Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 77: Whittier and a Bear

June 30 2014

Well, today started with excitement in our campsite. We decided to have pancakes for breakfast with some of our smoked sausage that we grilled Saturday. We talked about doing it outside – remember how much we love breakfast outside in nature. However, it was cloudy, a little windy and just a little too cool this morning so we wimped out and decided to eat inside. As we were cooking the smoke alarm went off – as it frequently does if we don't have the fan on – so we turned on the exhaust fan. Just as we were finishing breakfast Scout alerted to something and went to the window over by the door. We looked out and at first didn't see anything and then looked down a little and there was a black bear on our steps – standing up with his paws on the side of Fred. When he saw us he stepped down and started walking toward the back of the rig. We opened the door just a little to get a picture and he turned around and just looked at us. He was not aggressive at all, but also not afraid of us. Max said – “Hey, Bear” and he turned and walked off. Guess he liked the aroma of our breakfast. Fortunately there were no scratches in our paint but you can definitely see the paw prints in the dust on the side of the rig (yes we know it needs washing but haven't been anywhere where they allow it.) This appeared to be the same bear that was in our campsite yesterday. It appears to be a yearling that was probably just kicked out by it's mom. He appears to be hungry, looking for food, but unfortunately if he doesn't leave this area and keeps coming into the campsites the rangers will probably be called and that probably wouldn't end well for the bear. We have heard they don't relocate bears here – but that didn't come from a ranger. Anyway – about and hour later he walked back through our campsite but didn't stop.
Hey, Bear!
Knock, Knock
Second time around
After our morning excitement, we left for Whittier, AK. From our campsite, Whittier is only about 7 miles. There are 2 tunnels to go through. The first is just a small one but then the next one is the 2.5 mile long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel and is shared with the Alaska Railroad for whom the tunnel was first built. Passage costs $12.00 for autos, more for RVs, trucks, etc. They only charge for going to Whittier – no charge for leaving (does that mean they want to be sure you leave??). It is a one lane tunnel but there is an 8 lane staging area on each side of the tunnel. The railroad goes through on its schedule and otherwise vehicular traffic goes through changing directions every 30 minutes. The tunnel is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America at 13,300 feet. It has jet engine powered exhaust fans so it is noisy, too.
Whittier is a very small town built by the US government during WWII. It seems to revolve around the harbor/Prince William Sound. Cruise ships dock here and there is a large fishing industry. There are only 2-300 permanent residents and they all live basically in 2 highrise buildings. On this cloudy, dreary day the town seems drab and dull. Whittier receives about 240 inches of rain/year and up to 20 feet of snow. Yes, it rained today – no snow but it was noticeably colder on that side of the tunnel.
We know you are probably tired of eagle pictures and we didn't plan to take any more. But when one flies straight at the windshield then suddenly perches on a tree in front of you - and poses, we just had to take a couple more (plus or minus 55).

One of our main reasons for going to Whittier was to hike the Portage Pass trail. It is a 2 mile hike with a view of Portage Glacier as the end reward. The glacier has receded to the point you can no longer see it from the Visitors Center so this is a good way to see the glacier and it is an impressive one. Portage Pass was used by those coming to Alaska in the 1890s looking for gold. It is has a beautiful Alpine appearance with patches of wild raspberries and blue berries but sadly not yet ripe – although our fruit eating dog didn't seem to mind. Today due to the low clouds and rain pictures were not very good and views less than we would have liked.
Less than optimal view of Portage Glacier and Lake
A little better view
If we have another sunny day while in the area, we might go back to Whittier and the Portage Pass Trail again. Of course, when we returned to the Williwaw side of the tunnel the rain stopped and the sun was trying to break through. We stopped back by the Visitors Center to stamp our National Park Passport and let Scout swim with an "iceberg" in Portage Lake. It is now 8:30 pm and we have blue sky and bright sunshine.

We haven't seen anything of our bear visitor since our return. Rest assured we are carefully checking all windows for the little fellow each time before we go out.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 76: Sunday in Girdwood

June 29, 2014

Today was another absolutely beautiful day in Alaska. The morning temperature was 43 with an afternoon high of a warm 75 degrees and sunny all day.

This morning we visit Girdwood Chapel United Methodist Church. It is a small church with 2 services – 8:30 and 10:00. The website reports average 40-60 in worship. The 8:30 service is the smaller one and the one we chose to go to today. There were as many visitors as members but we met some very nice people and as people came in for the later service they were all very nice and welcoming. Today was the first day of their new pastor who moved here Wednesday from Missouri. However, since she just arrived there was a guest speaker today. We really enjoyed the service and right now we plan to be in this area through the holiday weekend we plan to go back there next week. Alaska is one of the few places we have visited where there may be a bear in the back yard of the church on Sunday morning. And that is what happened today between services. Unfortunately, by the time we got where we could see it was gone but someone else did get a picture.
Beautiful worship area at Girdwood Chapel UMC
After church it was laundry, lunch and a little cleaning of the rig before we got ready to head out on our afternoon bike ride.

Drinking water is hand pumped from wells at this campground
Just as we were readying, we heard Scout scurrying to the front of the rig – he was outside on his short lead. Max had just been outside brushing him and noticed him alerting to something in the woods but thought it was just another squirrel. We went out to check on him and there in the woods at the front of the rig was a bear! He was about 40 feet into the woods and walking away from our site. Scout never barked but he was wanting to check him out. We sure were glad he was on such a short lead. We had so wanted to see bear from our campsite while Donna and Barry were here and didn't but it happened today – a little closer than we wanted. It is our understanding that the bear has been wondering around in the woods since about 1:30 this afternoon and they came around this evening and reminded everyone to be sure there was no food outside.
Young black bear in woods near our site
We saw him again while we were riding our bikes
We biked out toward the Moose Flats today and saw more glaciers and beautiful lakes stopping to find geocaches along the way - being a little more vigilant of our surroundings.  This area is actually a rain forest and everything is so lush, green and beautiful. Not sure what we will do tomorrow, but we are thinking about going to Whittier. There is a hike to a glacier there that we would like to do. We will let you know what we decide – tomorrow.
Explorer Glacier from the trail
Interesting cloud we saw today

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 75: Williwaw and Portage Valley

June 28, 2014

Today was another gorgeous day. Sunshine all day, morning temperature 43 but quickly rising, with a high of 70. That's the hottest we have seen in quite a while. We may have to think about heading north to the mountains to escape the heat. :) We hear it has been hot in Alabama.

Today started with cooking breakfast outside at our picnic table. We have always enjoyed a good hearty breakfast cooked outside among the trees. It was such a nice way to start the day.
After cleanup we decided to ride bikes again. We rode back to the Visitors Center. With our Senior Pass we had free entrance to the exhibits and the movie about the park and Portage Valley (our current location.) These were very well done and we spent quite a while there.
We also picked up some maps and the ranger answered some questions we had about a hike we are considering and a paddle we are considering. We are still a little concerned about the water temperature in regards to the paddling. We then walked down to the shore of Portage Lake and had a snack before riding back to Fred. In the early afternoon we took Scout on a hike back out that way to a nice lake we spotted on our morning ride. He played in the water and we gave him a bath. We hiked a little further and then headed back to the rig. This is just such a beautiful area.

Tonight for dinner we again cooked and ate outside. Grilled pork chops -MMMM good. We also grilled some additional smoked sausage to replenish our supply in the freezer.

No big impressive outing, no new wildlife today and very few pictures but it was the kind of day we really enjoy. Lots of exercise, in a beautiful setting, with things Scout can also do. We think God everyday for the opportunity to be in this place. Tomorrow we plan to visit a small United Methodist Church in Girdwood – a few miles back toward Anchorage. We miss it when we aren't able to attend church so we are looking forward to worshiping in this new place.Hope you are having a great weekend.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 74: Biking around Williwaw

June 27, 2014
Yea!! Today started with sunshine and we had a mostly sunny day. No rain at all today! The sky was so beautifully blue with the white puffy clouds. Nice.

We spent most of the morning on maintenance items. We took Fred up to the Girdwood turnoff to the Tosoro station for diesel ($4.169) , LP gas ($3.99), water and dumped the holding tanks (free with purchase of fuel or LP). The Williwaw campground has no hookups so we have to keep everything full (or empty as appropriate) so we can continue to have all our creature comforts including our furnace. It is still in the 40's at night so some morning heat is needed. Once the sun is out Fred warms up nicely. The high today was 65 – great hiking and biking weather. That is exactly what we did after lunch. We biked down the Trail of Blue Ice to Portage Lake and the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center.
The Portage Glacier has receded and you can no longer see the glacier from the visitors center. You have to take a boat tour out onto Portage Lake to see the actual glacier. Since you can see many other glaciers in this area we didn't take the boat tour. From our campground we can see several glaciers with wonderful blue ice. You can see glaciers all up and down the Portage Valley. There was still a large chunk of blue ice floating in Portage Lake.
click to enlarge pictures
After returning from biking, we took Scout on a nice hike. We hiked over to the salmon viewing platform but the salmon are not yet back in Portage Creek. Not due back until mid July. A nice nature trail starts at the viewing platform and crosses under the road and follows along Portage Creek. Its was a nice hike. We keep finding more and more trails around here. This is really a beautiful area.

The campground has filled up this afternoon. We hope this weekend it remains the peaceful relaxing place we have enjoyed the past few days. We plan to stay here until at least Monday and may stay thru the July 4th weekend – no set itinerary – will move on when we feel the urge. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day 73: Williwaw Campground

June 26, 2014

Once again it rained most of the night and most of today. Rain, Rain, GO AWAY! It finally stopped about 4:30 this afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow will be a brighter day. We used the rain as an excuse to sleep in and then have sort of a lazy day. We purchased a mini-blind for Fred when we went to Anchorage yesterday. The pleated day/night shades that came with the rig for the long window by the door has never worked properly and one of the strings finally broke about a week ago. We decided we did not want to restring it and just purchased the blind. It was a little harder to install than we expected due to the tight area in the valance. We didn't want to take down due to some wires running up through it to the controls in the cabinet above. But after just a few contortions we got it installed and are quite happy with the way it looks and works. We just might want to change some others out. Well, at least one of us might like that.
The large bag of "happy pills" had to be kept close
After finishing that task we took Scout for a nice hike. It was still raining lightly when we started but quit shortly and we had a great hike. This is such a pretty area. We hiked to another campground and then back to a glacial moraine behind that campground. There were several really nice water falls and a beautiful blue pond. While walking we took some pictures of some flowers we wanted to come home and identify. Things are really in bloom here now. It has been fun to see the rapid change first from brown to lush green and now lots of blooms everywhere.
Cow Parsnip
Western Columbine
We got word from Barry and Donna that they arrived home safely. For that we are very thankful. We are also thankful for the wonderful time we had together exploring this state. Dear friends, we miss you already and Scout is still looking for you.

Still not sure what our plans are from here but plan to stay here a while longer to do some additional hikes in this area and maybe back to Anchorage for some museums and bike trails there. Tomorrow we plan to do some bike trails in this area – hopefully in some sunshine!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 72: Sadness in Anchorage

June 25, 2014

It rained all night and was still raining this morning when we got up. The forecast was for rain all day and unfortunately this time the forecast was correct. We remain at the Williwaw NFS Campground in Girdwood. Today we had planned to do some hiking and then take Barry and Donna back into Anchorage to fly back to Alabama. They didn't want to have to pack a bunch of wet clothes so we deleted the hiking.

Mid-morning we headed on into Anchorage to see if we could do a few things inside. We first visited some souvenir shops that had coupons in our TourSaver book – free Alaska magnets. Of course while we were downtown Donna spotted an ice cream shop so we had to have some ice cream for “lunch.” We had some good peach ice cream but it reminded us that we are missing peach season at home and those wonderful peach shakes from Chick-Fil-A.

After the ice cream we then decided to check out the factory tour of the Ulu Knife factory. This tour is advertised in all the tourist books. What a let down. To us it appeared to be just another souvenir shop. The factory tour consisted of windows you could look through to see what various workers were doing – about 6 windows. There was no tour – no one to explain what was occurring at each station. We love the ulu knives but felt the ads were misleading.
When we were going through Anchorage on our way to the Kenai we spotted a restaurant named “The Lucky Wishbone.” The parking lot was packed. Donna looked it up on TripAdviser and it got great reviews so we decided we would go there before we took them to the airport. The restaurant is known for its fried chicken and yes, we had fried chicken today. It was great! Barry and Donna got chicken and a halibut sandwich that they shared and they said both were very good. And the prices were better than we have been finding in most places recently.

We have had a blast with our dear friends for these past three weeks. We are so sorry the time has come for them to return home and will miss them terribly. Safe travels, dear friends, and we look forward to hiking with you again soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 71: Seward to Girdwood

June 24, 2014

We awake to a bright sunny day today – sure would have been nice to have this weather yesterday but – oh well – we prefer good weather for travel days as well. Today we moved from Seward back toward Anchorage to Girdwood in preparation for Donna and Barry's departure tomorrow. We are currently at Williwaw National Forest Service Campground. It had been recommended by several people we know so thought we would give it a try. We really like it. Well separated sites, quiet, look out the windows at glaciers. Listen to a creek. Very nice! The only downside is very slow Verizon Wireless internet connection so it takes a while to upload pictures.
Middle Glacier as seen from the campground
After setting up at the new location we went into Girdwood to check it out. There is a very nice ski resort there and we road the tram 2,300 feet up the mountain. From there you have panoramic views of a large portion of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet, glaciers, and the Chugach mountains.
Alyeska Resort and the trail up the mountain
Three glaciers seen from the tram
Turnagain Arm at low tide
While riding up the tram operator mentioned the bore tide in the Cook Inlet and suggested we go view that this afternoon. We hurried down the mountain and headed for the suggested viewing point. A bore tide is an abrupt rise of tidal water just after low tide, moving rapidly landward, formed by a flood tide surging into a constricted inlet such as the Turnagain Arm. The wave/wall of water can be as high as 6 feet. People in Alaska have started surfing the wave. The wave today was relatively small. It takes a minus 3-5 foot low tide to make the large wave. The water is about 36 degrees so a wet suit is required and a dry suit is recommended. It was quite interesting to see this small wave of water just rapidly proceed up the inlet. There was one surfer who successfully road the wave for over 2 miles. It was really fun to watch.

We then returned to the rig, ate dinner and then hiked part of the Blue Ice Trail. Very nice hike. We plan to stay here for several days and will get our bikes out and do some riding on these nice bike trails.
Donna took this really nice picture of a common rosefinch while we were hiking

Day 70: Glacier and Wildlife Cruise from Seward

June 23, 2014
Today we took another glacier and wildlife viewing cruise. This time we went to the Northwestern Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park on the View Finder operated by Major Cruise Tours. We departed port around 9:00 am and returned to port about 5:45 pm. Part of the cruise was in 8 to 9 foot swells but the captain did an excellent job finding smooth water whenever it could be found. It rained off and on through the day so we missed a few picture opportunities protecting the cameras. Even so we took more than 1,700 photos (sports mode really runs the numbers up.). We are so thankful for digital cameras. And you can be thankful that we aren’t posting all the pictures.

We saw sea otters, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoises, sea lions, puffins, numerous other species of birds and several humpback whales.
This sea otter was in the harbor as we were leaving
Sea otters are the cutest creatures in the ocean
Dall's Porpoises are hard to photograph
Sea Lions
Puffins start flight by running along the surface of the water
Two humpback whales
 Here is a sequence of a humpback whale diving.
The underside of a humpback whale's tail is used to identify that individual
Humpback on its side showing its pectoral fin
Humpback whale breaching
 We also saw several glaciers and watched some minor calving on some of them.

Prospect, Spoon and Porcupine Glaciers (left to right)
Southwestern Glacier
Calving, which is part of a glacier falling away, is accompanied by loud booms and roars
Beautiful ice fall caused by a large piece of the glacier breaking off high up
Strange ice formation on top of Southwestern Glacier
At the end of the trip the captain told us that the seas were at the limit that he would take the ship out into. He had a coffee cup in the wheelhouse that had ridden with him for five years and not fallen. It bounced off its perch today and broke.

It was also at the end of the trip that we learned of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning in the Aleutian Islands. Fortunately there currently is no report of problems/injuries from this event and we were never in the warned area. It would have been nice to have better weather but it was a great trip! We have lots more pictures of today's trip that we hope to post in the future.

We were greeted by more bald eagles when we arrived at the campground because someone across the creek from the campground had throw a bunch of large salmon heads into the stream bed.
Immature bald eagle
Two immature bald eagles sparring