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Old 06-25-2010, 01:23 AM   #113
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Thursday. First thing was to continue making reservations for the next 10 days or so. More and more tourists are arriving and the amount of RV’s keeps increasing, so we have to plan ahead and spontaneity is out the window.

We left Talkeetna on our way towards Homer. In Wasilla, we stopped at the Fred Meyer’s for provisions. Wasilla, a town near Anchorage, has become well known lately, but is not a good looking place. It’s all strip malls and businesses strewn along the highway. Maybe it has some charm somewhere—there are a number of lakes—but we didn’t see it. It’s not rreally a town, but a random collection of stuff. Anchorage is also a place sprawled over a wide area. There is a downtown, but most of what you see along the highway is just more malls and businesses. Theree appears to be no planning and the result is another ugly city. Fairbanks is similar. These are places to get food, gas, maybe some RV parts, and go on. Most of all, there’s no sense of a community. The beauty of Alaska is in stark contrast to what the residents do to it when they collect in one place.

Leaving Anchorage, Barb looked back to the NW and said she saw Mt. McKinley. Sinced driving and turning my head 150˚ was unwise, I didn’t

Soon the road turns east along the north side of Turnagain Arm, a long arm of water off Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet makes Anchorage a port. Across the Inlet are a string of vocanoes that from time to time act up. Redoubt, somewhat SW of Anchorage, has in recent years been showing signs of life, but not enough to make a lot of news.

The drive along Turnagain Arm is beautiful with snow covered mountains on each side. Some glaciers are visible. After weeks in the interior, we are in lots of traffic again and it seems every fifth vehicle is an RV. There are even 4 lane highways and one was 6 lanes. This feels strangeWe saw two Airstreams today and possibly an Argosy—hard to tell with the traffic to watch

Once on the Kenai Peninsula, we travel across mountains and eventually along the Kenai River as we turn west again. This is a fisherman’s paradise and in one place we saw them lined up in a river about 5 or10 feet apart. This does not make a lot of sense to me—seems pretty similar to going to the supermarket. For about 30 miloes there are resorts, lodgings, RV parks, and all that goes with an intense vacation area.

We made it to Soldotna, 75 miles from Homer. We were a little nervous about coming to the Klondike RV Park because on RV Park Reviews people complained about all the rules. The rules are the same as many campgrounds, but not usually this many in Alaska. They are written awkwardly which leaves a bad impression. But the area is open, clean, orderly, things work and the people were quite friendly.

We are on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, not quite far enough to see the Cook Inlet yet. If you go south, you will get to the Gulf of Alaska, really a part of the Pacific Ocean. We usually get to one or more oceans each year so this year it’s the Pacific and we were close to the Arctic. Homer is in the southwest part of the Peninsula, but Kachemak Bay isolates the most southern part. Various boat trips across the Bay are available and we will have to select something. The highway goes along the west edge of the Peninsula for the rest of the way to Homer. Reboubt is across the Inlet from here, but quite far, maybe 75 miles.

Last night there was some night—not real night, but it was sort of dim. It doesn’t last all that long, but it is welcome. Temps remain in the 60’s during the day and showers are predicted for the next several days. I am tired of clouds.

Gene

Photos:

#1 The main street in Talkeetna. Outside of this, and along some of it too, new buildings and lodgings are being built.
#2 Nagley's store is very old, but was seriously damaged in a New Year's Day fire in the 1990's and then rebuilt.
#3 The Fairview is the town's traditional bar, gathering place and often has music. There are 2 or 3 other bars within a block or two.
#4 View along Turnagain Arm.
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Old 06-25-2010, 08:47 AM   #114
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Gene I'm really enjoying your trip! We were in Homer a couple of years ago and stayed at Ocean View Rv Park. It's not on the Spit but after seeing the Spit we thought we made the right decision. It's clean and has a great view. When we pulled in we were greeted by a sea of aluminum as one of the summer AS caravans was encamped! Thanks again for sharing your trip with us! Here's the website for Ocean View.

Oceanview RV Park, Homer, Alaska
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Old 06-25-2010, 01:15 PM   #115
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Thanks Charlie. That was our impression of the Spit—nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there for several days. Besides, what if there's another earthquake and it sinks another 5 or 6'? We are focusing on two boat trips—one to Halibut Cove and one to Seldovia, both of which stop at Gull Island where I can see those puffins. I know little about birds, but puffins are strange and captivating. This time, unlike 2002, my camera had better work.

Gene
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Old 06-25-2010, 01:27 PM   #116
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Very interesting thread with great pictures and story. Enjoying it very much.
Thanks for taking the time to make it.
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Old 06-27-2010, 12:32 AM   #117
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Saturday. We arrived in Homer around noon and camped at Ocean View RV Park. The sign is hard to see and we had to find a way to turn around and come back. There is a view of the “ocean”—actually bays and inlets—but since there are motorhomes in the way, it’s not much of a view. It’s been cloudy and views aren’t much anyway, but last evening, we could see the volcanos across the Cook Inlet. I’m hoping for a big eruption while we’re here. It’s been raining on and off and more tomorrow.

Homer has a reputation for being a haven for people seeking an alternative lifestyle. There are an enourmous amount of acitivties and cultural events here. Talkeetna is rustic post-hippie and Homer is much bigger, more modern and more succesful post-hippie. The Homer spit is 4 or 5 miles (depending which info you read) into Kachemak Bay and has several ugly RV parks, lots of shoppes and many boats. Fishing is a big deal here.

Today we took a boat trip to Gull Island and Seldovia. Tides are extreme here and the ramp down to the dock at low tide was daunting. It looked like a 33% grade without steps. Some people go down sideways holding on to the railing with both hands. I can’t imagine what it would be like when it’s icy.

Seldovia was once the biggest town around, but when a road came to Homer this town thrived and Seldovia shrunk. Gull Island has thousands of birds and I was pursing the puffin. We got really close to them 8 years ago on a boat trip to Kenai NP from Seward. This time they were further away, barely visible and my photos aren’t so good. Puffins are heavy for birds, have a hard time taking off, but fly from the north to south ends of the planet every year and back. How they do that is beyond me. The colors on their heads are bright and unbelievable.

We also saw a lot of sea otters on the way. Before we got to Seldovia, about 10 miles from town at the end of the local road, we could see an older Airstream parked. They are everywhere.

Seldovia looks sad. Many businesses are closed and there is little to see on foot. Some bulldings look trashy and to make a living here year ‘round must be difficult. There are retiree type houses and summer homes that are well kept, but the business area along the bay looks for the most part worn out. We had lunch at the Mad Fish. The food was above average, but the waitress kept pushing desert. She put the desert list practically in our faces. it had no prices on it, a warning.

On the six hour trip, we had 3 hours in Seldovia, more than enough. To be fair, during the 1964 earthquake, much of the old town sank beneath the bay and the historic flavor of the town was lost. On returning, we ate at the Sourdough Bakery and Cafe. The owners are committed to organic foods and high quality. We ate there 8 years ago and were eager to return. We were not disappointed. We will go back for breakfast.

About 75 miles north, the length of the day is 23:18 counting twilight. It is darker at “night” and that is good. We understand it’s been around 90˚ at home, but it’s been in the 50’s here.

Gene

Photos:

#1 This road is in Soldotna. This not the name of the river. It appears that in Alaska people can name their driveways or roads they live on. Many name them after themselves, some are pretty or descriptive, few are original or funny. I did see a "Self Rd." the other day.
#2 Marina on Homer Spit where we boarded the boat Discovery to take us to Seldovia.
#3 Gull Island
#4 Tufted puffins in the water
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Old 06-27-2010, 12:38 AM   #118
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More photos:

#5 Eagles fly around looking to steal food, eggs or the young and cause a commotion.
#6 Sea otter in their classic position. Many have baby otters on their stomachs, or you'll see them eating food they have gotten on the bottom and resting it on their stomachs.
#7 Looking south down the bay past Seldovia.
#8 Historic boardwalk in Seldovia. I could post photos of the rest of the town, but most of it isn't worth looking at.
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Old 06-27-2010, 12:43 AM   #119
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#9 There are chainsaw carvings all around town done by a local artist. Many are quite strange and original.
#10 Old Russian church in Seldovia. There's an onion dome church about 50 miles north of Homer. We have seen it, so we didn't stop this time.
#11 Volcano. I don't know which one this is and I still await an eruption.
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Old 06-27-2010, 10:32 PM   #120
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Sunday. We went back to the Sourdough Express Bakery and Cafe this morning for a very good breakfast. I have seen many restaurants and stores that specialize in healthy and high quality foods last a short time. Kevin and Donna Mertz have done this succesfully for 28 years starting with next to nothing. They baked six loaves at a time from a converted van to start. Now have a thriving restaurant and bakery, a B&B and perhaps other businesses. It takes a knowledgeable businessman and woman to do this.

Then we went to the Danny J., an old but well maintained smallish fishing boat for the trip to Harbor Cove. Most of the seating is outside and as usual it was raining on and off. Some people were woefully improperly dressed. One woman had flats and nylons. We had boots, rain pants, raincoats, and layers of clothing. We stayed dry and warm.

This time the captain, a woman in an industry dominated by men, went closer to Gull Island and since I asked her to look for puffins, she cruised around and got fairly close. I got some better photos, but I need a better camera.

Halibut Cove was once a town of 300 or 1,000 (whatever you read is different) depending on fishing and salting the fish. They dumped the fish waste in the bay for decades and destroyed the fisheries by 1928. The town just about died, but in the 1940’s artists started to move here and create a community. More recently, large, very large, summer homes have appeared. Electricity is provided by land and undersea cable from Homer. The only way to get to this little island and the mainland across the bay is by water. It defines picturesque. Local access from houses and businesses is by boardwalks or boat. On the mainland, much of the area behind the shoreline is state park or Kenai National Park. The center of this area is covered by the huge Harding Glacier which spawns many glaciers, though none were visible.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Saltry restaurant and then strolled around the town via boardwalk. There were two art galleries and lots of picturesque-ness.

The trip back was uneventful and fast. Captain Sydney likes to go fast.

We stopped at the Sourdough and picked up some bread and goodies.

Yesterday we stopped at the Sea Lion Gallery on the spit. In 2002 we bought a sea otter sculpture made of whale bone. This time we bougtht a musk ox, also made of whale bone. Whale bone seems light for bone. You can spend $2,000 and up for some of these sculptures, but trhese are smaller and cost much less. Each trip to Alaska we buy one thing to remind us of our trip.

Tomorrow we start towards Chitina, a 1 1/2 day drive. Then we go via vans to Mccarthy and the Kennicott Mine. Or maybe the Kennecott Mine. The town and mine were spelled differently and I can’t remember which is which right now. They are in America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias. The mine was abandoned one day in the 1930’s and much remains as it was. McCarthy was the wild town 5 miles away for the miners to let loose. Chitina was a supply center. There was once a railroad to ship out the ore to the port of Cordova and bring supplies. McCarthy and Chitina are very small now and somewhat reliant on tourists. Cordova, near Prince William Sound, is bigger and connected by the state ferry. Further down the road, we discovered Haines has a Hammer Museum. Not as good as a Toaster Museum, but we'll see.

Time to watch Ice Road Truckers. They did another year on the Dalton Hwy, a road we were on recently (without the ice). I know it’s overdramarized and scripted a lot, but they go places we’ve been and cannot be taken seriously. Next year’s will be about roads in Nepal and they’ve brought some of the favorites including Lisa and Jack Jesse to drive there.

Gene

Photos:

#1 A view of Homer Spit towards a lot of shoppes and the Salty Dawg Bar (the fake lighthouse). The Spit is a collection of boating businesses, shoppes, lodging, RV's boats, state ferry, and junk.
#2 Today's boat, the Danny J.
#3 Puffin. Part of the beak is orange as well as part of the tail feathers. Later in the year they lose all the orange color.
#4 Two puffins taking off. You can see by the long wake they leave, it's hard for them to break free of the water.
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Old 06-27-2010, 10:39 PM   #121
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More photos:

#1 Entering the harbor at Halibut Cove.
#2 Halibut Cove.
#3 The Saltry.
#4 In Homer, the Cafe Cups.
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Old 06-27-2010, 11:36 PM   #122
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Gene, What a great trip. My son is a city police in Anchorage (Troy Clark) and prior to his birth years ago, my exhusband and I lived in Crawford and worked one summer for the forest service. Your trip is exciting. Enjoying reading. Currently live in Iowa but will retire to New Mexico. Keep writing.
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Old 06-28-2010, 08:38 AM   #123
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I've not seen you mention Seward as a stop but the aquarium there has both species of Puffins live although incarcerated.
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Old 06-28-2010, 10:00 AM   #124
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Originally Posted by Chasmorgan View Post
I've not seen you mention Seward as a stop but the aquarium there has both species of Puffins live although incarcerated.
Didn't know about the jailbirds. Since we were going to Homer and could see puffins here, we decided not to go to Seward on this trip. In 2002 we did take a boat trip to Kenai Fjords NP and saw them at a rocky island there. We were very close to them and maybe we should have gone back, but we have reservations to see other things for the next several days. Some them have different coloring than the one in the photo.

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Old 07-02-2010, 01:13 AM   #125
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Tuesday. On Monday, we went to a tire repair shop because I discovered why one trailer tire was losing air—it had a screw in it. I think the screw had been there for thousands of miles, but the air loss that had been less than 1/2 a pound/day had increased to 1 pound/day. They fixed it fast, but charged Alaska prices for fixing a flat and balancing.

Then off towards Chitina, picking up more provisions in Soldotna, and we made it as far as Palmer, another Anchorage suburb. We stayed at a rather unkempt campground (Town and Country). Today we stopped at yet another Fred Meyers in Palmer to get the things we forgot the day before. Fred is one of the Kroger chains and a lot better than the Kroger chains in Colorado.

We took the Glenn Hwy to Glenallen. It follows the Matanuska River, sometimes rising far above it, until it’s headwaters at the Matanuska Glacier, easily visible from the road. Though there was one windy and hilly section of road, a lot has been rebuilt since 2002 and is mostly wide and fast. After passing the glacier, we drove through highlands, sometimes bumpy, and over an occasional pass above timberline—which here was about 2,000’. Lots of stunted spruce and muskeg.

Although Glenallen is spread along the highway and doesn’t feel like a real town, it seems bigger than the last time we went through. There we turned south on the Richardson Hwy and stopped at the Wrangell-St. Elias NP headquarters to pick up info. By then the rain had stopped and we could see the major peaks in the NP—Drum, Wrangell and Sanford, ranging from 12,000 to more than 16,000’. After about 30 miles we turned SE on the Edgerton Hwy to the Wrangell View Campground. It looks like someone took a bulldozer through and made crude sites with lots of large rocks, but it was (amazingly) pretty level and has full hookups.

We unhitched and drove into Chitina (pron.: Chit-na). There’s a gas station, a few stores and an old hotel. One store looked scary inside—actually the people did, so we went to the other one. The woman in there once knew someone who lives in our town but once lived in Alaska. I met two guys from New Hampshire and told them how to get to McCarthy and Kennecott and where to camp. They’ll be on the van with us tomorrow and are camped across from us. One has the same truck we do.

For a change the sky is blue and tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day.

Gene

Photos:

#1 Matanuska Glacier.
#2 Downtown Chitina. This store, the one with the scary people, is for sale. A great business opportunity!
#3 More downtown—Spirit Mountain Gallery and Hotel. They are for sale too.
#4 The rocky Wrangell View RV Park.
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Old 07-02-2010, 01:38 AM   #126
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Wednesday. We took the van on what was turning out to be another nice day. A new bridge crosses the wide, fast, cold Copper River and the road soon becomes a bumpy ride for more than 2 hours and about 60 miles. This road was made from the old bed of the railroad built to bring the copper out to Cordova, the closest port., in the early 1900’s. Downstream, the railbed was used as a poor road to Cordova, but parts collapsed years ago and Cordova remains without a road to the outside world. Our driver, Brandy, likes to drive fast.

Around 1900, two prospectors discovered incredibly rich copper deposits and financing was found to develop them and the Kennecott Copper Co. was founded.. It took $1,500,000 to get the mine started, $25,000,000 to build the railroad. A company town was created in the wilderness with bunkhouses for 600 miners, houses for 20 or so managers and their familiies, a powerplant, hospital, mill and concentrator, sawmill, assay office, and other buildings to do the job. Enormous profits were generated until copper prices collapsed in 1938. The country was recovering from the Great Depression, but a second wave of the economic emergency occurred when government spending was cut back too soon. They also found silver. The silver paid for the development; copper was 100% profit.

The company decided to close the mine and everyone was given a day to leave. Trains pulled out and that was it. People left personal belongings behind. The property was relatively undistrubed for decades. In recent decades, after the national park was created, the government has bought some of the private lands here and is restoring or stabilizing the major buildings as an industrial historic park.

The road ends before another crossing of the Copper River with a new foot bridge. After you cross the bridge, just outside the village of McCarthy, another van picks you up to go to Kennicott, 5 miles away. McCarthy is an end of the road place with a collection of characters, but it becoming a tourist destination as well. We only saw it for a few minutes, but the main street is narrow and rough. Some buildings are scattered about. For years the residents have resisted the state’s desire to build bridge a for motor vehicles into town fearing it would change it. We found out there is a Copper River bridge, but it’s private and only for McCarthy residents. We did not see it. In the winter, before the road closes, one could drive across the river when it freezes.

When we reached Kennicott, we saw a collection of red buildings in various states of repair—restored, stabilized or left to decay. There’s the private lodge, all new but matching the mine buildings, with pretty good food, a few tourist shoppes and the mine building tour office, and the mine buildings. If you come here and take the van, do not buy the lunch vouchers for the lodge restaurant. They cost more than you will spend at the restaurant.

We walked around for an hour before lunch looking at the buildings. Some are restored and open. After lunch we took the tour. It is operated by a concessionaire and is informative. It costs $25/person. Seems like a lot but it’s a captive audience and no competition. The feature is the mill and concentrator. The point is to crush ore into fine bits, add water turning it into a slurry, and using state of the art technology for the 1910’s, chemically separate the copper from the ore and send it to market. The mill is built on a hillside and is 14 stories high. Gravity is used to move the processed ore to railroad cars. The general principles of doling this were not new and we have seen old mills in the Colorado mining districts built the same way. But this one is really big, very well built, and done ingeniously.

To save money, each miner got their bed for 12 hours and had to share it with another fror the other 12. They only had to build half the bunkhouses that way. Life was pretty good for the managers and their families and they had a recreation hall. It was all work for the miners.

After the tour was over, another 2+ hours bumping along the road back to Chitina. The park is visited by 20,000 people a year, but how many make the difficult (and expensive) trip to Kennicott I don’t know. The season is less than 4 months and we would guess 50-100 people a day show up. I expect in 10 years the road will be paved but whether the highway bridge is ever built and McCarthy becomes totally transformed is anybody’s guess.

Some years ago a guy went berserk in McCarthy and killed quite a few residents. Acording to the tour bus driver, the residents used to be people “with one eye or a few fingers missing, but now it’s different. They’re young people, hippies” and the village has changed. Tourism is changing it again.

An interesting day with the usual scenery. Building the mine, railroad and a self sufficient town far from civilization is amazing. McCarthy existed for the miners to let off steam and was full of saloons and brothels. There are two massive glaciers (retreating ones) above Kennicott. The mines are also far above it, the sites barely visible. The Park has only two roads into it. The McCarthy Road is one of them. People take planes in and hike from where they are set down, to be picked up days later. It is virtually all wilderness. Some areas, like Denali, are National Preserves and the Indians use them for subsistence hunting. We saw no wildlife, but heard a moose with two moose babies was in Chitina the other day.

The company spelled the name of a mountain wrong and so it was Kennecott, but the town was spelled correctly with an “i”.

Tomorrow we drive 120 miles to Valdez, store the rig for 3 days and take the state ferry to Cordova. Like here, Cordova has been little known, but tourists are discovering it.

Gene

Photos:

#1 The Kennecott mill in Kennicott
#2 A flood swept through the town a couple of years ago and almost flattened the hospital (left) and two bunkhouses (right). Unfortunately the hospital is being let to collapse, but the bunkhouses are being restored.
#3 One of the glaciers a few miles from town.
#4 Looking down valley from Kennicott. The pointy mounds are not tailings, but natural. The glaciers leave ice covered with dirt and as the ice melts, it forms little mountains.
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