Adventures in Alaska
03.09.2008 - 11.09.2008 -17 °C
Wednesday 3 Sept. The drop-off place from the cruise boat in Anchorage was well set up and we got ourselves organised fairly quickly and got some accommodation booked for when we get back and got collected by the RV rental place. When we got there though the only RV they had for us was a 30 foot one and we had ordered a 22foot. I just burst into tears because I was anxious about driving a 22foot. In the finish they got a 21 foot one organised with another company and took us over there and we got sorted and under way by 3.30, even with some grocery shopping done. We started driving down the Kenai peninsula and the scenery was simply stunning. The colours were really gorgeous. Alaska fall colours are lots of shades of dark and light green, yellow, orange, lots of red flowers and leaves at low levels, white (snow and glaciers) and lots of different shades of grey (rain, mist, fog). The mountains are beautiful and have amazingly green meadows on them, even with glaciers coming down through meadows. The only wildlife we saw was a raven and a duck. We have decided that moose is a fictitious animal and certainly don’t expect to see any. We may be the only people ever to travel in Alaska and not see moose – I think its just a ploy and everyone else is just pretending they exist. We stopped for a while by a beautiful river (where there were lots of warnings about moose crossing) and got our house sorted out and set up and our things unpacked. Then we carried on and stopped for the night in a nice roadside pulloff with a beautiful view down a valley to the river and with mountains all around. We had a fairly ok night but the over cab bed is not very comfortable so I had a very sore back the next day, and it was fairly cold in the camper. We had breakfast, read through a whole stack of brochures to decide what we wanted to do, and got going really late to Seward. We found the tour places on the marina and booked an 8hour trip for tomorrow then drove along the waterfront for a while and looked at the sea. We also saw the spot where the Iditarod dog-sled race starts, which was quite neat. Its right on the seafront but they obviously get plenty of snow to start a sled race there. We headed up to Exit glacier and went for a walk to the edge of the glacier. It was pretty stunning to be up so close to a glacier, and the colours and shapes of it were stunning. There were lots of wee waterfalls coming out of it and we spent quite a while just sitting and watching it and listening to it. The rocks we were sitting on were all scratched from the glacier having been moving over them in the last 5-10 years. It was amazing how much it has retreated in the time that we have been travelling the world. It would have been a different experience if we had come at the beginning of our travels. We stopped for the night at a beautiful carpark with a view of the glacier and the river in front of us and lovely mountains all round and just rested for the afternoon. We went for a stroll along the resurrection river trail for a short distance and picked some blueberries. We came back and realised the lights were on in the camper and the battery had gone flat. Steve got a lift down the road with some passers by and phoned the company and we found there is an emergency start switch so it was all ok other than a bit stressful. We took the camper for a wee drive along the road to charge the battery a bit and saw a black bear strolling along the road about 400m form our camp. We made our dinner and then just before dark went out to the toilet in the carpark. We both went out to check for bears and closed the door behind us so the bears didn’t go in and eat our reindeer sausages leftover from dinner. When we came back the door was locked. We were completely locked out of the camper miles from anywhere with a bear just down the road and not in sensible clothing. We managed to flag down a car which was the last vehicle leaving the glacier park and they very kindly took us to a resort 5 miles down the road where we phoned for someone to come out and rescue us. The guy that picked us up was one of the worlds wonderful people and was really concerned about us and that it would cost us a lot and that I was very upset and frightened and our trip is proving a bit of a disaster so far. He gave us his name and number and, hidden behind the card, some money for the locksmiths. We ran after him to give it back but they sped off in the car. We eventually got back into the camper and cleaned up so we could leave quickly in the night if we got scared. We had found out this is a place known for not only black bears but also brown bears (grizzlies) and the locksmith guys said it was quite likely they would be around our camper and bumping it in the night. However we eventually got to sleep and there were no unusual bumps in the night. That had been far too much adventure for one day.
We woke early to look for wildlife on Friday morning and a black bear strolled by along the road in front of us and we saw a stellars jay who was very put out with us for not giving him scraps. We had wild Alaskan blueberry pancakes for breakfast with a fantastic view of the glacier then relaxed for a while and headed back to town. We took in a couple who had been camping overnight in the park and hiked up to Harding icefield. They have not seen a bear in Alaska but have seen plenty of moose. Our tour left at 11am and we saw a couple of sea otters before we had hardly even got out of the harbour. They were really cute and just constantly rolling over and preening to keep air in their fur which is what keeps them warm. Sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction here for their fur, which is the densest of any animal with up to a million hairs per square inch. They have no blubber like other sea mammals so have to constantly tend and aerate their fur. We saw lots more sea otters but didn’t stop to visit with them. The scenery was absolutely stunning with mountains all around and sea mist hanging round their bases and cloud draping over their edges and down valleys. Everything has an amazing colour, its either bright green or sparkling white, nothing here lacks intensity. We had a lovely visit with a pair of bald eagles sitting on top of a rock then met a pod of Orca. Apparently they were AK pod and are resident orca but haven’t been seen in this area for some time. They were right up beside the boat and it was fantastic to watch them. They are so graceful in the water and were coming out of the water far enough to see us and keep an eye on what we were up to. We also visited colonies of harbour seals and stellar sea lions and saw a few puffins. Next was the visit to Aialik glacier, which is about 2 miles across and very clean and blue. It looked like it had baby blue powdery sandcastles on top it, with amazing shapes of the spires. There was ice floating all round us in the water and the boat had to push through the ice to turn. There were a few small calves broke off while we were there but the noise was nearly constant of cracking and groaning and creaking. Here the calving should be called blue thunder rather than white thunder because the glacier was so blue. We were about a quarter mile from it but it still looked immense towering over us, the size of glaciers is very deceptive from a distance. On the way back in we went to a colony of seabirds and saw hundreds of both horned and tufted puffins. We are sure both are bigger than the Atlantic puffins we are used to but they are still very cute. It was funny to watch them try to take off away from the boat and flap along the top of the water then finally abort and dive under. They are such ungainly little birds when not actually in the water or the sky. A group of Dalls porpoise came and played with the boat for a while, they are like miniature orca (although actually the orca will eat them) and are really really fast in the water. The speed they can keep up with the boat is amazing and they just weave in and out around the boat. They have a backward facing spout so when they come up all you see is a splash of white as the spray covers their backs up to their dorsal fins, so it was impossible to get photos of them. They were really fun to watch though. Next we had an encounter with a mother and calf humpback whale, who obliged us with beautiful fluke shots. There were a few more humpbacks on the way back in but we didn’t stop because we were already late back in. We stayed out on deck most of the day, just going in occasionally to warm our hands around a cup of coffee. We went inot the captains office on the last part of the trip back and were chatting with him for quite a while. He was a very friendly and lovely guy and had been watching us enjoying ourselves all day because we were right up the front most of the time. It was very cold a lot of the day and we had plenty of layers of clothes on but just standing still in the cold wind does get through layers. When we got back to the RV we were a bit disturbed to find a thing for breaking into vehicles sitting on our front bonnet. There was no sign of damage and nothing missing so we assume it was something to do with our angel from last night but it was a bit weird and gave me the heebie-jeebies a bit. We drove out of Seward in search of a stopping spot Steve remembered from the way in. it turned out to be very very beautiful but virtually in the middle of the highway junction so it was certainly not a quiet night and not much chance of wildlife.
On Saturday morning we had breakfast and set off for Homer to do some more sightseeing. Homer is our most distant point so we thought we’d get that out of the way and have less driving to do for the rest of the time. Homer spit is a really interesting place with lots of little buildings on stilts and boardwalks, and all wood and very shanty looking. We had been thinking about a day trip by boat across the bay to Seldovia or Halibut cove and possibly kayaking but we were told there was another storm coming up and they may not be going. All the kayak trips had finished for the season and actually it is pretty cold so wouldn’t have been very nice anyway. So we abandoned Homer after much discussion about plans for the rest of our time and looking for an RV park in Homer to stay in overnight. They actually charge around 50 to 80 dollars for a space in an RV park and we were astonished that people will actually pay that given the point of RV’s (we thought) is that you have all your facilities with you and have more freedom than with a car and hotels. So we kept on driving looking for somewhere that was free and quiet. There’s a wildlife viewing place in Kenai which we thought would be good but it turned out to be the main highway. We were still driving at 8pm having turned down a few state recreation areas because they cost $10 then finding nowhere at all for ages. We eventually stopped in a fee park by the sea but could find no-where to pay the fee so settled in for the night. A hatch in the bathroom on the van has broken so we have to be careful which way we park or the rain and wind come in, and one of the stone chips in the windscreen has started to split and we have a big crack across the window. Its pretty difficult to heat so we don’t really have somewhere warm to come home to if we are doing outdoor stuff. Its proving more difficult than we thought to find places to stay on this side of the peninsula and we had a fairly miserable day. The scenery however was still amazing and the colours are only getting more intense. The landscape is quite different though, with no mountains or hills and just endless spruce forests. They reckon moose crossing the road here is extremely common and moose are everywhere – well we still never saw one. We did see plenty of bald eagles and some seals.
On Sunday morning we left and went to look for somewhere nice to have breakfast. We tried the Beluga lookout (where apparently beluga haven’t been seen all year) and ended up on the riverbank at a fishing spot. It was peaceful and quiet other than fishermen coming and going and someone showed us the brown bear footprints from the bears he had seen go by early in the morning. Then we got stocked up with petrol and food and set off into the wilderness again. We drove in a dirt road for 6 miles to a camp on the edge of Skilak lake and got the best spot and stayed there for lunch. We chatted with a couple of really nice guys who come there often and we had got their spot so we reassured them we were only there for lunch and then left them to see the moose that would surely appear an hour after we left. They couldn’t believe we’d been in Alaska for 5 days and seen no moose. We stopped for the night at the campground at Petersen lake after checking out a couple of others. They were all free ones with only long drops and water pumps, which suits us fine, and it was very beautiful at Petersen lake. We were parked right on the lake front looking at the waterlillies and across to the far shore of the lake and the mountains behind. It rained for a lot of the afternoon so we learned to play a game we just bought about ocean food chains and then cooked our special treat dinner. We had found some cheap lobster tails and sockeye salmon in the supermarket so decided to treat ourselves. The lobster was some of the best we’ve ever had and it was really interesting to taste the sockeye salmon. Its supposed to be the premium salmon on the market and is certainly different to salmon we’re used to but we found it quite dry and with a much more meaty flavour than regular pacific or Atlantic salmon. I imagine if you’re a steak person its right up there but if you’re a fish person I’d prefer nice Orkney salmon. By the time we finished dinner and our dessert of strawberries and moose tracks ice cream (chocolate with chocolate fudge trails through it) it was getting dark and we sat and watched the view to see if anyone interesting was in it.
When I looked out the window on Monday morning there was a wee disturbance in the otherwise completely calm water and it was a beaver! We watched a wee family of beavers coming and going just in front of us until we had to leave to go to the toilet. We thought when we went down on the lakefront they would leave but one of them just stayed right by and carried on with his business (breakfast of part of the tree he had cut down in the night). He was completely undisturbed by us but did keep swimming over to have a look at us – it seemed like he was people watching. When we actually looked at our surroundings we should have known he was there because they had cut down most of a stand of trees just beside us and the nights work had been continuing with cutting the latest tree into logs. There were wood chips everywhere and very distinct cone shaped tree stumps. After he disappeared we had our breakfast and I painted a picture and we got organised very slowly. We left the camp at about 11am and set out to look for a new home. We had a look at a few camps and the one we had been planning to go to was a charge one with no river view although we think it may have been a good spot for watching bears fishing in the evening if you walk down to the river, however we weren’t sure what part of the river. We stopped for a few views along the way and read a sign board about moose that said the area we had been in for the last 24 hours was the highest moose sighting area in Alaska, so we figured we are defiantly not going to see a moose if we failed with 24 hours in the highest sighting area. We ended up at quartz creek campground which had finished its season so, like a few others was “no fees, no services” which also included toilets and water (neither of which we actually need anyway. It was beautiful camp and we got a spot right on the lake and the colours have really changed in the last few days and it really looks like fall. After lunch I spent a while painting – mountains and spruce trees again but with lovely yellows and oranges on the birch trees. There was hot chocolate after painting and we warmed up indoors a bit then decided to have a BBQ dinner. Of course it started drizzling when we started cooking and Steve also made a fire in the fireplace. When it was time to eat it actually rained so we retreated indoors for bison burgers, baked potatoes, BBQ corn and rice. It eased off again after dinner and we went for a stroll in the dusk (moose being fictitious, there’s no need to be afraid of meeting one on the trail) around the camp area. We had dessert outdoors and sat by the remnants of the fire.
On Tuesday morning we went for a walk along to the boardwalk on quartz creek and saw a bald eagle and beautiful scenery but no other wildlife. We had breakfast of pancakes outdoors and the sun even had a go at shining for a short while. We drove slowly north, feeling somewhat reluctant to leave the peninsula and disappointed not to have seen any moose. By stopping in just about every parking area on the way out we managed to have it take till 3pm to reach Beluga point. The wind really howls along the turnagain arm and it was foul. Never-the-less we managed to sit and look for beluga for 2 1/2 hours without success. We did see a moose in the far distance on the way there but it was in a zoo so I’m not sure that that counts. We also looked at the earthquake effects from the 1964 9.2 earthquake which included forests that had been flooded by seawater when the land dropped by 7-10 feet. Two towns were abandoned and we could see a few remains of them as partly submerged old sheds. After Beluga point we headed back into Anchorage and tried to find a place to park for the night at Kincaid park, where there’s supposed to be lots of moose, but it didn’t allow camping so we headed north. We found a nice spot at eagle river and paid for a park for the first time but we got a nice spot in the woods with long views, and in moose country again. Of course we didn’t see any moose and it was fairly late by the time we got there so we had dinner of leftovers as Mexican (with tortillas and corn chips) and went to bed.
On Wednesday morning we watched for moose for a while, had breakfast and got our stuff packed up for the next stage, and the camper tidied up. We had a wee stroll round the camp in case of seeing moose, then headed back to Anchorage to return the camper. We got dropped off at the hostel but couldn’t get in our room so went for a look around town with the intention to cycle the coastal trail. We got a reindeer hotdog for lunch which was very good and then popped in to the land information centre for a free movie. We ended up watching 4 free movies, although they were only 15 – 30 mins each, about Alaska wildlife, land conservation and the northern lights. Then we checked the weather forecast, which of course said cloudy with a chance of showers and a chance of sun, and headed to the cycle place. We left on our cycles at 3pm and really enjoyed the coastal trail. Its amazing to have such a wild place virtually in the middle of the city, but Anchorage is a very green city. We had views of the mountains down Cook inlet, mudflats, estuaries, lakes, cliffs and rainforest. There were information boards up all along it and also a display about the 1964 earthquake, from which the tsunamis destroyed Seward and Whittier with 40foot 100 mph waves covered in burning oil from oil tankers that had exploded. On a more pleasant note we saw a bit of wildlife, lots of birds and squirrels and then finally saw a moose! It was a huge male moose with an amazing rack just munching away across the field. In fact it didn’t feel as momentous as I had expected to finally see the moose but he was a long way away and just quietly doing what moose do. He looked at us and thought ‘oh no, more tourists taking my photo’ so lay down in the long grass to get out of our view. Someone said they had seen another moose just beside the trail a few corners back so we finished our trip and then turned back and had just given up on a moose beside the trial when we met him. He was a young male and very close to the trail. It was a much more momentous encounter. We stopped to take his picture and he graciously came out in full view so we started walking past rather than cycling to take pictures on the way. When we got quite near he started flicking his ears back at us, which is moose for ‘you’re in my personal space so I’m going to think about charging you’, so we hopped on our bikes and went a bit further away. Apparently we were still too close because he kept flicking his ears and started towards us. We decided discretion was the better part of valour and left. It was very cool to have seen moose finally but rather frustrating that we have been in the highest density moose areas and seen nothing and then saw two moose in Anchorage city! We returned the bikes at 6.30 and had a nice cheap halibut chowder for our dinner, looked in a couple of shops and headed back to our room. Its very basic but quiet with a decent bed and we got a good nights sleep.
On Thursday morning we spent some time catching up with chores, like diary, washing, emails and blog, had breakfast then went exploring the city again.We watched a couple more movies at the parks centre and again were really impressed with them. Lunch was halibut and chips at Humpy’s bar and it was possibly the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten and a nice atmosphere too. We went back to the parks centre and met Daisy the porcupine from the zoo who came to visit. She was an orphan rescued by a kid who wanted to be a vet and practised dissecting roadkill. He dissected her mother who had been killed by a car and found daisy in her womb, still alive and due to be born. Daisy is a great ambassador for porcupines and for the zoo and clearly loves her outings, especially because she gets to eat lots of bread which is her favourite food. We looked around the shops a bit then went to collect our stuff from the hostel and had to wait an hour till they opened at 5pm. There is a free shuttle that takes you to the wild berry farm and will then drop you at the airport so we went there for a couple of hours. We had a stroll around the nature trail, the river and the shops where they have the tallest chocolate fountain in the world. Then we had dinner at the goldmine and just ordered two appetisers which was absolutely huge and we couldn’t eat it all. Apparently people eat an appetiser followed by a main course and still have room for the free ice cream buffet. We had some corn fritters and a plate of fried halibut and potato skins and again the halibut was delicious. We got to the airport and got checked in and settled in for a fairly long night of a flight to Denver and then another to San Francisco.