|The black bears like dandelions|
One of the nice things about traveling this way is that you can change your mind at the last minute about where you want to go and where you will stay. We know that we don't want to spend more than a few hours driving each day so we pick places where we think we will be when we have reached our driving limit. This is affected, of course, by scenic vista stops and must see tourist attractions which serve as wonderful breaks in our drive.
We have guide books that generally provide excellent information about what is before us. The information about Beaver Creek was a little less specific. We originally planned on staying outside the 'town' at the Yukon government campground, Snag Junction. But, we were intrigued by the description of Buckshot Betty's. We thought we could settle in there for the night, but it is not an RV park. So, we pulled into the Westmark Inn RV park where we enjoyed the Rendezvous Dinner Show, a vaudeville style show that we found very entertaining. It's amazing what television deprivation can do to help you appreciate live entertainment.
|Big Entry to Alaska|
It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this vast landscape. Immediately after crossing into Alaska from Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory we observed a dramatic change. The road that had been bringing us north now slowly turned northwest then west on the high Yukon Plateau. We were entering one of the few passes through the mountains that separated the coast from the interior. For hundreds of miles to the west and south is land that exceeds the definition of wilderness by many orders of magnitude. The combination of the Canadian Kluane National Park that is contiguous with the Tetlin Wildlife Preserve and the Wrangle-St. Elias preserve has created one the worlds largest area of protected land. We learned at the Tetlin Preserve Information Center how important this corridor is to millions of migratory birds, some of which pass through here on their way to central and south America.
|Moose also enjoy this pass|
From Tok, we headed south to Valdez on the Richardson Highway. The day started out clear and we enjoyed the drive along the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipline. Being a dyed in the wool tree-huger, I regrettably have to admit that its impact on the ecology of this vast landscape doesn't amount to a piss hole in a snow bank (one of my dad's favorite expressions). We took the loop off the new highway into the town of Copper Center, had lunch at the Copper Center Lodge and visited the quaint museum next door where we saw artifacts from the days when mining was the principal occupation and where Sarah bought a hand made rag rug for the Mary Joan.
The skies lowered as we left Copper Center eventually encasing us in thick fog as we neared the pass above Valdez. We stopped at the Blueberry Lake Campground near the summit of the pass that night and finished our descent into Valdez the next day.
The Eagle's Rest Campground was our home for the next three nights. It is located in the heart of Valdez with great views of the surrounding mountains. The pink salmon were running and hundreds of fishermen were angling from the southern shore of the bay. The salmon arrive on the incoming tide. We were a bit late the first day, still Sarah was able to hook two, but they got away. The next day's weather forecast was for clear skies and calm winds. We decided to take the dinghy west on Port Valdez to Shoup Bay, about ten miles west of Valdez. It was nearly slack tide when we arrived at the river draining the Shoup Glacier. There was glacial ice in the water and the air temperature drop was very noticeable. I took the dinghy as far up the river as I was comfortable. Knowing that when the tide began to flood I would have to use more fuel than I had on board to get back to Valdez, so we made our retreat. Total round trip was about 25 miles and the scenery was wonderful.
We returned to our fishing spot on the south side of Port Valdez just west of the fish hatchery about two hours before high tide. The salmon made the water boil with their presence. I caught two pink salmon within minutes and had other strikes that I lost. We also released fish that were just snagged on the body rather than hooked in the mouth. These pink salmon are not large, only about 18”. But, I found it to be like shooting fish in a barrel and after harvesting two that we could fit in our freezer, we stopped fishing. I must say, however, that fresh salmon in a dill cream sauce is a wonderful dinner.
|That's my tackle box|
Two highlights of fishing at this place are the presence of Grizzly Bears and Bald Eagles. While we were fishing, a young Grizzly sauntered across the road and down to the shore. He walked about 200 yards along the shore, past my fishing spot, to the shallows where the spawning salmon were splashing. He was obviously inexperienced at catching fish because he came away empty pawed. A few moments later, however, a larger and clearly more experienced bear found two salmon for his dinner.
From Valdez we drove to Lake Louise, just 20 miles north of the Glenn-Allen Highway. We learned that this is the place that the would be president, Dwight Eisenhower spent four days in 1947. He came here to relax for one day of fishing, but ended up staying for four days. We can see why.
On the way north on the Richardson Highway out of Valdez we stopped to take the short hike from the road to the Worthington Glacier. Having climbed glaciers, I didn't need the warning of the park ranger about walking into the tunnels beneath the glacier. But, that warning resonated loudly with others when just as we turned our backs to return to the truck, a piece of glacier the size of our trailer I had just photographed fell to the ground.
|Ready to Fall|
We try to avoid retracing any routes, but there was no other option (other than using the Marine Ferry) to visit Valdez. We also made one error in our planning. Our normal routine is to explore the possible places of interest along our intended path. Somehow we overlooked the Wrangle-St. Elias National Park/Preserve. Reading about this place the evening we arrived at Lake Louise we were disappointed with our error. While I had planned to fish on Lake Louise the next day we decided to leave Mary Joan at the lake and retrace our steps to visit the town of McCarthy and the mining village of Kennicott. It was a drive of 175 miles (one way) with 60 miles on viscous washboard and potholed gravel road. Our decision was rewarded with some of the most wonderful scenery we have seen yet. A raging river produced by the confluence of melt water from more than six glaciers was crossed to reach the village of McCarthy then to the remnants of the mining hamlet of Kennicott. We hiked to within a mile of the tongue of the glacier but turned around when Scout (our faithful canine companion) began to tire.
Today, we arrived in Anchorage. We'll visit museums and other sites tomorrow. Tuesday, Sarah's sister, Jennifer, arrives to spend a week with us while we explore the Kenai peninsula.