Jo and Wazz's NW Americas Adventure travel blog

Turnagain Arm - tide out!

Turnagain Arm looking back towards Anchorage - ahh those mountains

Anyone for a cheap rental in Hope?

The main street of Hope

Summit Lake and mountain scenery on the Seward HWY

How good is that panorama! - Summit Lake

Virgin Falls in Girdwood

We never tire of those views - about to go through the...

Whittier watefront and jetty

On our walk to the Byron Glacier

Our first (hopefully of many) bear - nice black one

Lovin' the Girdwood Brewery!

Tis a good drop don't ya know

Blog Five – Girdwood

Wednesday 1 May 2019

We didn’t have a long drive today so we had a leisurely breakfast and finished packing. We said our goodbyes to Martin and the dogs and headed back out to the Parks Highway and headed south to Anchorage. As it was a short drive of about an hour and a half we stopped over at 5th Avenue for a break and to visit our new friends at JC Penny.

This may or may not have been a good idea depending on which way you look at it! We parked in the JC Penny carpark which was very low – a lot of “good ol’ boys” pickups wouldn’t fit but our Jeep had no problem. The credit card however was another matter. Actually it didn’t do too bad despite the number of items purchased! A lot of the items were at least 50% off and some up to 70%. Shania had a great time. The quality is really good as is the range – nothing really to compare it to in Oz.

A couple of hours later and we headed back to our other favourite Fred Meyer for a few supplies (and yes they’d kindly restocked the Thera Tears for us) for our stay in Girdwood. The Starbucks got a workover again as well due to the fact that they had a few new flavours and had to be sampled! We also fuelled up (have to pay first – Billy Bob hates it) and we were soon winging our way down the Seward Highway. The Seward Highway is classed as one of the most scenic drives in Alaska. We are lucky to get to see the mountains still covered in snow as this really adds to it’s beauty. We are also lucky to be here in off season as it is ridiculously busy in summer and has one of the highest crash rates due to people gawking at the scenery and not watching what they are doing.

We stopped a few times on the way for a look and a few photos before heading off onto the Alyeska Highway and the few miles to Girdwood. We did a loop of the township up to the ski resort and to check out the shops before checking into our cabin with the lock key. And a very nice cabin it is too. Great kitchen with a fireplace as well and two bedrooms although the loft bedroom has the funniest set of stairs we’ve seen. Instead of stairs they are individual steps – like two offset ladders for each foot and with a very low ceiling above them. So on this basis we decided to call downstairs our bed for the next three days.

We unloaded the car and quickly headed down our street, across the highway to the Girdwood Brewing Company. The brewery is a small affair with a surprising amount of patrons for a Wednesday afternoon/evening. We soon settled in with one of the local drops and sat outside in front of the firepit. Funny story - we were at the bar deciding what drop to buy and saw a couple of people behind us wanting to order so we moved aside to let them order. The young woman who then ordered thought this astounding and she had never seen it before so she bought our beers! Very bizarre. It was a great gesture and appreciated.

We started chatting to a young couple and found out where they were from and very surprisingly both were raised in Swaziland, which we had been to when we were in Africa in 2016. This provided some mutual experiences about the country and Africa in general. They were a very nice couple and had ridden here from Bird Creek 15 miles away and after a few brewskies were headed back the 15 miles on their bikes to then head back to their home in Anchorage. We also checked out the onsite food truck and had a huge potato with pulled pork and all the trimmings. It was one of the nicest spuds we’ve had.

A couple of ladies then joined us by the fire. Another chat was had with them and it appears as though they are Canadians with one heading back to Toronto and this is a three week goodbye tour for them. They were very different people but again great to talk to over a brewski or two. Billy Bob went to get his fourth bevvie and was told that this was his last one as Alaska has a very strange rule with microbreweries that patrons can only have 36 ounces per day. You can drink all night at a pub or other establishment but not at a microbrewery. WTF! Anyway it was going to be our last one and we were feeling very satisfied having had a few different drops and the huge potato with all the trimmings. So we said our goodbyes to the two patrons and walked the long walk home – about 7 minutes if that! Not a lot was done after that and not too long after we called it a night.

Thursday 2 May 2019

We had the unfortunate knowledge yesterday that the ski resort is out of commission for the first two weeks in May – starting yesterday! Very disappointed, not so much for the skiing (we don’t do that) but we always like catching a ride to the top in the gondolas. Still that’s not the main reason for coming here and after brekkie we headed south down the Seward Highway and then off to the one-moose historical town of Hope.

It only took about an hour and as we drove on past the little township it looked deserted – which it was - but initially we headed down the road to the “beach” which was on the other side of the Turnagain Arm – across the inlet from where we were staying at Girdwood. We took a few photos and then did a lap of the campground before heading into “town” and parking – we were the only car. We got out and wandered the township and took a lot of photos of the old buildings. Some were going to be used in the summer but we were a tad early. It appears as though tourism doesn’t really take place in full until the middle or end of May! We were there more for the buildings and the look of the place rather than the insides so it didn’t really matter. A quick trip around in the car and out a different exit past some questionable homes and we were back on the highway.

We made it back to the Seward Highway but turned towards Seward as we wanted to visit the “only in Alaska named” town of Moose Pass. We wanted to see the town and a particular establishment for its eclectic gifts but also the scenery along the way. The latter didn’t disappoint with ice covered lakes surrounded by snow covered mountains, there were stunning vistas all around. The shop did – it opens next week. Oh well that’s life up north in May.

We stopped at the “town” for a couple of photos, drove to the closed shop and then headed back down the highway towards our little town and our cabin. The highway is being fixed in a number of places and like they say there are two seasons in Alaska – winter and construction! We arrived home after finding out another interesting fact – there is no town of Portage. We had been under the belief for over a year that there was a township (which we tried to find) but it doesn’t exist - it’s just an area south of Girdwood. We also had a quick stop at the entranced to the Wildlife Centre so we could have a look at the Bison that were just hanging about near the fence line.

We had another stirfry for dinner and watched the new comedy by Ricky Gervais, Derek, which is quite bizarre but oddly compelling at the same time. And as with a few Netflix shows it sucks you in and all of a sudden a couple of hours has gone past. And with that it goodnight nurse.

Friday 3 May 2019

After another coffee grab from a different place today we headed off to Whittier. We did a little reconnaissance on the way home yesterday around the area near “Portage” and it is an interesting place. Founded by the US military in the second world war it has a population of about 250 and they all live in one apartment block. A tunnel gets you there but it is single lane and used by both cars and trains! So every quarter of an hour on the hour cars go from Whittier through the tunnel to the Portage side and then the next quarter of hour the train goes from Whittier to Portage - followed a quarter of hour later by cars going from Portage to Whittier and then the train from Portage to Whittier. It costs $13 return to use the tunnel and is apparently the longest in North America – and has to the strangest.

We went to pay but were a bit early so decided to go back to a view point down the road and took a few pics of the lake with the occasional iceberg from the glacier carvings. We then paid and lined up with all the other vehicles of every size to go through the tunnel. And it is a fair way. We measured it and it took eight minutes going about 20 miles per hour. We arrived in the township to find nearly as many boats as people. The harbour was full of them and in every size and shape. When we hopped out of the car the wind was probably the coldest we’d felt it since arriving, despite the blue sunny skies. Still as it was a nice day we wandered the dock area (the only area in town) and strolled to the jetty with the bigger day tripper boats. We did think about taking one but decided against it as we have a similar coming up in Seward and we weren’t sure it was worth the price.

A quick wander back found us at the Lazy Otter Café, which was packed and we couldn’t even get in the door – although to be fair it wasn’t the largest establishment and the only one open in town that we could find. We sat in the car out front for awhile and booked our glacier walk for Sunday through a company who does it all year round and seems quite good. We’ll check in about that in our next blog. This sorted and the café now all but empty, we went in and had a white chocolate mocha each by the window overlooking the harbour which was one of the best we had tried. It is hard to gauge these things as everything is better when on holidays!

We drove to the staging area to go back through the tunnel and drove the eight minutes through to the other side and went for a drive towards the Portage Glacier end and parked in one of the many car parks to see if there was a walk that took us towards a glacier. Our first park was unsuccessful but the second offered a mile or so walk to Byron Glacier so we headed off down the track.

This was a good choice as there were large drifts of snow at the end and we also spotted a black bear up the mountain a long way off. This was courtesy of a Spanish couple who saw it first and directed us to its location otherwise we would have been none the wiser it was so far up the mountain. Shania managed to get a couple of reasonable pics on the mega zoom on her point and shot camera that confirmed it was a black bear but that was as good as it got. Probably good that we couldn’t get too good a shot otherwise we may have been its dinner!

We only walked a short distance more before it stopped at the start of the glacier where it met the river although the real part of the glacier was much further back in the mountains so it wasn’t like we were under the face of it. Still it was a good walk and we headed back to the car unscathed. And that was it for the day as we drove back to our cabin in Girdwood and had dinner at home. We did stop along the way at a “bakery” and for the second time the term bakery doesn’t seem to relate to the making of bread but more so baked sweets. We haven’t found anywhere yet that sells bread in any real form outside of a supermarket in Alaska, although we will keep looking.

And with dinner and a wonderful bottle of Argentinian Septima Malbec we watched a bit of Netflix (Shania a lot of Netflix – You’re Dead to Me) we called it a night. It was well after midnight before Shania decided to drag herself away from her new found show and now she has to hope there is somewhere else with Netflix so she can finish watching the first series.

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