Days 38 (Wednesday Aug 5) and 39 (Thursday Aug 6) were devoted to transit to Glenallen AK for an overnight stop and then onwards to Valdez AK.
There’s good news and bad news about Day 38…bad news first.
We overnighted in Tolsona Wilderness RV Park in site 87…and although the campground is advertised as being suitable for big rigs that is clearly incorrect. True…we did get some big rigs in here but it was very tough both getting into the park over some narrow, rickety looking one lane wooden bridges, turning around (which is almost required for most of the sites) at the end which was nigh on impossible, and then getting into your assigned site.
We had a (supposedly) pull through site but needed to go all the way to the end and pull in on the way out…that wouldn’t be so bad except the turn around area was just too small with trees crowding the road. It took Neil driving, both Bill and Connie helping watch so he didn’t hit anything, backing and jacking the truck and rig around, and about 30 minutes just to get around the loop at the back of the campground. Once that was complete we got to our pull through site and almost immediately saw that while pulling in forward was pretty easy pulling out forward is pretty much impossible as well. Fortunately it’s decently clear and we’ll just back out the way we came into the site until we’re in the road and then we’ll be aiming the right direction to depart. (**Note…edited later, actually we did end up going out forward because it was easier than going backwards.) Yeah…it pretty much sucks getting into (and probably out tomorrow) this park. I would definitely not recommend this park to anybody with a 39 foot rig. In addition to the parking difficulties, because we were the last rig the farthest away from the office we had really lousy power and the power management system kept shutting off, so we essentially boon-docked as well. Its pretty bad when you’re pulling only 4 Amps from a 30 Amp circuit and get the low voltage alarm.
The good news however is that except for the lack of adequate big rig access…the park is pretty nice. All sites are on the creek and have pretty decent views…at least if you could get far enough into your pull through site to see them.
There was more good news as well…as we went to bed we heard a couple or 3 owls hooting outside the rig…it was actually almost dark and we would never have been able to see them…but we pulled out the Peterson’s app on our iPhones and went through the various owl calls and identified them as Great Horned Owls…I got a picture Day 39 on the way to Valdez that I’ll put down in that part of the post.
Connie’s pretty unhappy with our assigned site…not sure why but we’ve not had very nice assigned sites at the last few parks…several were hard to get into. We had hoped that sites would be assigned taking into account the size of the various rigs…but although there’s certainly some sort of pecking order ease of parking doesn’t appear to be very high on the priority list. Of course…if the person with the smallest rig always got the lousy site that might not be fair either…so maybe there’s not really a good solution for this problem.
Ok, enough grumbling; on to the day’s photographic memories. They were pretty outstanding.
Pinnacle mountain…so named because of it’s unusual summit. Neil can’t figure out what’s supposed to be unusual about it…looks like a mountain to him. 4,541 feet high…it was early and we were looking east so he left the sun in the shot…it’s one of those artsy-fartsy things.
Rapids along the Matanuska River…which (naturally) flows from the Matanuska glacier to be seen later.
Fireweed along the Matanuska.
Matanuska River from way up on the bluff where we were traveling at the time…we paralleled it for probably 50 miles and it was up, down, up, down, and repeat.
Matanuska glacier from a viewpoint later down the road with some snow capped mountains in the background.
Dall Sheep at Sheep Mountain. I know they’re just little white dots from this viewpoint…but they’re like 3 miles away from us at this point. I know it’s a lousy picture but they’re almost mythical creatures (i.e., we keep reading about them, keep seeing signs on the highway saying they are there, but never see them)…so I figured I should post whatever picture I got. Dall Sheep are white and look pretty much the same as a Bighorn Sheep with the recurved horns…except they’re usually white instead of the brown that Bighorns usually are, although Dall color ranges from white to slate brown. What most people think of as Bighorn Sheep are actually Dall Sheep because of the color and the fact that Dall live further north and west than Bighorns are typically found.
Mount Drum, one of the three major peaks in the Saint Elias and Wrangell ranges…we’ll be in the national park tomorrow and will hopefully get some better ones than these 45 miles away ones. Just for comparison purposes…the second shot of Drum is the one straight out of the camera before I applied the super-duper Dehaze filter that the new version of Lightroom has and got rid of the power lines with the Magic People Remover©…Dehaze is the single most amazing photo improver I’ve seen in awhile. I don’t know how it does what it does but it really does get rid of the haze and pull out a great deal of detail from seemingly lousy photos.
After our difficult time parking we lazed around until dinner…then went over to Bill and Linda’s with some mashed taters to go along with the grilled cod and salmon she pulled out of their freezer. All was great…then they headed over to the campfire while we headed home for the evening.
Day 39 (Thursday Aug 6) we had a busy day planned…only about 130 miles to transit to Valdez AK but we were stopping by numerous viewpoints and one national park…so we got up about 0500, had coffee and a cinnamon bun that we got yesterday from the Sheep Mountain Lodge (it was pretty darned good) and then got going. We pulled out of our site about 0750, stopped for some fuel in Glenallen about 15 miles down the road then headed off to our first stop.
First up was a national park that probably not 1 person out of 20 has ever even heard of…Wrangell-St. Elias National Park which is headquartered on the Richardson Highway (which runs from Valdez to Tok) just south of the turnoff onto the Glenn Highway which heads west to Anchorage. There are some very decent reasons to visit Wrangell…9 of the tallest 16 mountains in North America are located in it’s boundaries in the Wrangell Range and the St. Elias Range…the farthest point in the park is over 250 miles from the headquarters and visitor center…it’s the largest National Park in the United States at over 13 million acres, over 6 times the size of Yellowstone…it has a single glacier (the tidewater Hubbard Glacier) that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island and the largest tidewater glacier in North America…it’s got the largest piedmont glacier in the world (piedmont glaciers are alpine glaciers that have spilled out of their valley onto relatively flat plains) the Malaspina Glacier which is 40 miles wide and 28 long…it’s home to dozens of glaciers and ice fields…the world’s longest interior alpine glacier at 75 miles the Nabesna Glacier…and it just goes on and on. Naturally in our couple of hour visit we barely touched the things to see and do…but most of them require ATVs or planes anyway as the vast majority of the park (like Denali) is complete wilderness. Wrangell’s 13 million acres comprise 24% of the 54 million acres of national park and reserve in Alaska and those 54 million acres are 12% of the states total 425 million acre area…more national park percentage than any other state with 23 different national park service designated areas…of the 8 national parks we’ve now been to 5 of them…Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Kenai Fjords, Katmai, and Wrangell-St. Elias…and Wrangell marked our 121st national park/preserve/monument by any national government.
Ok, enough of that already…on to the photos. Today was a really nice day weather-wise…clear and sunny and in the upper 60s by the time we got to Valdez and pulled into site 74 at the Bayside RV Park.
Site 74 at Bayside RV.
The views from the park…again this one is aptly named as the bay is quite close…you can see the boat harbor on one side and glaciers and mountains on two other sides. Pretty spectacular views in all directions.
A couple of cirque glaciers…both of these are pretty small. Valdez Glacier is up the valley that starts behind the trees on the right side and goes up and towards the left behind the right side of the ridge in the center of the photo and in front of the mountain on the right.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Great Horned Owl…this one is stuffed but it’s what we heard 2 or 3 of last night.
Mount Blackburn…with Mount Wrangell just on the left edge but Wrangell was sort of lost in the clouds.
Connie looking out at the mountains.
Worthington Glacier from afar…closer pics later.
Gorge of the Tsaina River…about 200 feet below the bridge and road…this area is known as Devil’s Elbow.
Worthington Glacier closer.
Another couple of shots of Worthington Glacier.
Magpie we spotted in one of the turnouts. These are really beautiful birds but are basically the crows of the west…they’ll eat just about anything live or dead. You can’ see his blue rear body feathers in this shot…and it’s a bit blurry but I sort of like the motion it implies and they’re really skittish and hard to get decent viewpoints and photos of.
Pano from the top of Thompson Pass looking down towards Valdez.
Looking the other way from Thompson Pass back toward the way we came from.
Abandoned railroad tunnel in Keystone Canyon about halfway down the grade from Thompson Pass.
First of 3 waterfalls we looked at on the way through Keystone Canyon…Huddleston Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls.
Keystone Canyon looking back the way we came from and up towards Thompson Pass which is past the cliffs and then up and to the right.
Horse Tail Falls…out of Keystone Canyon and almost to the bottom of the grade down the pass.
After the Magpie and pano shots above…we had a long 8 mile 8% downgrade coming down off of Thompson Pass…but we just geared down and came down in 3rd gear at 2800 rpm and 42 mph pretty steady. Once we were down we followed the river on into Valdez and were amazed at how scenic the approaches into the city were…we thought Valdez was mostly an industrial town due to the oil terminal but on getting here it’s much more of a fishing/boating town but without a whole lot of touristy stuff. Quite nice actually.
We pulled into the park and got setup…had lunch and a nap then headed out for dinner with Bill and Linda…Connie checked the our choices were expensive…fast food…or The Fat Mermaid bar and grill. The latter sounded like our kind of place and we had Reuben, pizza, clam chowder, onion rings, and fried halibut between us…all was great. Afterwards we walked back to the park (Valdez is really compact and we’re staying downtown anyway) and settled in for TV and bed.
Tomorrow we have another boat trip on the Lulubelle…out to the Columbia Glacier and hopefully with more whales, porpoise, and Orcas on the way.