Heading toward Valdez Alaska

We drove from Seward to Anchorage and filled the tank with about a hundred gallons of diesel at Costco (it was $2.65 gal, cheapest price anywhere we have traveled this year)   We also stocked up on Costco groceries for the long trip home knowing there won’t be any more Costco stores till Washington state, which is many weeks away.  We will be traveling the Alcan all the way back to Watson Lake where we can turn onto and then travel on down the Cassier Highway till we are close to the town of Prince George BC.

After stocking up and filling the tank we headed on out the Glenn Highway in the direction of Valdez AK.  Our plan was to overnight at The Ranch House Lodge and RV in Tolsona AK (near GlennAllen) , about 150 miles north of Valdez. (everything is far away in Alaska)   We had stayed there on our way out to Isabel Pass a few weeks before.  Its a quirky place.   An old road house built back in the 40’s with the oddest folks we have ever met, who own and run the place.  That’s for a future post.

We got to the ranch house around 3 pm and setup the coach for the night.  They have chili cooking for travelers all day and we went into the Road House to the bar and  I had a bowl and a bottle of beer while Kathy had a glass of wine after our long drive.    The couple that own it orate its history around 6 pm each evening to the weary travelers that camp with them for the night.  Its a great story, and if you want to hear it you will need to stay there..  Its too long for me to write up.  They do have cabins for you to stay in if you go there without an RV.

All I can say the place is a work in progress!   Andy, the husband appears to work 20 hours a day.  And he made a lot of progress in the few weeks since we stopped there on the way to Isabel Pass.

The next morning we were on our way to Valdez!

Turns out the road to Valdez was as rough as the road from Eagle to Chicken AK, but it was paved, but it was probably 20 times longer.  That was a stretch of extremely rough road and the whole time I was driving it I was thinking it was the only way out of Valdez when we leave.    There were a couple major construction projects requiring pilot cars along the way.   One of them had you drive down into a deep gully where they were installing a huge pipe to channel a large amount of water from a melting glacier up on the mountain above us.  Prior to heading down the Richardson Highway we had read a few horror stories from that construction area.  From broken trailer hitches to completely snapped off tow bars due to the steep incline.  Motorhomes usually have a fairly long overhang in the back so steep inclines either up or down and have the back dragging the ground.

Seward Alaska

Scored a great site right on Resurrection Bay for our time in Seward.   Kathy says it’s the prettiest view ever.   We got here around 2 pm and there were plenty of open waterfront spaces.  We picked one and pulled in, set up shop and put our chairs out in front by the large metal fire pit.

Later in the afternoon I noticed the batteries were discharging more than I would have expected with the amount of sun then.   I checked out the solar and saw it wasn’t really charging.   I made a note of that so I could run the genny later.   Of course I didn’t remember to start the genny till 5 minutes before quiet time, so the next morning our batteries were lower than I had gotten them before.  Nothing drastic, but we were down about 240 AH; so it was going to be interesting to see if we could get them back to 100% that day.

In the morning I immediately deployed the solar suitcase to supplement the charge, which worked out well as we were at 100% by 5pm.   Solar is awesome!  Having to run the genny… not so much.

Wednesday we got to sit out on the waterfront and drink our coffee on a glorious morning and did so each morning afterward.

We drove over to Lowell Point, which was just a bit further south from town along a narrow gravel road along the bay.  As we drove out of Seward, there was a waterfall with a lot of water coming down right beside the road.  It looked like it was coming off a concrete spillway.   They probably had to do that to prevent the road from getting washed out all the time.   Once we got to the Point, there were lots of homes and what looked to be vacation rentals and a campground of sorts.   Definitely not as nice as our waterfront spot.

Then

 

 

 

The next morning we drove out to the Exit Glacier along a smooth paved road.  (I only mention that as most roads in Alaska are pretty rough)  There were signs along the road marking where the glacier’s toe was over the years.  It has receded, like all the others, quite a lot.   In the not to distant future the fresh water situation may become a problem to a lot of folks.  I’m sure that’s further away in Alaska, but it made me think of all the people that live near Glacier NP.   Those glaciers will be gone next summer.   Water might become an expensive commodity around there sooner than we might think.

Prior to heading over the Exit Glacier, we searched and found what we thought was a fish hatchery, but what we found was not as expected.  It was an odd little place sort of sandwiched in the corner of a lot on the way into a small wooded residential area.    It almost looked abandoned, especially due to a sign near the door that it wasn’t opening till July,  and we were there the last day of July.

Being in a huge fishing community, I wanted some halibut fish & chips. Ray’s on the Waterfront had reasonable reviews so we headed over.  It was a nice place right on a boat marina, but my fish were very dry and way overcooked.  Luckily for me a buddy called about our visit to Valdez and reminded me of the Bucket ‘O Butt at Thorn’s.  The next evening we went there.  Very good halibut fish and chips!

We had been seeing buildings across the bay the whole time at the campground, so one afternoon we decided to find a way over there.   It turns out it really wasn’t very far.  We have found that sometimes here in Alaska somewhere that looks really close is a very long drive due to the lack of roads.

We got over there in just a few minutes and it was mainly shipyards.  I had seen a coast guard cutter on the bay a couple days prior, and now I saw it up on land being worked on.   Just past that was a guy remotely driving a huge mobile boat lift.   I had seen much smaller ones in the past, but this one looked like it had picked up that very large coast guard cutter and placed it where it was.   He was driving it from a joystick mounted on a harness he was wearing.  I was surprised it was wireless.

From the other side of the bay I could just see a green roofed building that turned out to be a lot of 40′ containers stacked up in a U shape with a large metal green roof spanning the opening containers, making a huge building open on the south side.  That was something I had not seen prior to now.

 

On the way back we tried to drive into a so-called campground that was probably the ugliest place I had ever seen.  It was so potholed, we turned around only a few feet into it.  And it was more expensive than the beautiful spot we had!   Instead of going there, I would just camp in a turnout somewhere.

We stopped along the route back and snapped a few pics of the town and our campground along the water.  It was pretty far away, but one of the cruise ships at the dock is easy to see.   Our campground was  about 1,000 yards to the left of that ship.

 

 

We heard about this gadget that sounds perfect for being off grid in Canada and Alaska.  The Spot Gen 3 GPS satellite notifier, so I have one being shipped to our campground in Tolsona to pick up when we leave Valdez next week.

The Homer Spit

It was about a 5-mile drive out to the campground on the spit.   The spit is pretty long and you can’t help but notice the many Tsunami zone warning signs.   It would not be a good spot to be after a large earthquake.  We kept our fingers crossed while we were there.

After deploying we, drove the rest of the way out the spit.  We passed lots of boats, tourist traps, restaurants, and businesses that cater to the fishing industry.

While all the way at the end of the spit, there was a small parking area and just offshore on the inside of the spit were thousands of birds making quite a ruckus.   We couldn’t see what was going on in the water, but we guessed there were a lot of fish near the surface that we could not see due to the angle and short distance to them.

Our site at Heritage RV Park was very nice.  50 amp FHU.  You do not find 50 amp that often once you pass the border into Canada and into Alaska.   Most places are 30 amp maximum, and some only had 20 amp service.   They all work for us as long as we don’t need a lot of air-conditioning.  But the best part about this park was the sites along the water were pull-in, not back-in sites,  so our windshield looked directly out onto the Kachemak Bay.  It was a delightful place to camp for a couple nights and the weather was gorgeous.

The first morning we headed out fairly early to do some shopping in the tourist traps, and after spending a while there we headed further on down the spit to the next touristy area, but by then all the parking was taken.  We drove around there for a bit, but there were plenty of other cars hovering to also find a spot if someone was leaving, and after a while we drove off.

Then we headed back up off the spit into old town and found Bishop Beach where they allow you to drive your car onto the beach, but not very far.  They keep you to a small area with large boulders.  We walked around there for a few minutes as it was a lot windier there, making it very blustery!!

We did have the water pump lights in the kitchen go out while in Homer, so I called around to see if I could find a replacement.  There was a “Gear Shed” that said they had some, but when I got there it was not one that would fit my unit.   Called some other marine supply places, but I was not successful.  I moved the working light from the bedroom sink area into the kitchen so we could tell if the pump was left latched.   I’m wondering if the water pump control unit is going bad as if we leave the pump latched on, it uses 10 amps most of the time, even when it’s not pumping water.   So we have been keeping it turned off till it’s needed when not connected to city water.

Moseying on down to Homer for a few days.

We drove out of Williwaw during a pretty good rain and the first thing we came upon once we turned onto the Seward Highway was road construction and lots of dirt and gravel.   The coach is back to incredibly dirty again.

Something I have noticed in Alaska is the highway names will usually change numbers along the way.   From Anchorage down to the turnoff for Seward Highway 1 is the Seward Highway, but at that turnoff, Seward Highway 1’s name changes to the Sterling Highway and the Seward Highway continues on down to Seward on Highway No. 9.   If you go north from Anchorage on Highway 1, it’s called the Glenn Highway.   After talking to some locals about the highways here, it seems they only know the names of the highways and don’t pay attention to the numbers much.

After the Seward Highway turned off and we were on the Sterling Highway, the next town we came to was Cooper Landing.   It was a pretty little town with the Kenai River running along the road.  The water was that pretty color we had been seeing in a lot of Alaska where the glaciers feeding the river was fairly close.  It is the glacier flour that makes it the beautiful turquoise color.

As we passed the town, the road started getting a lot narrower and much more windy.   And something that gave me pause was the Armco (metal guard rail)  moved in right up to the white lines on the roadway.  Even more disturbing was that the Armco had been flattened by many, many vehicles rubbing along it for incredibly long stretches in the tighter curves.   Driving an 8′ 6″ bus thru there was a bit of a white knuckle experience as there were lots of RV’s, cars and trucks coming in the other direction.

The rest of the drive was uneventful all the way down to the Homer Elks Club.  When we got there, the rain was still coming down, so we thought it lucky to be in a motorhome instead of a trailer.  If you are pulling a trailer, you have to go out in the rain to get to your house.   Not so with the motorhome as you are already in there!

Later on we headed into the lodge to pay for the night and have a cocktail and maybe some dinner.   Unfortunately, they only serve dinner on Fridays and we arrived on Saturday ,so we asked for recommendations.  The Homer Elks Club is in the Old Town section of Homer, so there was a lot of places within waking distance.   The barkeep told us about three places close by that he said were really good:   AJ’s, Fat Olives, and Two Sisters Bakery.   We opted for Fat Olives, but ended up driving there as it was raining pretty good when we got back outside.

We would recommend it!    I had a small pizza and Kathy had a seafood plate on a bed of forbidden rice.   I had never seen black rice before.   My pizza was excellent and she raved about her dinner.

The next morning we packed up and headed down to the spit to camp for a couple of nights.

Whittier Ak

We headed out to get in line for the Whittier Tunnel to make it thru on the half hour when it’s open for the eastbound ride into Whittier.

The lines to go thru are in parallel numbered rows.  Trucks are all the way to the right and they get to go thru first.  Then it’s back to Row 1 and they count up.

The tunnel is a one-lane affair that has you straddling the railroad track that it was built for and it seems a lot longer than its 2.5 miles length.  It is the longest tunnel in North America!

Kathy took a few short videos while I was driving thru.

Whittier is a very secluded town with mountains surrounding it and a large water port for large ships.   It was drizzly and fairly windy the day we were there.  We stopped for lunch at Swiftwater Cafe at the end of the main road near the ferry building.

 

While walking around that little spit of land with shops on it, I noticed a patio on a restaurant that looked a bit precarious to me.   Stacked 2x scrap holding the deck up.

We then drove out a gravel road that went a few miles and ended at a large viewpoint.

On the way back, we stopped at a small park where I saw a bunch of seagulls milling about near a creek.   I went over to see what was going on and I was shocked to see the small creek was chock full of salmon.  So many it was like they were packed in nose to tail!  The creek was almost too shallow for them to move, but it didn’t stop them from trying to get upstream.

I was tempted to just walk over and grab a few for dinner, but decided that was a bad plan.  I later heard it would have been illegal to do it without a rod and lures specifically for that water.  I also don’t have a fishing license.

We snapped a few pics and even a short video and headed back toward the tunnel that goes west on the hour.   We had to cross the railroad tracks at the end of the rail yard, and of course there was a long freight train blocking the only way out.   It was going forward and backing up to add more and more cars; and as it turned out, when we finally got to cross the track, the train was given the right-of-way to enter the tunnel while we waited in line.

I took a video of it, but its probably 5 minutes long, so I will post it on YouTube so it can be watched.

There is a decrepit building at the extreme west end of town that looks like a Soviet era barracks, and it turned out to be an old army building.  Very creepy looking with all the windows missing.   Hopefully it’s not considered an historical landmark so they can tear it down someday.

Here is the link to the video:  Whittier Train heading into the Tunnel.

 

2006 Allegro Bus Brochure

 

Allegro-Bus-Brochure-2006

 

Here is the brochure to our Bus.   Ours is the exact model shown with the exceptions that we removed the front TV and modified that cabinet to make the bottom of it go straight across and we replaced the couch on the right with a couple of euro recliners.   They will soon be replaced with flexsteels theater seating as the current recliners look good but are extremely uncomfortable.  And something very funny that I just noticed, we even have the dog bed where they show one.   I never noticed that till this morning.

 

Portage Glacier trip.

We drove over to check out the tour boat that takes you to the portage glacier.   Turns out there were tix available for the 3pm tour and we purchased them.   We headed back to Williwaw to leave Dusty in the RV while we went out on  it.

We got there and waited a bit till they allowed us on. It was a really beautiful day, so we took seats on the top deck.   So far the Kenai has been all sun for us!

They get to within a couple hundred feet of the glacier wall and unfortunately we didn’t get to see it calve off.   We did hear what sounded like a gunshot, which we were told was the ice moving, but never saw any movement.

The tour was a little over an hour and we were sure glad we had gone right away as that evening it started raining and it continued to rain the next two days we were there.

 

 

 

Off to Whittier in the morning.

Heading to Williwaw

We had stayed in Anchorage for a couple nights to empty the tanks from the convergence and fill the fresh water as we were going to drycamp at Williwaw Campground at the Portage Glacier.   We left early as we didn’t have reservations there and we knew it had a lot of first-come first-served sites.

The drive down was spectacular.  Kind of what I thought Alaska would look like prior to getting to the great white north.  The mountains with tops covered in clouds, the road carved between the mountain slope and the water of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.    We were told it was called the Turnagain because Capt. Cook was looking for a shortcut from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and the waterway was another bust and he had to turn again…

It was low tide as we drove and some of the areas have a long muck beach to the edge of the water.  Kathy heard that if you walked out in it, you would likely get yourself stuck and it was deep and difficult to pull yourself out of.

We arrived at Williwaw before noon and there were a lot of open sites, many of which could fit the largest vehicles.  We chose a double spot that was probably 60′ deep and 25′ wide.  It cost us $28 for two nights!  50% off due to the National Park Senior Pass.  I think that thing has saved us about $500 dollars since we paid the $10 for it at Montezuma’s Castle National Monument back in May 2017.   I just calculated that was a 4,900% return on that $10 investment.  Wow… I wish the stock market would give me a return like that.   I could retire!   LOL.

The campground was beautiful.  There was a waterfall coming down from what looked like a glacier right above us.  The sound from the falling water could be heard inside our coach.  It was a terrific background sound.   And the campground wasn’t full on Thursday or Friday night.   Kind of amazing for the end of July.  There are no hookups here, just a hand water pump and large dumpsters.   There were also pit toilets.  I didn’t bother to look in them.

This is an awesome campground to see the local area and I bet to fish as there is a lot of water all around.

 

 

Xscapers Convergence on Isabel Pass in the Alaska Range.

We left early and drove up the Stewart Highway from Glennallen so we would get to the mountain pass around noon.   It was a beautiful sunny day and probably a cool 72 degrees as we very slowly dodged the many and large potholes on the gravel road we had to take to the campsite below the Gulkana Glacier.   For the whole drive up to the site, the glacier was just gleaming in the sunlight.

There were already about 8-10 rigs lined up pointing various ways when we got there.  We looked around and found a good spot, mostly east facing so our solar panels could get the most sun while parked.    We met the hosts, Stacy and Gary and their two dogs, Spirit and Sofie .

I was amazed when I saw all the panels mounted on their RV roof.   Turns out it was 2,400 watts for the house and 100 watts for the chassis batteries.   And the icing on the cake was their 500 amps of lithium batteries (@24v)  That’s 1,000 amps to us mere mortals using 12v systems, or 800 amp-hours usable.

That evening we got to meet about 50 or so other Xscapers.   There were more than 20 RV’s by then and a few more came in the next day or so.  To everyone’s surprise, at least 75% of them were first-timers.. as were we.   It seems everyone also had the fake fire rings to bring to the social hour, and blueberry margaritas!  Sweet,  literally and figuratively.

In the morning I took the car out to the highway so we could download a few TV shows as we didn’t have any signal at the airstrip we were camping on, 1.8 miles east of the highway.   While I was there in the Monument parking lot, I snapped a few pics showing where we were and the view of the glacier and of course the Stewart monument with the bullet hole in his head.

On Saturday morning most of the attendees left for a jet boat tour from the MacLaren River Lodge.   It was about 40 miles down the Denali Highway.   The first 24 miles were paved, and then it turned into “Alaska Gravel,” a rough, washboard and potholed mess.   It was a beautiful drive according to Kathy.   I was too busy to see that as I was scanning as far down the road as I could in an attempt to miss the holes.

 

 

 

We didn’t get on the list for the boat tour as I wasn’t going into Facebook enough to get onto the list prior to it filling up, so we went anyway to have a lunch with everybody at the lodge.

The river was very nice and appeared to be melt water from a glacier a few miles up river.  The jet boats took you close to the glacier.

 

 

 

After lunch we were on the patio talking to a helicopter pilot who had a crew of geologists up on the side of the mountains using electronic equipment to find minerals.  They weren’t saying what minerals were being looked for though.

Sunday morning started out with a potluck breakfast.  There was all sorts of food, even a couple of griddles cooking blueberry pancakes using the same blueberries picked on the sides of the roadways that were also used in the margaritas.   Later on some groups of folks hiked up to the glacier.   Most of them seemed to come back walking gingerly.   It was a rough hike out there.  Not much of a trail thru the moraine.

We headed up the road to do it, but about three quarters of a mile up the road the gravel became large river rock and I wasn’t sure Kathy’s car could make it thru that; so we turned around probably 1,000 feet from the small parking area near the small suspension bridge:   lots of broken boards with large gaps in between suspended over a swift river by steel cables.

Monday evening there was a potluck dinner, and many hours later we all said farewell as this was a late-waking crowd and we were leaving early (9am).

Tuesday morning we got going at 9am.  Don came by to say goodbye and Kathy went down and said goodbye to Joann and Mike.  (she had met them as they were leaving the campground we were staying at in Fairbanks a couple weeks before)

As we headed down the potholed gravel road (very slowly) I could see Mike and Joann driving out of there detached, presumably to attach their Mini Cooper at the monument a few yards from the entrance to the highway.

We headed south on the Stewart Highway to get to Anchorage and they turned to the North to start heading home so they could get to their daughter’s wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving over to Tolsona

 

 

 

We left Wasilla and headed out the Glenn Highway toward Glennallen, AK.   Along the way we encountered the Matanuska Glacier just south of the highway.  The pictures don’t really do it justice, it was huge and right next to  the highway, curving its way back up the mountains.  The town, if you could call it that, was aptly named Glacier View.   Apparently it’s the largest glacier in the US that is accessible by car.

In a little while we were at our spot for the night, the Roadhouse Lodge & RV.   Upon first sight it was a bit sparse, but the owner greeted me in the parking lot and took me to our campsite.   That was service I hadn’t experienced before.

After we set up, I went in to pay for the night.   We had 50 amp service, water and sewer.   That was what I wanted so we could be fully ready for a week of drycamping on Isabel Pass.

The owner, Karen, said she would be telling the history of the place around 6pm tonight, so we went back for a bowl of chili and the story that evening.

We met her husband, Andy, that evening, and talk about a workaholic, he never really stopped working the whole time we were there.   I saw him dig a long trench and lay electrical cabling for 5 new sites he was creating over by the creek.    In the morning he was putting siding up on a new addition to the back of the roadhouse for a large kitchen and liquor store.   We heard he had moved the existing building over to the other side of the grounds and would use that for something later.  It sounded like it needed a lot of work so he found it would be quicker to move it and build a new structure.

He mentioned that the kitchen should be open when we come back here on our way to Valdez in a couple of weeks.   That was hard to imagine, but we will know soon enough.

I asked what Andy had done prior to retiring to this full-time job.  He said he was a demolitions contractor and he always worked alone, preferring to buy bigger equipment than hiring and managing workers.   He mentioned he worked on the World Trade Center demo but was fired as the unions said he had to hire workers and he wouldn’t.   Interesting.

There was some new looking 9′ diameter galvanized pipe sections over on the other side of the campground and I asked him what they could be for.  He said he is building an underground walkway inside them from his cabin to the Roadhouse so he doesn’t need to go outside in the negative 70 degree winter weather.   I guess there isn’t permafrost on the site.

We left in the morning to drive the 100 miles to Isabel Pass on the Stewart Highway.  Here is a picture of what trees grow on top of the permafrost.  Black Spruce is the type and they look very stunted.  When you see them you know to look out for the frost heaves on the road!