Sunday, October 10, 2010


Karen and I took advantage of special rates from Frontier Airlines to fly to Alaska to celebrate our thirty-second wedding anniversary.  We flew from Denver non-stop to Anchorage, where we rented a car to use on our ten-day adventure.

Alyeska Ski Resort near Girdwood, Alaska which is about forty miles southeast of Anchorage.

We stayed here at the Alyeska Lodge for our first two nights.  Beautiful views in all directions!

Alaska's long summer daylight is responsible for some almost tropical-like growth.  This batch of Coltsfoot intrigued me with its super large leaves.

The Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet is famous for the range between its high and low tides (approximately 35 feet), and its bore tides.  The incoming bore tide can form a wave as large as eight to ten feet moving at ten to fifteen miles per hour.  Unfortunately, there were no bore tides during our visit to the Turnagain.  We looked for, but did not see any of the white Beluga Whales which frequent the area.

Mud flats exposed by the low tides.  Though not actually quick sand, the fine glacial silt mud can, and has, trapped people who then drown in the incoming tides.

This is part of the Alaska Coastal Wildlife Refuge.  Lots of waterfowl in the area.  We especially enjoyed watching the Trumpeter Swans.  This is a summer breeding area for the swans.  They will soon be returning to their wintering grounds in northwest Canada.

The Seward Highway offers spectacular scenery along the Turnagain Arm.  The arm was named in 1778 by  William Bligh, famous/infamous Captain of the HMS Bounty.  At the time, Bligh was a Sailing Master aboard Captain Cook's vessel during Cook's expedition to search for a Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

One of an endless number of stunning views in the Chugach National Forest off the Seward Highway.  Fall colors were at their peak.  Trees tended toward multiple shades of gold while the tundra mixed shades of orange, brown, and red with the yellows.

After two nights in Alyeska, we drove on down the Portage Glacier Road to Whittier.  Part of this road is a narrow tunnel shared by the railroad.  Traffic through this 2.5 mile long tunnel alternates direction hourly.  On the way down, we stopped at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Lake.

From Whittier, we boarded a car ferry and took the Alaskan Marine Highway to Valdez.

Valdez is the United States' northern-most ice free port and the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.  This small town of less than 5,000 residents is surrounded by mountains and is sometimes referred to as Alaska's Little Switzerland. It sits at the end of a deep fjord off of Prince William Sound, which in turn is part of the Gulf of Alaska in the northern Pacific Ocean.   Valdez gets an average of thirty feet of snow in the winter!  We stayed two nights here at the Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn.

Rugged mountains form a beautiful backdrop for the many commercial fishing boats docked at the marina in Valdez. 

We arrived at the end of the silver (coho) salmon spawning season.  There were thousands of salmon swimming by the docks.  Fisherman were catching them from the shore...usually by snagging them.  Fun to watch!

While we were there, this area of Alaska had a day-and-a-half of huge winds.  Gusts of up to seventy miles per hour blew down trees in Anchorage and cut off power to thousands of people.  Here in Valdez, the wind picked up glacier silt from the mountains and river beds.  This created large clouds resembling smoke from a forest fire.  It also made for some hazy viewing at times as the clouds of silt mixed into the atmosphere.

Statue by Hungarian born sculptor Peter "Wolf" Toth  This is part of his "Trail of the Whispering Giants" series he carved to honor Native Americans.  He has placed statues on all fifty states, Canada, and Hungary.  This thirty-foot high statue was carved from native Sitka Spruce, is ten feet wide, and weighs in at 85,000 pounds!  Interestingly enough, I have seen his Colorado work many times, but did not know the story behind it.  His statue "Redman", which we saw years ago in the city of Loveland, now resides in a field several miles west of Loveland on the north side of Highway 34.  We see it every time we drive down to Loveland or Fort Collins. For more information on Toth, and to see a picture of "Redman" check out this website...

Leaving Valdez we next drove up the Richardson Highway along the Lowe River through Keystone Canyon.  We stopped several times in the canyon to view and photograph some of the many beautiful waterfalls such as Horsetail Falls (left) and Bridal Veil Falls (right).

The picture below is the view back down Keystone Canyon from near the top of Thompson Pass on the way towards the Worthington Glacier, which we had explored the day before. (Notice the dust clouds of glacial silt still being kicked up way back down towards Valdez.)

We continued on towards our next destination of Homer via the Richardson Highway, Glenn Highway, Seward Highway, and finally the Sterling Highway.  This drive was to take over ten hours and cover 520 miles.  Our trip skirted the edge of the largest National Park in North America, Wrangell St. Elias. It took us through the Chugach National Forest, the second largest and northern-most national forest in America.  Our route would also take us down Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. I will always remember this day for the some of the most beautiful, stunning, awesome scenery I have ever seen!  Below is 12,010 foot tall Mt. Drum, part of the Wrangell Mountains.

Matanuska Glacier from Eureka Summit.

Sheep Mountain

Matanuska Glacier

Aerial view of the twenty-seven mile long Matanuska Glacier.  (Stock photo from the web)

We ate seafood every day on our trip...fresh salmon and halibut usually.  But while on our big push from Valdez to Homer, could not bypass the Micky D's in Palmer.  I had a two-dollar dollar burger and an ice cream cone.  Then I purchased a cup-a-joe and another ice cream for the road.  Guess you're looking at a junk food junkie. 

Homer, Alaska.  Our first sunset there... photo taken from the back of the cabin we stayed in overlooking Kachemak Bay.

Daylight view from the our cabin at the Alaskan Suites, which sits on the bluff above Homer.  We liked our lodging (and Homer) so much that after our first night, we asked to stay two more!  Luckily, due to a last minute cancellation, we were able to stay after switching to another cabin.

Karen checking out some kelp on the beach.  The proprietor of the Alaskan Suites had told us about a hiking trail down from the bluff to the beach right across from Diamond Ridge Road at the Sterling Highway.  Never would have found it without his directions.  Had a wonderful time on this short hike.

Me kneeling down for a moment while enjoying the view.

Oh yeah baby!  Alaska in late September is not as bad as they tell you!  We had seven days of sunshine before getting into some clouds and rain.

We saw many bald eagles on our trip.  Spotted this one was flying over the Beluga Slough on a trail near the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.  We were disappointed to find the visitor center closed on Monday, our last full day in Homer.  We hung around Tuesday until it opened at ten o'clock, and man, we were glad we did.  It is a wonderful place with fantastic displays covering the history, Native Americans, European influx, fish, and wildlife of Alaska's islands and oceans.

Double desserts at Captain Pattie's on the Homer Spit. Another great place for fresh seafood.  The Homer Spit is a five mile spit of gravelly, barren land that juts out into Kachemak Bay.  The Spit has docking facilities for deep water vessels while the boat harbor is home for many commercial and charter fishing boats.  Homer calls itself the halibut fishing capital of the world.  It is also commonly referred to as the "End of the Road".  Homer as between five and six thousand residents, but has another eight thousand more in the surrounding area.  Beautiful small tourist town with many bigger-town amenities...I would love to vacation here again.

View from our hotel room in Seward.  We stayed at the Best Western Edgewater Hotel which overlooks Resurrection Bay, and as you can see in the photo below, the Alaska SeaLife Center.  We did tour the Center and would recommend it to anyone visiting Seward.  Like Homer, Seward is another place I would like to spend more time in.  Great hiking, fishing, boat touring, and kayacking opportunities for a future trip.

Another picture from our room, this one towards the mountains across Resurrection Bay.

Marathon Mountain.  As a trail runner, I wish I would have had the time to run up this bad boy.  They have a rather famous race here every year on the 4th of July.  Mile and a half up, mile and a half suicide sprint's a link to see the race course 
Looks like one gnarly mountain course!

Sea otters are common in the area.  These adorably cute creatures are really fun to watch!  I took a LOT of pictures of the otters!  Would have like to have had a tripod and longer lens.

Another thing on my lists of things to do.  As a spectator, not a participant!

Harbor Seal.  We saw a few of these, but not as many as the sea otters.

I found the jelly fish both beautiful and repulsive at the same time.  I took this photo from the docks where they were swimming by the thousands.  The lighter colored variety ( faintly visible in at the upper right) were prettier and way more numerous than this red one.

Fantastic mountain backdrop to the harbor; even more stunning than Valdez.

This bald eagle was sitting on a power pole and started flying off just as I prepared to take a picture.  Not a great shot due to the lighting, but I love the way it is posed mid-flight with its talons still extended.

The Exit Glacier off the Harding Ice Field, just a few miles outside of Seward.  The seven hundred square mile Harding Ice Field is located withing the Kenai Fjords National Park.  We enjoyed the half-mile hike up to the foot of the Glacier.  As you can see, we finally got to experience some "real Alaskan weather".  We came to Alaska expecting rain and clouds, and were well prepared with warm and rain-proof clothing.  Three days of this was great, but I would sure hate to have to live through several weeks at a time of this kind of rain and overcast!

Karen at the foot of  Exit Glacier.

Though most of the tour and charter boats were closed for the season, we did find one that was still up and running.  We signed up for a half day tour of Resurrection Bay on the Orca Song.

The smile on my face is testimony to how much I enjoyed this tour.

Looks like Karen felt the same way about our boat trip!

Salt spry kicked up as we turned windward.

Bald Eagle flying over our boat.

The beautiful scenery of Resurrection Bay.

 Steller Sea Lions.  We also got a brief glimpse of some mountain goats up high on a wooded promontory.  Couldn't get a half decent photo of the goats due to the rain, motion of the ocean, and distance, but it was still fun to watch them.

The Bear Glacier is a tidewater glacier from the Harding Ice Field. It ends in a glacial lagoon across a spit of land.  The sheets of rain coming down are lit up by sunlight filtering through the cloud cover.

The beautiful Mrs. G enjoying the rain and salt spray.

Sign on our way back up the Kenai Peninsula towards Anchorage.

Earthquake Park in Anchorage is dedicated to the 9.4 (Richter Scale) 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.  This was the most powerful quake ever recorded in North America and among other things, destroyed the town of Valdez.  Karen and I visited the old pre-quake town site of Valdez while we were in there.


matt said...

Beautiful pictures Vince. Seems like Karen and you had a great time. Are you ready to move there yet and hunt bear?

Sasquatch said...

Nice pictorial of your Alaskan trip Vince. Looks like things are nice and green there, compared to the various hues of brown and death here in Colorado.