Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Alaska Day 6 - The BIG Loop!

Twenty hours of daylight are my excuse.  Some said it would be too ambitious...others said it could be done but it would make for a long day.  I was undeterred.  I made my plans, booked my ferry, packed my day-bag, and then eagerly waited for it to be Monday.

Representative photos posted here.  Go to my album to see all of the photos taken this day.

My plan on Monday, June 24:  To drive from Anchorage to Whittier, take the ferry to Valdez, drive from Valdez to Glennallen and then back to Anchorage.  In one day.
Leg one:  Anchorage to Whittier via Turnagain Arm and Whittier tunnel
Leg two:  Ferry from Whittier to Valdez

Leg three:  Valdez to Glennallen to Anchorage

In my favor was the fact that the Alaska Marine Highway System has a fast ferry that runs only once a week - on Monday - between Whittier and Valdez.  It's the Chenega, a catamaran capable of 32 knots.  The other traditional-hull ferries that run several times daily have top speeds of 14 knots.   Chenega's sailing schedule fit perfectly with my plans.  11:30 AM departure from Whittier meant a leisurely 8:00 AM departure from my hotel in Anchorage with time to enjoy the drive to Whittier, including timing my arrival at the Whittier tunnel for the 9:30-9:45 AM  transit window and arriving at the ferry terminal an hour early to check in as required.

The drive to Whittier is beautiful, following the coastline along the Turnagain Arm.  I stopped a couple of times along the way for photos:
Signage along Turnagain Arm

Portage Lake
I turned off onto Portage Glacier Road toward the Whittier tunnel.  There's a visitor center on Portage Lake but it was closed, but I managed to get a great photo of the lake and the entrance to the little tunnel just past the turnoff.

Tunnel near Portage Lake

I continued on to the staging area for the bigger Whittier tunnel.  I had a 30 minute wait for the next transit window, but the time went quickly as I grabbed a few photos of the area around the tunnel which is 2.5 miles long ( the longest auto tunnel in North America) and transports both cars and trains under Maynard Mountain. 

Whittier Train-Car tunnel, beneath Maynard
mountain, to demonstrate magnitude of scale
Close up of tunnel entrance

Driving through this tunnel is an interesting experience.  It's carved right into the mountain, its bare rock walls visible, water dripping down from the roof and running down the walls.  The rails grab the tires and it's pointless to try to steer the car.
2.5 mile tunnel; cars drive on top of train rail

funky little gift shop
Whittier is a very cool little town!!  It looks like an unfinished frontier town, a "work in progress."  The harbor is lined with little wooden hovels and shacks that house sea charter services, gift shops, a donut shop, a surprisingly sophisticated coffee house/café, the Lazy Otter Café.   I bought a cappuccino at the Lazy Otter and then walked across the parking area to the little donut shack and bought a maple bacon raised donut.  Yumm! 

Whittier harbor:  note cruise ship docked behind smaller boats

Pretty beluga whale sculpture

I had to check in an hour before ferry departure time, so now I wait, watching them unload the incoming passengers and vehicles and marveling at the big rigs backing their way out of the ferry with flawless technique.  Then it was our turn to onload.  The process went quickly and we were soon casting off.
Aft salon on ferry

The ferry was very modern and comfortable, with a surprisingly nice cafeteria - much more than I expected. There was only one deck above the car deck, with club chairs and tables in the aft section near the cafeteria, and airplane-style seating in the forward section of the ship.  We transited Prince William Sound between Whittier and Valdez, with land always visible on our port side.  I took a ton of photos!  I saw waterfalls, ice floes and ice bergs, but didn't see any wildlife.

Good sized ice berg

Ice bergs in foreground

We arrived in Valdez 2.5 hours later...fast ferry!!  Unloading was as fast and efficient as the loading, and soon I was on my way through Valdez to the Richardson Highway (A4). 

In between exclamations out loud to the effect of "Oh. My. Gosh!" I managed to pull over to take photos of the spectacular scenery!

Horsetail waterfall:
Approaching horsetail falls

Horsetail falls up close

Bridal Veil Fall:
Bridal Veil falls

Thompson Pass: 

Worthington Glacier:

Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range:

Matanuska glacier in the Chugach mountain range:

Glacier visible in center of the photo, carving the valley

Last view as I headed home to Anchorage:

Nice view, but pardon the bug splats on the windshield

On a final note:   Once I got into Glennallen, I started to see white stuff blowing in the wind, sometimes it was heavy like snow, all the way to Palmer.  At first I thought it was cottonwood, but I wasn't seeing cottonwood trees.  Then it dawned on me...the dandelions had all suddenly gone to seed! 

Tomorrow, June 26:  Check out of my Anchorage hotel and move south to Seward for three days.

1 comment:

  1. Pictures of Alaska never get old. So pretty, so majestic.

    2.5 hours on the fast ferry, that makes the regular ferry seem like a long ride.