palmer, valdez, whittier and home again

it seems we've become "true alaskans".
we have friends and family announcing at the spur of the moment that they have "booked tickets to see alaska and are coming to see us!"
we meet this with mixed feelings in part due to that minor detail that we work for a living. (sigh)
we miss our friends and family so obviously having company to show around is fantastic, and im happy to give them the car keys and point them in the right direction to see hanging glaciers, temperate rain rain forests, towering mountains and feeding whales after delivering one little warning --watch out for those pesky darting moose.

we recently ventured to the lovely town of valdez.

it was a splendid trip despite leaving palmer in such gloomy weather. we've decided that we'll need to make the trek again in the winter to experience the plethora of snow that falls on the nations northernmost, ice-free port.

i reacquainted my self during the 250 mile trek from our home to this tiny seaport town, that when the exxon valdez struck the bligh reef back in 1989, the boat spilled over 11 million gallons of crude oil, befouling over 1500 miles of coastline and destroying a fishing heritage-- and it has yet to recover. (although this beautiful otter, generations later, shows us how resilient we are)
only two out of the twenty-eight species impacted by the oil spill have fully recovered. it was concluded that the sole response barge was buried under 14 feet of snow, delaying the clean up time for three days, and all the while the seas were dead calm.

exxon is still fighting the damage settlement and has continually delayed payment to the fishermen who relied on the health and bounty of prince william sound for their livelihoods.
pretty sickening, considering how much anyone who owns shares in oil revenue earns today.

anyway, we fought off the super-sized mosquitoes and therefore there are no pictures of our camping spot, but we had a fine time hanging out in the tent, teaching jaden to play go-fish in the low clouds and drizzle.
the next day, the clouds began to lift and the weather looked like it would cooperate enough to drop the cash and hop aboard the ferry which would take us to whittier. we were lucky enough to get a stand-by spot and were the last vehicle to drive onto the newest vessel in the alaska marine highway fleet, the m/v chenega.
the chenega (drop the "g" when pronouncing) is a high speed catamaran built in 2005.
it is 235 feet long, can hold 250 passengers and 35 full sized vehicles, all this while literally blasting across prince william sound at nearly 40 mph.
this is not a whale watching trip folks, although we did catch a glimpse of some, swimming far, far, away from our motors.

the boat is immaculate and well thought out. i would highly recommend this particular tour to anyone. you get to see a little of everything alaska has to offer on this loop. it would be especially good traveling by motorcycle. we traveled 400 miles (with many of them water miles) over the weekend and it was a blast.

we regret to say, we didnt venture around the quirky town of whittier when we disembarked. its curious, albeit bleak, apartment tower dominates the view. (and, incidentally, houses more than half the towns population. weird!)

the town itself is picturesque- with towering mountains, glistening fjord and waterfalls. it looks like a nice place to come back and fish this summer. from our view arriving on the boat, there looked to be many nooks and crannies at which to camp out, not too far out on the water from town.

until 2000, whittier was only accessible by boat or train. now, to get to and from the tiny port town, you can drive in and out through the single-lane whittier train tunnel. an intimidating and dark cave spanning 2.5 miles where you literally straddle the tracks. the tunnel is only open to cars in one direction at a time and obviously in accordance with the train schedule. if you lean at all toward claustrophobia, this may not be the ride for you. the tunnel is now the longest highway tunnel in the u.s. second to the eisenhower at loveland pass in colorado.

okay- now for the bear photos. i would love to tell you a tall tale about how we came upon these bears while hiking a glacier outside of valdez, an how instead of trying to eat every last one of us, they played and frolicked while i took photo upon photo of them-- but, well, that would be lying.
instead, i 'll tell you a little bit about the alaska wildlife conservation center which is located not far from the end of the whittier tunnel at mile 79 of the seward highway. these two guys (or guy and gal) live at awwc and will remain there for the rest of their lives. they were brought to the center after their moms were shot or killed or they were found wandering as tiny bear cubs with no mom in sight or some other equally heart wrenching tale in which mom gets killed, little bear cant survive on its own. (i did read their stories, but have them all mixed up as there are there are three brown bear and two black bear living there in separate areas- they are all heart breaking.)

this non-profit organization is a nice place to bring kids and visitors from out of town who are then practically guaranteed to see some of alaskas wild animals close up. there are moose, bear, fox, wood bison and musk-ox and of course the price you pay for admission helps to maintain the place.

i was a little hung up on the bears as they put on quite a show while we watched. the guy in the water played with a large stick, just like a dog for well over 10 minutes. it was amazing.

so summertime has made it to alaska. what are you all doing?

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