Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ships and Dips - Our Trip To Valdez

Even though we're on the road, little things like dental cleanings still have to be completed.  Kathy got an appointment in Tok so Joy ended up closing the VC early with the help of the volunteer coordinator and the rangers.  She hurried out the door, shut off the generator and hit the road.  She met Kathy at HQ and we finished the laundry and hit the road that evening, intending to spend the night somewhere along the route to Valdez.

The Tok cutoff was a new experience for us.  The views of the Wrangell mountain range was an immediate invitation to take a lot of pictures.  We planned to drive as far as we could until we tired and pull over to sleep.  In Alaska, you can legally camp overnight at any turnout or rest area.

The road was tiring as it was in pretty bad shape with many frost heaves.  We would drive over miles of terrible roads and then see a sign that read, "Rough Road."  We often wondered what criteria made THAT part of the road "rougher" than the miles we had just driven that were just as bad but lacked signage. We also though it was funny that they would take the time to determine that the road was rough and then place a sign near it - rather than just fixing the road.

At one point, we hit the frost heave from hell and it literally launched us into the air.  As we were airborne, it seemed like Kathy and looked at each other in slow motion as the RV and Jeep came down hard.  We decided to pull over and check things out and ended up sleeping at a wayside rest along with two other RVs.

The next morning we decided to avoid using the generator so we wouldn't wake up our neighbors and made cowboy coffee on the stove. Our wake up view was of Mt. Sanford and Mt. Drum, two beautiful peaks that we saw a lot of while in Alaska.

As we returned to the road, the Wrangells gave way to Thompson Pass, a beautiful stretch of descending and climbing winding roads, glacial views,  and switchbacks.  We pulled over at the Worthington Glacier and hiked a moderate half mile, with the dogs, to the edge of the glacier.  We touched a glacier!

After enjoying the hike, our travels brought us through Keystone Canyon which entertained us with ice caves, waterfalls, and incomplete railway tunnels.  The story is there were 9 railroad companies vying for the contract to build a railroad between Valdez and Fairbanks.  The disagreements ended in a shootout and no one built a railroad.

When we reached Valdez, we decided to choose a campground after driving around and looking at what was available.  We wanted to be close to the water, if possible, and decided on Bayside.  We set up and headed out to a late lunch/early dinner.  We were really looking forward to some awesome seafood and were told that the restaurant at the Best Western, Off The Hook, had the best seafood in town.  We sat near the windows and looked out over the harbor but the menu was limited and the meal was ok but not great.

The next morning we explored and drove to the end of town and checked out the ferry schedule.  As we walked along the docks taking pictures, Kathy looked down towards the end of the dock and spotted a familiar-looking turquoise ship.  A closer look revealed the ship's name, Cornelia Marie. OMG - it was the Cornelia Maria of the TV show Deadliest Catch.  The boat used to be Captained by Phil, our favorite character on the show.  We cried for days when Phil died of a stroke on the show and eventually stopped watching as it just wasn't the same.  To stumble upon the ship and stand a mere few feet from the helm where Phil sat episode after episode was a pure fate neither of us had expected.  It was very emotional for us even though he was a mad we only knew through TV.  We can't explain it.

As we ran up to the ship there were a few crew members talking to some other fans who had made the same discovery we had.  They said that they were in Valdez to help ferry salmon to the cannery so other boats could stay out at sea.  Joy climbed out on the areas where the ships are actually tethered to see into the pilot house, hoping to get a glimpse of Phil's famous chair.  After quite a bit of time, we decided to move on since other fans had also discovered the boat and were hanging out, too.

After leaving the docks, we drove to the location of Old Valdez.  After the huge earthquake in 1964, the city rebuilt only to find out in 1967 that the city was rebuilt on unstable ground.  So, the entire city moved four miles away to its current location. It reminded Joy of how the city of Hibbing, MN was moved as the Hull Rust Mine encroached upon it.  Although Old Valdez' streets still exist, they did not have the grand curbs, sidewalks, and light posts like old Hibbing did.  Upon this writing, Joy also realized that she lived in the area of Richfield, MN which was also moved.  In the 1990's, the area of Richfield on the north side of 65th street and east of the freeway was purchased by the airport. Joy's house on Standish Avenue is now the location of the UPS Hangar.

We found the remnants of a floating barge that had settled into the sand during low tide and Joy tried to climb it but she was wearing the wrong clothes. We drove around the bay to Dayville which housed the alyeska pipeline tank field and transfer station.  Near the station was a fish hatchery which was abuzz with salmon coming home to spawn.  There were literally thousands of salmon trying to swim back into the hatchery.  We hung around and watched the salmon and sea lions for awhile and were hoping to see bear come across the street and steal a few fish.

After no bear action, we drove back to the RV to walk the pups and planned on returning to the hatchery in hopes of seeing a bear hunt fish.  We visited the Valdez museum which was pretty small but held an interesting array of art and artifacts.

We returned to the hatchery to watch the salmon run and watched a male sea lion dine on the floundering (no pun intended) salmon for over an hour.  He was a great fisherman and had an audience of other sea lions who apparently asked for permission to join him and were told "no." Although a local safety officer had cordoned off the area with bear warning signs, we never saw one and finally headed home for the night. This was our first time staying up until sunset in Alaska and noted that the days were getting shorter as sunset was at 11:20 pm.

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