can't indicate how big these things are.
We also were treated to several forms of wildlife on the way to the glacier. We encountered Stellar Sea Lions, a couple of Humpback Whales, Puffins, and the everpresent Bald Eagle. I was able to get my best fluke shot of a whale yet but I still snapped it a bit too late.
Thursday we ate a late breakfast and then went to Old Valdez. In 1964 a 9.1 earthquake all but wiped up the original town of Valdez because it had been built on very unstable ground back in the late 19th century during the gold rush. The new town was built about four miles further up the bay on bedrock and those buildings that were still safe were moved to the new site and the rest were razed. There are a few foundations and a memorial left at the old site but that is aboout it.
We then visited the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum which contained the best collections of stuffed animals we had ever seen. They had examples of every animal in Alaska. Doris even finally got to see her moose. You can see how big it was next to her. The wolves were also much larger than I would have thought. I had always thought of them as large German Shepherds but these guys were about twice as large. They also have the most complete collection of native art in Alaska, including some carved ivory and whalebone that was very intricate and exquisite.
We returned to the campground and performed some much needed cleanup. Doris took the inside and I did the outside. The Mothership and Libby both got a wash to remove all the dust and dirt from driving the gravel roads the last few days. Of course it started raining when I was about half done! They should be ready now for the drive to Glen Allen tomorrow.