Posted By Buck on July 30, 2014
After our perfect day on Mt. McKinley, the next day was rainy all day. We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks as we drove south from our campsite, but the rain and fog really limited visibility. We also make a quick stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to restock the pantry.
To break up the drive, we stopped at the Indian Creek mine where a character talked to us about the mine and some of the antiques he had collected. We were only able to see the mine entrance, but it was a good way to get off the road for a while. The museum was housed in an old log cabin which had once been pushed all the way onto the river ice by an avalanche. It was moved back and many years later was designated a national historic site, dating past the Alaska gold rush. The owner said that initially the Smithsonian wouldn’t grant historic site designation, because the cabin wasn’t in its original location, but once they found out that natural forces moved it, they relented.
We stopped at another scenic overlook because of the rain. After a few hands of dominoes, the rain subsided. We walked around the overlook. Again, the rain and fog limited visibility, but we found these interesting sculptures of beluga whales.
Near Girdwood we took a 5 mile hike. The attraction here was the hand tram over Glacier Creek. It rained the whole way, but it was a good hike.
The hand tram was really neat. Up to two people could get in this cage and then pull themselves across with the rope. All of us took a turn in the bucket.
After returning from the hike and drying off a bit, we bought a pizza in Girdwood and drove to our campsite for the night. We stayed in the Willawa camp ground, managed by the Forest Service. The campsites were far apart and surrounded by trees, so it didn’t seem very crowded. When we went to bed, we weren’t sure about whether the weather would cooperate for our planned glacier cruise the next day.
We had a lot of low fog the next morning. (This stream was supposed to be full of spawning salmon, but we saw none.) We weren’t sure about the cruise, but there was a little blue poking through the clouds, so after a brief stop at a visitors center for information, we drove through the tunnel to Whittier.
The tunnel is the longest tunnel in the world shared by vehicles and trains. On the half hour traffic is permitted to drive into Whittier. On the hour, traffic comes out of Whittier. In between, trains use the tunnel.
Whittier was built by the US Army during WWII as a supply depot. Supplies would be unloaded in Whittier (on Prince William Sound) and taken inland by train. Today almost the entire population of the town lives in a single high-rise building built to house soldiers and their families.
When we came through the tunnel to Whittier, the weather was beautiful. It was sunny, warm, and blue. We bought our tickets and boarded for our cruise to see 26 glaciers. On board was a ranger from the US Forest Service who provided narration, which was terrific. He also helped spot wildlife.
The first portion of the cruise was just getting out to the interesting stuff. They served us a very nice cod lunch to pass the time. The food was quite good. Eventually we arrived at the sea lion rookery (shown above), where we saw many sea lions. The boat could not get too close to the sea lions to avoid disturbing them.
We saw all 26 glaciers. I was checking them off on the map. There were so many amazing sights that it was difficult not to become jaded.
The ranger told us that there are only about 10 days this nice all Summer on Prince William Sound. After the excellent day on Mt. McKinley and the crappy day the day before, we were amazed at our luck!
Among the wildlife we spotted we saw many sea otters lounging in the water.
The total cruise time was over five hours, getting us back in time to make the on-the-hour train out of Whittier.
The Cook expedition was stopped by ice, so his maps missed an arm of the Sound that led to this glacier. When the Harriman expedition found this arm in a later expedition, they were greeted by this huge glacier, so it is called “Surprise Glacier.” We were hoping to see it calve (a big chunk falling off into the water), but didn’t. The boat loitered here for a while, and we got some amazing views.
After driving back through the long tunnel from Whittier, we headed toward Seward. Candy found a very nice camp ground with full hookups about 20 minutes north of Seward, our destination for the next day.
The campground has its own lake front, and the kids took a turn in one of the paddle boats after dinner.
This was one of our last sights (at 2300 hours) before going to bed. What a place!