What a difference 24 hours makes. The rain finally stopped and we awoke to a brightening sky. We headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see the animals that have undoubtedly been hiding from us as we have traveled through their habitats. All the animals here have been rescued from certain death. The grizzles’ mother was shot by a man who was protecting his dog from her. The elk had over populated their habitat in Washington state and were relocated here to more spacious grounds. The eagle had been hit by a car. And so on. Each animal group had a huge habitat and was near the people if it wanted to be. Because the center is only an hour’s drive from Anchorage, many tour buses drove the loop around the center. As we lingered in front of each animal area, we felt sorry for the folks who whisked by peering out of the bus windows. When we neared the end of the loop, bit of blue sky began to appear. Be still my beating heart!
We drove on to Whittier, one of the strangest towns we have ever visited. Until 2000 you could only get there by boat, seaplane or train. The train traveled though a 2.5 mile tunnel. Then a one lane road was superimposed on the train bed. Today after you pay a $12 toll, you can travel west by car on the hour and east on the half hour. If a train comes, all bets are off. Whittier owes its existence to the military which created it during WWII as a port and petroleum delivery center tied to bases further north by the Alaska Railroad and later a pipeline. Its deepwater port is open year round and became the primary point to unload cargo and troops. The military left in 1960.
Today everyone who lives here lives in the same place, a grim fourteen story penal looking sort of high rise called Begich Towers. It had housed military families and today whoever lives here has no other choice. There is so little flat ground available in Whittier that there are no private homes. Another even larger building completed in 1953 was the largest building in Alaska and was known as “the city under one roof,” but the residents had to leave once its asbestos dangers were known. Today it stands empty and reminded me of Chernobyll. Last winter Whittier had 42 feet of snow on the ground. The first four floors of the Begich Towers were buried and a tunnel was made through the snow so the few children who live there could get to the school. Tour operators who arrived in April to open their businesses, had to dig down twenty feet to find their roofs.
But today in the bright sunshine Whittier was beautiful. A cruise ship was in port, surrounded by fishing boats. The bright blue sky and bright blue water were accented by the snow on the mountains and by glaciers. Water falls streamed down the hillsides as all the snow that fell last winter continued to melt. We were finally able to enjoy the scenery we came here to enjoy.
Back at the campground we rode a paved bike trail that turned into a boardwalk in the marshy spots. Snow capped mountains loomed next to us and purple lupine bloomed near the trail Spectacular! A perfect day was topped off with a camp fire and s’mores.