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August 22, 2016

Valdez and beyond, on the way home

It was with some pleasure we drove onto the ferry Aurora and left Whittier behind.  The 7 hour crossing of Prince William Sound was to be our ‘glacier and wildlife cruise’.  With the added bonus of saving 350 miles of driving.  It did not disappoint!
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I shouldn’t say this is my favorite view of Whittier, but it does remind of Lee Marvin’s song in Paint Your Wagon “I never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back…”.  Whittier was decimated by the 1964 earthquake, however the old WWII Army buildings were left undamaged.  The municipal facilities and the vast majority of residents moved in.
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The highrise now houses nearly all the residents, hospital, post office, and grocery.  The building behind is the school, gymnasium and an indoor playground.  A pedestrian tunnel connects the residents with the waterfront.  Another abandoned facility offers room for expansion.

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The waterfront is small, and there’s really not much there for the tourist.
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The views from the ferry across the sound are quite spectacular, with lush mountains, glaciers, avalanche bowls and rugged outcrops.
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Although not a scenic nor wildlife ‘cruise’ I was surprised at how much of both we were able to enjoy.  The two Orcra were at a bit of a distance, but the seals came right up to the boat to race along side.
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Valdez was also totally destroyed by the 1964 quake.  With nothing left, the town rebuilt itself 4 miles away, at its present location.  We really like Valdez, not just because it has a fresh appearance and is tourist friendly, but also because it takes care of its own as well as its guests.  And it has bunnies.
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Seward has the Fjords, Valdez has the glaciers.  The Columbia Glacier is among the largest.  However, both the Lu-Lu Bell and Glacier Spirit cruses were booked, so we did not have a chance to take another 7-hour cruise to get up close to the Columbia Glacier, but the ferry took us through litterally thousands of chunks of sea ice.  From the little growlers to some serious ‘bergs’, we certainly saw blue ice on the water.

In Valdez we stayed at the Bay View RV Park, a large gravel lot with spaces too tight to sit outside.  In walking around town the Bear Paw would have been a better choice.IMG_0024 (640x473)IMG_0027 (640x479)
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I bought fish at the Easy Freeze to take home.  Better prices than Safeway!IMG_0028 (640x473)

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The the drive out of Valdez is spectacular.  There was a heavy mist in the air as we left, but iquickly cleared as we climbed up from the coast.  Valdez only gets 30 sunny days a year, and we arrived on the afternoon of one of them.

On the outskirts of town is the Crooked Creek salmon viewing platform and Information Center.  It’s a good stop along the way.
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The Horsetail and Bridalveil waterfalls are hard to miss as they tumble down the steep cliffs on either side of the road.
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A railroad and tunnel was attempted to be built along the same route as todays highway.  It was never completed, however the old horse trail and tunnel was used until 1954.
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Although the drive is easy on good roads we took our time.  The views across the valleys to the distant mountains with their ice caps is just jaw dropping.  Ah yes we like Valdez!
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A few views on the road out of Valdez.
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The Worthington Glacier is a ‘must’ stop, if just for the view.  But we pulled on our boots for the hike.  It’s not as easy as it looked, but worth every step!
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While I was getting gas in Glenallen the gal at the adjacent Visitor Center convinced Fran we should camp in the Slana National Forest.  Just spectacular she chimed.  HA! it’s 75 miles up the Tok Cutoff and 40 miles off the road.  And it must be hunting season, every turnout had a pickup truck with an empty utility trailer behind.  Bet she’s still getting a good laugh out of that bit of advice.

We did find shelter at Midway Grocery.  Jay offered us a dry spot in his picnic area and would not take any money from us.  In the back is his version of The Bus that is used as a hostel.  A most welcome and unusual stop, thanks Jay!
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Note there are serious frost heaves on the Tok Cutoff!  Bad enough in an RV, but would be totally brutal if you are towing!  BRUTAL! even more so if you have frame extensions – really BRUTAL!

Eagle Trail is just before Tok with no fee for day use.
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Back in Tok for a return to the salad bar at Fast Eddies.  The place has been discovered and is obviously on the tour route!  THREE tour busses pulled in while we were there.  Glad we hit the salad bar first.
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With the rains and flooding in Dawson City we made a conscience decision to skip it on the way up.  The Top of the World Highway is again open and we discuss the desire to do it on the way home.  However we both concur, Rufus has taken a beating on this trip and anouther 100+ miles of bad roads do not justify a check mark in an box.  The Chouters have just driven the ToW and offer a good report on the current conditions.  Despite their assurances, we'll skip it.

The aspen cathedrals are already putting on their fall/winter colors
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We’ll reverse our trip and continue on the Alaska Highway back to Whitehorse.  At the Kluane Visitor Center there are 110 (per ranger count) sheep on the hill.  Many stayed still long enough for their pictures.
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We again we find ourselves at the Walmart camping lot in Whitehorse.  Hmm some of these rigs were here 6 weeks ago …  Like us I bet they just came back … right?

At the adjecent Canadian Tire we purchased a seat cover for Rufus, as the driver’s seat was showing signs of wear.  SoCal shorts are not as abrasive as Levis!, and the seat was showing signs of use.
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We’ll leave Whitehorse in the morning where we’ll pick up the Cassier Highway.
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