Okay, we are home, and this was left incomplete. I hope to actually get it finished at some point, but right now i just wanted to add the rest of my writing i had done before we came home and life's catch-up schedule hit me. So here it is, and hopefully i will have time in the near future to finish the picture entries as well as the writing.
Friday, June 1
Whittier and the 26 Glacier Tour
As I said, last night we camped near Whittier, just outside the Anton Anderson tunnel. This tunnel is very interesting. In the early days, in order to get to Whittier, you had to take a boat, plane or dog sled over the mountain. About 1942, they built a tunnel through the mountain for trains to take supplies in. About 10 or so years ago, they opened up this 2.5 mile tunnel to cars, but it is still just wide enough for a train car to pass through, barely wide enough for an RV. So, on the hour, all vehicles line up to go out of Whittier, and on the half-hour, vehicles line up to go into Whittier, each group allowed 15 minutes. It takes some good planning if you plan to go into that town. However, most are tourists and I think the tour boats plan around the tunnel schedule. Anyway, you drive your car on the train track though the tunnel, and they make sure that you allow enough distance between you and the car ahead of you.
Time for a quiz. Look at the picture at the heading of this posting. See the high rise building? It is in Whittier and I am going to give you multiple choices to guess what it is: (1) a hospital that services the whole Kenai Peninsula; (2) Office building for the shipping industry in Whittier, or (3) Homes for the whole community. I will get back to you on that in a minute.
We took the 26 Glacier Tour, about 6 hours on a jet powered catamaran (fastest in Alaska), which was one of the highlights of the week. (I somehow failed to get a picture of the catamaran from the outside, but there is one of Eddie and me inside it.) They explained what makes glaciers different than a big chunk of ice. Very simply put, a glacier starts out as snow on a mountain that is high enough that it never melts. Over time, more snow is added and the weight compresses it, making it harder and harder. Eventually gravity takes over and the huge block of compressed snow starts sliding down the mountain. It acts like a bull dozer, forming moraine (the bull-dozed rock) and basically carves out the rounded valley. If it reaches the sea, it is called a tidal glacier and can cause a fjord. They are constantly moving. They often have brown streaks on them from the moraine and some have streaks of ice which look like layers and holes in them, which give them a jagged edge look. Sometimes you can look at the glacier and see how many stripes of moraine are on it and know how many glaciers moved together to form this one. Anyway, they are sometimes amazingly huge, and when the spring "thaw" comes, gravity acts on them, they start breaking loose in huge hunks and falls into the water. This is called "calving". It is very loud as it breaks and then makes a giant splash. This day tour was in Prince William Sound and was smooth as glass. We saw 26 named glaciers and many smaller ones, as well as eagles, a harbor seal, and a bunch of sea otters, one of which was helping carry its baby across the water. They use the chunks of ice almost as boats, and the mom will put her baby on it while she dives for food since it can't dive for 6 months, which makes it vulnerable to predators.
Another interesting animal at the Sound was the black-footed kittiwake. You will see a picture that looks like a ton of white speckles. Those are birds that "nest" in the rock on the side of the mountain. If I understand right, they lay one egg in a whole in that mountain and then are gone. See why there are " " around the nest part?
Back to the multiple choice question now. Almost all 300 or so people in the town of Whittier live in this building. That means few (if any) houses. There are probably 500 boats in the dock, a few business, an interesting tunnel with a story of its own, but not houses in this town. I just found that interesting.
After the cruise, we timed our exit from Whittier through the tunnel and went toward Seward to camp for the night near Cooper Landing at the Kenai River. Everyone has a favorite part of Alaska they want to show you, and Matthew was right about the river and Cooper Landing. It was a gorgeous setting.
Saturday, June 2
Our route continued toward Seward with more unbelievable scenery, more lakes I think than we saw in the northern area. We made a detour to Exit Glacier. The really cool part of this glacier is that you can hike about a mile one way into the park to where the glacier actually is. We found out later that bears often share these trails with people. (Now would be a good time to insert a scary story about meeting a big black bear on the path and how we narrowly escaped being his supper, but there is nothing so exciting to tell, thankfully.) Anyway, we took the path and traversed the braided streams (another new term for the week) across the rock beds to get to the glacier, which we did, and touched it!!!!! This may be the only glacier where you can do this.
We continued our trip into Seward and visited the Sea Life Center which is much like an aquarium with native Alaska sea life. They had some amazing displays and I am sure a lot of behind the scenes studying of the sea life happens here. We rented a car and returned to Anchorage so we would have transportation after we turned in our moving home on Sunday morning.
Sunday, June 3.
We worshiped with the Rose Street family once again and said our good-byes. Certainly hope we are able to stay in touch with these fine people. It is amazing how quickly you can become attached to people that you have so much in common with. They were all so kind and friendly to us, and all had their stories to tell.
We made our way back to Seward and boarded the Zaandam for the cruise, which was uneventful and very quick, except for the part where Eddie left our trip folder on the security table and had to leave the ship to get it. He had to go through security once again, and they took his pocket knife from him, not the first time, but this time. Oh well, I guess our danger from bears is probably over for now, right?
Monday, June 4
Today, I admit, was kinda hard for me. We had toured the ship yesterday, and
today was that day that we went into first gear, just slowing down from the weeks preparing for the trip, we were through driving around Alaska, and I really started missing home, especially some little people. As a society, we are so "attached" these days, and good or bad, it is how it is, and just knowing that you are out on the ocean where you can't be reached can be equally good or bad.
Tuesday, June 5
We toured Glacier Bay today, saw some amazing glaciers. The crowning jewel of Glacier Bay is Margerie Glacier. She is about 250 feet high and a mile wide, just beautiful, with lots of blue colors in it. It was cold and a little rainy today, but the scenery once again just seemed totally unreal. I feel like we are in a 3D movie and someone has painted all of this around us.
Wednesday, June 6
Happy Birthday, Sweet Bella. Today we ported in Haines, Alaska, formerly Ft. Seward, an Army base. We left the cabin at 8:00, got on a ferry, which then took us to Skagway. We got on a bus that took us to a train that then took us up a mountain to Canada. We traced an old mining trail, which was rugged today, and I can only imagine how it must have been in "the day". This train track was built in 2 years and 2 months, losing 35 people in the process, which seems like a lot, but could have been much worse. At the highest, we were about 3200 feet high, and at some points, it seemed we were looking straight down that far. We saw amazing waterfalls, incredible bridges, frozen blue lakes and rivers, and lots and lots of snow.
Thursday, June 7
Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier. This was billed as what it took to make the trip to Juneau complete. After we docked, we took a bus through Juneau to the dock where we got on the ferry to go hopefully spot the whales. These companies GUARANTEE you will see whales or your money back. We were not disappointed and started seeing the water shooting up into the air very quickly. Soon we spotted a mother and her baby, and they seemed to be putting on a show for us. A little later in the trip we saw what seemed like 15 or so whales together. AMAZING show. Federal regulations prevent you from getting too close to the whales, so you occasionally see glimpses of their bodies, and if you are lucky enough to get good pictures, you will catch their tails coming out of the water. It is interesting to me that their tails are as individual as our fingerprints.
After the whale watching, we spent about an hour at Mendenhall Glacier, which was as beautiful, unique, and interesting as all the other glaciers we had visited. There is a very good visitor center nearby with lots of viewing spots that show the lake, the glacier and the waterfall nearby.
On our way back into Juneau, we passed a field that the bald eagles seem to gather. We had seen a few there on our way out of town, but there must have been at least 50 in this same field as we came back into town. We also saw a lot of ravens, which are protected birds in Alaska, due to native traditions. Juneau is a very interesting town. It is small, about 30,000 people, I think, but is the state capital of Alaska. We visited their convention center where a big native Alaskan conference was going on, and they were dressed in their individual clan clothing. We go