Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seward, Alaska

It's been a while since we checked in last, we've been busy Beavers,
 and now its time to play some catch up.

I had almost 900 photos to sift thru to try and pick some for this blog.
I hope this sample gives you a feel of our experiences the last week or so.

We left Valdez and traveled to the Anchorage area.
About 50 miles by sea - but 350 miles by land.

First we said good-bye to our beautiful view in Valdez.

(remember you can click on photos to enlarge them)

Bear Paw2 RV Park Valdez Ak
Our travel map below.
#1 is Valdez
#2  is Williwaw Natl Forest Campground
#3 is Seward, Ak
#4 is Homer, Ak where we are currently


From Valdez we drove to Williwaw National Forest Campground about
an hour past Anchorage.   We return here on our way off of the Kenai so will
cover it later.   We stopped at Williwaw for a few days and used it as a base to
reprovision and meet our friends Eric & Pat from Pittsburg who flew in and rented
a Class C RV and will spend the next 3 weeks traveling with us.

After hooking up with Eric and Pat we headed 120 miles south to Seward,
and spent 4 nights at the Seward Waterfront Park.   Its a municipal campground with
mostly dry camping but there are some full hookups.   We of course opted
for the dry spots with the million dollar views.

Seward Waterfront Park
We even get a clear view of the sky and have satellite TV. 


Our little traveling group has temporarily grown in size!


Below is a view of our spots from the water.
We are the left arrow and E&P the right arrow.


Seward is a favorite stop on the cruise boat circuit and one came and left all
but one of the days that we were there.

Princess Cruise lines Golden Princess departs Seward, Ak
Besides the interesting ship traffic...
 the view of the scenery out the front window is pretty good too! 


A great walking path runs along the whole waterfront and everyone is out to
enjoy the weather, long days, and great scenery.

Meanwhile on the docks...

The days Salmon Catch
A nice size Halibut. 


St Peters Episcopal Church - opened in 1906.
Note the ships wheel on the far steeple.


We took a nice 7mile stroll up the coastline to Lowell Point.
We passed by waterfalls and crossed streams.


Looking back towards Seward on the way to Lowell Point.



Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise


Picking our weather carefully and checking the cruise ship schedules,
we determined that the optimum day for a wildlife cruise should be Saturday,
so we booked a 6 hr cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park on Major Marine.

The Map of our cruise is below with notations of where and what wildlife
was spotted along the way.


The Wildlife


This was our third trip with Major Marine and just like the last two, we were
very happy with every aspect of their service.

A National Park Ranger was on board to spot wildlife and narrate the trip.

A Tufted Puffin (L) and Arctic Puffin (R)

A pair of Puffins
A Bald Eagle perched at the top of the tree. 


The seabird population was massive!
Below is a "matt" of Common Mures.


A Kittiwake Rookery.  The Kittwake is a type of gull found in the
Northern Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans.



Of course we saw lots of Sea Otters on the cruise and from the shore.

Sea Otter

Sea Otter
We passed a group of Stellar Sea Lions who had hauled out onto the rocks. 

Stellar Sea Lions
 Stellar Sea Lions are a threatened species who range from the California Coast,
north along the Alaska coast and west to Russian Coast and northern Japan.

Stellar Sea Lions
Some harbor seals were also hauled out on rocks on one of the islands.
They prefer islands due to less chance of land predators sneaking up on them.

We also saw seals floating about on some of the small icebergs that had calved off
of the glaciers. 


A bonus was spotting these Mountain Goats.
Mountain Goats are very reclusive and this was a great sighting.

Mountain Goats
 Below, notice the "Kid" (young goat) in the middle.

Mountain Goats with a Kid.
More wildlife of an unidentified kind.


Of course the highlight of every wildlife cruise has to be the whales.

We came across a pod of 4 Humpback Whales feeding on bait balls...
Bait Balls are tightly packed balls of bait fish swimming together as a defense.


The Humpbacks would come up under the bait balls, mouth open, and try to swallow
as many as they can in one lunge to the surface.

We saw one Humpback break the surface mouth open but did not get the picture as
it happened all of a sudden.

Classick Humpback Whale "hump"

The water has the green color due to the bloom of Plankton that takes place during
the summer with the long daylight hours.

The Humpbacks migrate north to feed on the plankton.

The sequence below is of a Humpback who came to the surface, exhaled,
and then dove deep to feed.

The Ranger was able to identify this Humpback as KFX72 due to the fluke patterns

Thar she blows!

Humpback Whale spouts 
Arches its back....


The fluke begins to exit the water.... 


And she flukes!
(photo courtesy of Eric... mine was blurry)

Humpback Whale KFX72 Flukes
And down she goes.


The Glaciers

It wasn't all about the wildlife however...

We cruised out into the Gulf of Alaska and up into Holgate Arm to
visit the Holgate Glacier.


Holgate Glacier Alaska
We got up close and personal. 


I caught a shot of the glacier calving.


Just like ice in your freezer - all of the hundreds of pieces of Glacial Ice contain air pockets.

Unlike your ice cubes however, the glacial ice has been under extreme pressure since it
may have been under hundreds or thousands of feet of ice.   So the air inside the ice is
under pressure and when the ice melts in the sea, it releases that ice in small "explosions"

This sea sounds like a giant bowl of rice crispies. 
Snap, Crackle, Pop, go the growlers.

Below is a far off view of Bear Glacier.
Bear Glacier runs about 12 miles from the sea to the Harding Icefield.


The Sea Scapes

Needless to say - you can tell from the pictures that we had a perfect day to view
some really beautiful and awe inspiring scenery!

In addition the the wildlife and the glaciers...  there is the mountains, the sky, and the sea.

Resurrection Bay Alaaska

Alaska Coast from the Gulf of Alaska

Resurrection Bay Alaska
A sailboat heads out to sea.


And now we sail away as well.

Next stop Williwaw Campground and then up to Denali.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Valdez

While visiting Alaska we took a side trip to Switzerland.
Or is it the other way around?

Sign on Van in Valdez, Alaska
We left Tok and headed southbound on the Tok Cutoff. 
Our destination was Valdez,  250 miles to the south on Prince William Sound.

We had taken this drive (as far as Glenallen) a few years back and it was a rainy day
and I recall telling our traveling partners how we were missing some beautiful views
because of the low clouds.

On this trip however we had perfect weather and reaped the rewards.

Tok Cutoff Alaska
 As always - the pictures just cannot do it justice.

The 360° views of snowcapped mountain and endless forest were stunning.
Tok Cutoff Alaska
About 120 miles south of Tok you come to Glenallen where the road forks.
To the right is Anchorage...   We went that way last time.

To the left is Valdez where we were headed today.

To get to Valdez you must climb over Thompson Pass.
Its not a particularly high pass (2,800') but due to its location it can be challenging at times.

Our weather was perfect and we only had to contend with some road construction at the top. 

Road Construction Thompson Pass Alaska
 Soon we were at the top and started down the other side to Valdez and sea level.
It was unbelievably beautiful on top of the pass and down the south side to Valdez.
Thompson Pass Alaska
 Its an easy ride down the pass.
At about 40mph I was able to coast down the grade with the engine brake alone.


At the bottom you enter a canyon that leads to the sea.
Alaska is waterfall country...
All that snowpack and the glaciers send their winter load downhill and streams and waterfalls
dot the mountainsides everywhere you look.



Approaching Valdez we spotted a pair of Moose Cows and we finally got a couple
of good pictures of these elusive creatures.


There are several RV parks to choose from plus some boondocking locations.
We chose the Bear Paw 2 Adult Only park due to its waterfront location.
The reviews were stellar and upon arrival it was immediately evident why.

Bear Paw 2 Valdez, Alaska
A million dollar view from our front window.


This is a beautiful place!

The backdrop of the boat harbor is stunning!
It really does look like Switzerland...
Or does Switzerland look like Valdez?


We keep spotting the Yukon Lovebirds everywhere we go.


Directly across the bay from us is the Valdez Marine Terminal.
It is the termination point of the Alaska Pipeline and where the tankers 
are loaded with crude oil from the North Slope.

It is also where the Exxon Valdez departed from on its ill-fated voyage in 1989
spilling almost 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound.

When we arrived I saw a tanker being loaded.
The next morning it departed and immediately a new one took its place.

MV Polar Enterprise arrives at Valdez Marine Terminal 
Less than 24hrs later the tanker in these photos (M/V Polar Enterprise)
departed and tanker #3 took its place.

Tanker turning 180° to dock
 I made a 24hr Time-lapse of the view out of our front window.
You can view it below...

Or at this link

Be sure to do full screen for the full effect.

About the time you see the tug boat in front of us move
into position -if you look closely across the bay -  - you will see one tanker depart
and another (the one in the photos above) arrive.


You will note that it does not really get dark.  It seems darker than it is because that is how
it looks using the GoPro Camera but you can see the clouds are still bright.
Also notice how short the "night" is in comparison to the day.

This morning the Polar Enterprise departed with its load of about 1 million Barrels,
(42 million gallons) of crude oil headed for a west coast refinery.

Polar Enterprise Departs Valdez, Ak

As it departed, minutes later the tanker Liberty Bay Arrived.

Liberty Bay Arrives Valdez, Ak
The port keeps busy.

Today we took a ride around to the other side of the bay.
While we were not allowed inside of the Oil Terminal, we got close.

Below is the end of one of the berths where a tanker would tie up and be filled.

Valdez Oil Terminal Berth
Also on that side of the bay is the Solomon Gulch Salmon Hatchery.

It is interesting how the process works:
About 600' above the hatchery is a dam and Reservoir.
Water flows down hill to power a hydro electric plan but some is diverted to provide
water flow thru the hatchery.

The arrow below shows the water flow.


The water flows into the hatchery in the tanks below


Eventually the water flows out of the spawning tanks and out into the stream
and Prince William Sound.
The arrows below show the water flow direction and the upper right shows where the water would exit into the stream.
That is where the spawning Salmon - swimming up stream - would enter the hatchery.


In late June thru August when the Salmon are spawning - this water course if filled
with spawning Salmon and hungry bears feeding on the Salmon.
We might have to come back later this summer to check out that sight.

Meanwhile we will just have to settle for the sight out the front window.


Tomorrow we are going to visit a nearby RV park where a licensed individual feeds
fish heads to Bald Eagles each night.
They swoop down to grab their share of food and its supposed to be an
awesome opportunity for some great Eagle Photography.

It promises to be a sight... and the seed of the next post.

Till then.