Anchorage -- glaciers and food
Jul 12, 2008
|We had only around 100 miles to drive from not-quite-Palmer to our next stop in Anchorage, but it took us about 3 hours. There’s a huge construction project going on just a few miles from our last campground, where they are re-aligning the road and, in the process, blasting through a solid rock section of mountain. The whole site is 4-5 miles long, so when they close the traffic one way and let the other side through, the wait can be quite a while. We waited about 30 minutes before being given the all-clear to follow the pilot car. Actually, we let a whole bunch of cars go ahead of us so that we weren’t leading a parade through the next section of road, which is 20+ miles of narrow, curving mountain driving. In Alaska the law is that if you have 5 or more vehicles behind you and you’re driving slow enough to create a “delay” you must pull over and let them go on. The problem on this road is that there are very few turnoffs, so if you’re slow you can build up quite a parade following you. Since we knew we would be slow, we elected to let everyone go ahead of us so we wouldn’t be stressed by having them behind us (also it didn’t hurt that we knew that the group behind us included a state trooper!) and having to look for a turnoff that would accommodate both rigs.
We got to our campground in Anchorage to find that, instead of the pull-through spaces we had requested, we were given back-in spaces. The pull-through spaces are all, apparently, reserved for caravan vehicles. On top of which, we knew from other people and could see immediately when we came in that there is very little room to maneuver in this park. We don’t back into spaces often enough to have gotten good at it so it took several advisors and several tries but we eventually made it. Of course, we drew a crowd, because there’s nothing experienced RVers like more than watching someone else handle a difficult maneuvering job. Either they want to help or are willing to sit and be an armchair critic (all the while being glad they are safely parked in their own spaces!). We had several of each, but my favorite was the woman who came over and gave me (Margaret – although Ian could probably have used it more) a hug and said “it’ll work – it always does.”
After we’d been there a while and were getting our blood pressure back to normal we began chatting with the people across the road from us and discovered it was Mike, of “Mike and Mary”, with whom we’ve been exchanging posts on the Escapees web forum thread on “Alaska Bound 2008 version”. Mary was out, but we chatted a while, exchanged stories and recommendations and promised to see each other again while we’re here. As it turned out we didn’t get that chance until they were on the verge of leaving on Saturday morning but we compared itineraries and expect we might see them somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula in the next couple of weeks.
Our friends the Wishnies are also staying here and we saw them (walking the famous Boo Boo) as we came back from a foray to Wal-Mart and some other shopping. We went to their place for cocktails and then back to our own place for dinner and early to bed.
Friday we had made reservations to take a “26 Glacier” boat tour out of Whittier, which is a very small coastal town about 70 miles from Anchorage. This involves taking the Seward Highway south for a while, through Portage (which has a great visitor’s center which, when we were there, had a beautiful iceberg floating in the water right outside), and turning off to Whittier. Along the way we stopped at a couple of places where we didn't see any salmon and didn't see any whales, but we looked just the same, just in case! Right before you get to Whittier you have to go through a tunnel, formerly a railway-only tunnel and now shared by the railway and cars, that is open to cars only once an hour in each direction. Now that I think about it, it’s just a high-tech form of the construction zone that we went through on our way here! You wait in line and when the time comes for the traffic direction to change, the lights change color and you go! It’s a long tunnel, about 2 ½ miles, and the rock sides haven’t been finished, so you can see where they were hollowed out to make the tunnel. At the east end, you enter Whittier. Whittier was built as an Army supply port (and may have been a secret Navy base during the war, but that seems still to be a secret) and now exists mainly as a port for fishing, some shipping and tourist ships. We were early for our cruise, so we drove around a bit (it doesn’t take long) and watched the dock workers transfer containers around the dock area and onto a truck bed. We thought of our friend Blane Mortimer (hi Blane!) for whom this stuff is very small potatoes, but we thought it was neat.
We then boarded our catamaran boat (despite the no-seasickness money-back guarantee both Brian and Margaret had pre-dosed with Dramamine) for a 4 ½ hour tour of some of the glacier areas in Prince William Sound. We stayed safely inside most of the time (the weather, although not actively raining, was still damp and pretty raw when the boat was going at its full speed of about 46 mph) but when there was something good to see the captain slowed or stopped the boat and we were able to get outside to get clear pictures. We saw a couple of “calving” glaciers, when they drop pieces of ice that float as icebergs, many more glaciers above and approaching the water and some spectacular mountain vistas seeming to rise straight out of the water. We also saw several “rafts” of sea otters floating in the water, a couple of seals sunning on larger pieces of ice and an area with over 5,000 black-legged kittiwakes (a member of the gull family that nests in the cliffs along the shore of the Sound) and a pair of bald eagles (our first of the trip), who were hanging around in the trees waiting for a stray kittiwake egg to appear. All in all it was a great trip – more glaciers, but different than we have been seeing as many of these are tidewater glaciers, that come down clear to the water. And, yes, they really are that blue.
We topped off our day with a stop at Girdwood, a small resort community about 15 miles or so north of Whittier, for dinner at a wonderful restaurant, the Double Musky. They serve Cajun style recipes using Alaska ingredients such as salmon, halibut and various game meats, in a casual atmosphere with a great wine list. It would rank high on our list of restaurants anywhere, but here in the middle of nowhere (comparatively speaking) it was even more of a surprise. I’m not sure, but I think there were several of us “resting our eyes” on the way home. Fortunately Brian, who was driving, wasn’t one of them!
Saturday we went to a couple of Anchorage’s Farmers’ Markets with the Wishnies and stocked up on some fresh produce (huge by our standards, but still smaller than it will be later in the season). Jo and Margaret had fun looking at the stalls in the downtown market, which was more flea market/craft fair than farmers’ market, but didn’t buy much. Margaret was persuaded that the very attractive fur headband wouldn’t be much use in Phoenix, but it was pretty! Fred and Ian sat, talked and chatted with all of Boo Boo’s female admirers (the two-legged kind). We then had lunch at the Brewhouse, a downtown restaurant, where Jo and Ian tried an Alaskan beer that was served in wine glasses – a first for all of us! Alaska is just full of new experiences!!
Saturday evening we went with Brian and Maryann for a joint birthday celebration (they both have birthdays in the first half of July) to one of their favorite restaurants in Anchorage, Phyllis’s, which specializes in crab legs. We each had the jumbo crab legs (assuring ourselves that the melted butter was calorie-free since it was just a garnish), finishing off with ice cream, after which we waddled home, feeling like it had been a very satisfying and food-filled 24 hours. Many more like this and we’ll be overweight with our rig and have to dump some cargo somewhere so as to not overload the truck!! We weren’t even tempted by the nightly drive-by of the ice cream truck.
We are enjoying a chance to catch up on some shopping and errands that are best done in a more urban location, but are feeling the pull of a more “real” Alaska. Anchorage is a very nice medium-sized city (and beautiful with its many parks and gorgeous flowers everywhere) but if you don’t look too closely it could be anywhere in the upper Midwest or Pacific Northwest. We’ll be here a couple of more days, with a couple of additional things on the agenda to see and are then looking forward to getting along the road to some of the more historic and interesting towns on the Kenai Peninsula.