Blog Date July14. Reviewing Palm/Wasilla, Tolsona/McCarthy, Valdez, Tok/Destruction Bay

Sorry for delay between blogs but we’ve been exhausted….in good ways. Plus, our access to stable and strong internet has been erratic to non-existent. Our exit from Seward took us through more breathtaking scenery incl some backtracking to Anchorage. We settled into Mtn View RV Park in Palmer with just a few hours before loading onto a limo-bus (Thanks to CIndy) taking our entire caravan partners to Settlers Bay Lodge in Wasilla for an incredible meal, views, and great lodge setting. (Thanks to our friends Dan and Charlene Neal from Oceanas who told us this was a must see….it was!) There may also have been some pole dancing in the limo bus! We even returned a few days later for golf on a beautiful course then meeting some of our group for yet another meal on the deck of the lodge…maybe some cocktails as well :). Not too many group activities here so some relaxing days including pickle ball, finding some restaurants, cookouts at the camp, and experiencing Fred Myers store…..Alaska’s version of super WalMarts. Then on to Tolsona as our next stop.

Tolsona itself was not too much to brag about. Our Ranch House RV Park was about 15 miles outside of the town but full of character. It included an old ‘Road House’ known for catering to the Alaska Pipleline workers from the 70’s. This one still operated with a full bar and kitchen. Being coaxed, I found out what ringing the bell meant….drinks all around on MY tab. The lodge was an authentic log cabin with post and beam ceiling inside and lots of antiques from old homesteads in the area…reminded me of my grandfathers farm built in 1789. From there, we drove to Tolsona airport, loaded on 3 plannes, and flew to McCarthy. This is a historic town accessable by air or a very rough 60-mile dirt road. The small town was about a block long, dirt street, with 2 bars, souvenir shop, country store, and USPS. Interesting spot to hva e abeer and enjoy the local scene. Our day there included a white water rafting trip starting at the base of a glacier lake where we watch it’s constant erosion/melting before heading to the white water. We had to prep for the adventure with ‘dry suits’ which were rubber suits with elastic bands for your limbs and neck, so IF you fell into the 34 degree glacier water, you would not instantly become an ice cube., but it was quite warm inside until we immersed ourselves in the glacier lake water to cool off, which we did instantly. The rapids were realy no more than class 2 but enough to have a wave or 2 cool us off. At the end we were able to strip our rubber suits down to our waists to load onto an ancient school bus (ever see ‘Into The Wild’?) taking us back an extremely bumpy road through the woods back to base camp. Was an enjoyable journey. Returning to the Road House RV park, one of our fellow caravaners, Russ and Maureen, hosted a cocktail party outside their RV with quite a spread of hors d’oeuvres. There we sat enjoying each others company for a perfect evening as we donned our tennis racquet bug zappers….now a staple of our trip.

Next we headed for Valdez, site of the famous oil spill disaster back in the 70’s. But a beautiful town surrounded by towering mountain peaks as we set up camp at Eagles Rest RV Park. Our main event here was our wildlife and glacier viewing aboard the Lu Lu Belle…..a beautiful 75′ yacht complete with heated cabin, oriental rugs and a mini kitchen serving chili-dogs, hot blueberry muffins, seafood chowder, and more. Our Captain talked during the entire 11 hour cruise but was full of interesting information of the area. We saw all kinds of wildlife including seals, eagles, sea lions, puffins, and humpback whales. The whales gave an incredible display of their strategic fishing skills called bubble netting. several of the whales would dive deep several hundred feet, form a circle, and blow out as much as as they could spare. This created curtains of rising bubbles, trapping fish within who would not venture through the bubbles. Then the whales would open their mouths and head straight for the surface inside the curtain walls, consuming thousands of small baitfish, and in concert, blasting through the surface of the water about 1/3 of their body lengths, seemingly licking their chops from a well-orchestrated fish capture and dining. It was truly incredible to see the intelligence of these mammals act as one in the strategic fishing maneuver. Just stunning.

The captain showed off his boating skills as he stuck the nose of his 75′ boat into caves off the side of towering cliffs, coming within inches of the rocky cave walls and the sea rose and fell…an incredible display of expert boatsmanship…(but I don’t think I’ll attempt it at Smith Mtn Lake). We came alongside a commercial fishing boat who was just pulling their nets in. Our captain again came within what seemed to be annoying close to the other boat. But we saw the net drawn tight as it revealed hundreds of salmon within, maybe a thousand or more. A smaller boat remained on the opposite side with a tow rope attached to the main vessel which kept the large boat from succumbing to the weight of the catch and being pulled over top of the drawn nets. The fish were dropped on the deck and swept into the ‘live tank’ in the belly of the boat so they would remain live and fresh when arriving at the processing plant. However, these fish would not see that plant directly from this boat. A much larger ship awaited among all the smaller fishing boats. As the catches were on board, the large ship drew along side, and transported all the live fish through a large hose which sucked them through and onto the large boat where they were deposited onto a conveyor belt, dumped into a large weighing container, then re-deposited into the live tank of the large ship. Thus the smaller boats could continue their fishing activities within the dead time of running back and forth to the port to offload their catch. Very efficient and inpressive operations.

Next stop was the 2nd largest glacier in N America….the Columbia Glacier. We passed through miles of ice pieces, increasing in size and frequency reminding us of The Titanic. The captain was again adept in maneuvering the boat around the larger pieces to get within a couple hundred yards of the glacier wall. It was dead calm in the water as smaller ice chunks bounced off the steel hull. Once within the 1/4 mile the engines were shut down as we sat still among the ice chunks now surrounding the boat but a magnificent view of the 150′ tall wall of the glacier. Every now and then we’d hear a big BOOM thundering through the silence as interior pieces of ice broke within the glacier. Then we’d see ‘calving’ as pieces of the wall collapsed into the calm sea….sending large, but gentle, swells towards the boat as we rocked over them. For about an hour we sat in awe of one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces. The water temperature was about 30 degrees and air temp in the mid 30’s. Then we slowly picked our way away from the glacier for our 90 min ride back to port, again witnessing the majestic mountains surround the bay and the homes of all the wildlife we already knew were within. It was….. A Day To Remember!

Before leaving Valdez, we took a car ride to other side of the bay, since the bay ended in a cove at Valdez, where the state salmon hatchery was built. They blocked a stream coming into the bay from the mountains where the salmon would normally go to spawn, and diverted their migration up man-made fish ladders into the hatchery where the eggs were laid and fertilized. The hatchery protected the eggs from harm or consumption and produced a much higher level of hatching than Mother Nature produces in the up-hill streams. Was a pretty ingenious design of humans to assist Mother Nature. We also visited several bars/restaurants in the town including an almost brawl between Alex and the bartender at one stop….thank goodness for Cindy holding me back before I ripped the guy apart (thank you Cindy!). Other than that we thoroughly enjoyed the Valdez visit.

Our next chapter should have been uneventful but turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of our trip….not ‘best’ just memorable. We had a long drive out of Valdez, north to Tok AK kinda beginning our return trip save for 1 more diversion in Haines AK, but more on that later. We had about 225 miles to travel to Tok on not-so-great roads, so the pace was slow at 30-40 mph much of the way. We were in a stretch where the road right-of-way was not trimmed, so high brush came to the road’s edge. Cindy had just given me a break as she drove for about an hour, then I resumed. In a desolate area, Cindy got up to take a bathroom break while we were driving. She got about 4 steps towards the back within the 8 inch gap between the couches when the slides are fully closed. Then within a flash, she heard me yell ‘Oh *&^%)’ as I simultaneously hit the breaks hard…..A Bull Moose had darted out in front us from an uphill climb and through the brush. He immediately turned and tried to out run us. All I could see was his hind end (aka ass) with his hips at the level of our windshield which is about 5 ft from ground. I heard Cindy scream from the back as our RV gave him a shove in the butt. He went forward falling down on all 4’s, but quickly got up, continued straight ahead of us in the road until deciding it might be better to turn into the brush again. He did, but fell again as his hooves slid on the road surface, but got back up and scampered into the woods. In the meantime, Cindy continued to yell for me. As I brought the RV to a stop, put brake on and flashers, I turned to see Cindy sideways and wedged/pinned between the couches. After figuring out how to extract her, she got up and surveyed her body. Nothing apparently broken but a hard hit on the tile floor of her left hip, which quickly displayed a large bruise about 10-inch square….an odd shape for a bruise. Fortunately I had the mental fortitude to check her BEFORE checking the front of the RV. There was ‘not a single hair’ or mark on the RV…yea! We let our heart beats return to somewhat normal and resumed our travel. So we can now officially say we ‘Goosed a Moose’ in Alaska! Cindy continues to recover as her bruise is maturing but still sensitive.

We arrived Tok, anxious to tell everyone of our moose encounter. Tok was our first town when initially arriving in Alaska so this was the start of our backtrack. Tok is not much to talk about but a small town with several gas stations, grocery store (Three Bears), and several auto/RV repair shops since the roads into Tok were the worst of our trip. In fact I think I forgot to report that one of our fellow travelers lost his towed vehicle on the ride into Tok. We actually saw it off the side of the road, down a 6 ft embankment, and nestled upright in tall grass. We both said ‘that looks like Fred’s truck’…..and it was! Another motorist stopped Fred further down the road to say his cables were dragging on the road….what a shock he had as he approached the back of his RV to find his truck was gone. (our RV’s are so big they don’t even noticed when a vehicle is on or off the tow bars. Somehow his entire hitch came out of the sleeve from the RV and just separated. Fortunately only a few tweaks of alignment and his truck was fine…..could have been MUCH worse.

We all gathered the 1 night we were in Tok for 1 of our ‘Celebration’ dinners which our organizers planned throughout our trip. The next morning we all dreaded the terrible road for 5 hours back to Destruction Bay, Yukon, averaging about 45 MPH. Destruction Bay is no more than an overnight stop with a single gas station and diner. Our RV park hook-ups included ONLY electric so no water or sewer dump, but better than Red Goat earlier in our trip which didn’t even have electric. We concluded that in Alaska and NW Canada, if you have a gravel parking lot, you can call it an ‘RV Resort’. Then again, these places only have 4 months of business so they can’t afford to invest much for the little income potential they have. So another quick overnight stay in Destruction Bay and we were headed for Haines Alaska.

A few misc tidbits:

  • Weather as been very warm and sunny with highs in 70’s and nights in 50’s. Very unusual for Alaska
  • Just surpassed 9,000 miles on this trip. Looks like we’ll end up near our projection of 15,000
  • Diesel prices have soared to $7/gal +
  • We had a scare when a peice of the Alaska Hwy washed out from a dam collapse causing a 50 ft revene through about a 200 ft section of the road. Original word was there could be a 500 mile detour. However, within a few days they had improved an old fire road on the top side of the dam collapse providing only a 2 mile detour….whew!
  • Our next update will begin with our last stop in Alaska at Haines, then beginning our trip back home. Hope the next update will not be as delayed as this one was. Until then………..

One response to “Blog Date July14. Reviewing Palm/Wasilla, Tolsona/McCarthy, Valdez, Tok/Destruction Bay”

  1. Great read!  Cindy is one brave woman!  Goosed a Moose!  What an adventure for all!  cb


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