That last roll through Alaska was a bit of a whirlwind as we made our way around the Kennia Peninsula with many things to see and places to go. It was at this point that we finally decided to take the plunge and get a special tour of some of what Alaska had to offer as well.
Over the next couple of weeks we went to Whittier, Copper Center, Kenny Lake, Chitna, and Kinnicott/McCarthy. All amazing places to see and explore.
On the way to Whittier we found a beautiful place to stay next to a lake. It was only a short few yards from the main road but was sheltered by bushes and shrubs that left the wildlife feeling right at home. It was amazing to stay in this area for nearly five days, critter watching, hiking, and checking out both Portage Glacier and Whittier.
Whittier gave us a taste of the Alaska we had been dreaming of. We were out in nature watching forest creatures like moose, bear, and bald eagles as they foraged and hunted. We walked trails along milky blue waters of glacier run off looking for fish and explored both lake and sea to view glaciers and sea-life. This free camp space was one of our favorite places. We were stocked up, and had plenty of water and solar for the week we spent there. We also met up with fellow travelers who were out to see what was to be seen. From this spot by the small lake we traveled to Portage Lake and took a boat to see the Portage Glacier. Just over one hundred years ago the lake didn't exist and supplies were carried over the river of ice instead.
Whittier was an amazing adventure, that started with driving through the tunnel to the town. This tunnel is the longest combination train and car tunnel in the states. This means that the tunnel was made for trains but converted to allow cars to travel through as well. There are set times for when cars can go through so pick up a brochure early. The boat tour was fun and exciting as we took off on the Klondike to see whales, porpoise, seals, otters, and glaciers. This was a six hour cruise and was one of the better priced excursions. It included a hot lunch, water, coffee and tea. A Forest Ranger was also on board and explained much of what we saw as we cruised. Alaska is truly amazing and beautiful, but one thing we learned on this journey was that you cannot get to much of it on wheels.
From Whittier we headed to Valdez. In Valdez we needed to do wash and fill up with water so we paid for a campsite near the Valdez Glacier. You can actually camp at the Valdez
Glacier but it is near an active gravel quarry and you will hear heavy equipment working throughout the day. On the way to Valdez we stayed at one of my favorite spots called Buffalo Lake. It was also near the road but was stunning, peaceful, and still. We watched an eagle fishing the next morning.
This was a wonderful reprieve in preparation for the long downward drive to Valdez. The road to Valdez was one of the worst roads we encountered on the Alaskan tour but the views were breath-taking and we even saw a Wolverine on the way back out the next day. Valdez is known for its waterfalls and there are more visible water falls right there than almost anywhere else you can get to in Alaska. Horse Tail and Bridal Veil falls are both on this road.
Like Seward, Homer, and Whittier, this port city is full of tourist restaurants, and little shops as well as RV parks. One highlight in Valdez was in touring the 'old town' that was destroyed in the 1964 earth quake. You can drive around the old city site reading signs about what used to be there.
From Valdez we traveled back up the mountain and found a place to stay at Kenny Lake. It's a long slow climb from Valdez and we actually chose not to hook up the jeep to give the Rig a little less to haul. From our station at an RV park at Kenny Lake we staged our next few runs both to Chitina and Kinnecott/McCarthy.
Chitina was a tiny place but at one point it was the largest town in Alaska. It was the first stop after making port on the way to the gold fields and was full of hotels, supply stores, and shops. Some of the old buildings are still in use including the Rangers station which is a tiny cabin that is one of the oldest buildings. A stop there was full of great stories from the Ranger who seldom sees many visitors. We spend a great hour just listening and learning. A moose even made an appearance leading the Ranger to explain how a mama moose will adopt babies of other moose if their mother is killed.
Chitna was a great gate way for our next excursion to Kinnecott Copper Mine and the town of McCartney. Mining made Alaska in one way or another and this town was a frozen in time relic of the days when Copper was king.
It is a two hour drive to these towns and a four mile walk from McCarthy to Kennicott, which is spelled two different ways.
If you decided to visit this far away, and least visited National Park give yourself a day or two if possible. I would not recommend driving a big rig there though as the road is rough, long , and twisting. We took the jeep and made it a day trip.
Although this was one of the best excursions we did for the history and topography of the place, not to mention having amazingly clear and bright day, it also highlighted the two opposing sides of 'The Final Frontier'.
We had a great day walking and exploring the old mill as well as taking a hike out to the Root Glacier. It was a beautiful day full of interesting history, amazing scenery, and fun people. However, like so much we had encountered in Alaska the tourist element was wound up to the highest notch it could reach. Although you can hike and walk the trails in the area, if you want to get out into the real wilds you need to book and excursion. To see the mill you must pay for a guide, and prices for food, drinks, and art items are very high. Like most of the other places we had been to in Alaska the town was geared to excursions, art, and high priced food. Summer is short in Alaska so I think 'make hay while the sun shines,' is a fitting motto.
After this last stop on the list we headed south wending our way through beautiful forests, wonderful water-scapes, and wending rivers, to Whitehorse Canada. To us Canada was a fresh breath of normalcy as we made our way toward the lower '48'. As beautiful, majestic, and breathtaking as Alaska was, there was a severe lack of 'normal'. In Canada we could stop for coffee, grab a meal we could afford, and visit historical sites for a few dollars.
The first of July was our official one year anniversary on the road and we have had a wonderful time learning how to live the nomadic life. We've found free camping, good bargains, and wonderful historical and wilderness excursions. In the lower '48' there is a
great deal of balance between regular living and exploring. Yes, you may need to spend a bit to get to the special places, but you can head back 'home' at the end of the day and grab some groceries or even a burger for supper. Alaska seems to struggle with that balance. Much of this shock had to do with expectations of the 'last frontier'. There are only a few roads you can actually travel in Alaska everything else is only accessible by plane or boat. This means that though there is a vast state full of pristine wilderness you can't necessarily go there.
Does this mean that we were disappointed with our Alaskan Roll? No. It was amazing and well worth the effort and expense, but it was also a bit jarring to be unprepared for all of the art galleries and espresso huts. In the end we came to the conclusion that having been residents of Mickey Mouse's back yard for much of our life our tolerance for all things tourist is very low.
If you ever get the chance to go to Alaska I would strongly encourage you to go. Take a cruise, ride the train, or even drive. It is a beautiful place with much to see. Just be prepared for the atmosphere of this stunning place. As time goes by it seems that there are less boondocking places, and every little space seems poised on the edge of tourist season, like a bear at the edge of a rushing stream in the height of the salmon run.
NOTE: This blog is only expressing our experience rolling and writing our way through 'The Last Frontier'. This is not a reflection of any other journey.