Wonderful Whittier

Ok, to be completely honest, it IS wonderful, but it’s also a bit weird! If you are claustrophobic, you might want to skip heading to Whittier in your car since the only way to get there is though the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This 2.5 mile long tunnel under Maynard Mountain is not only the longest highway tunnel in North America, but it also one of the only tunnels used for trains and cars, oh, and it’s one lane! Although the railroad portion of the tunnel was completed in 1943, it didn’t open to vehicles until June 7, 2000. (Click here for some interesting tunnel history.)

We were going to be taking a cruise to Surprise Glacier with Major Marine Tours at 12:15. I wanted to have time to explore Whittier a bit before the cruise, so we opted for the 8:30am tunnel crossing. We arrived at the staging site, paid our $13 toll and waited for the tunnel to open to traffic bound for Whittier. Once the tunnel was cleared, we began our drive through the mountain…

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It was an interesting experience, to say the least. We arrived in Whittier with plenty of time to explore. One of the things we wanted to see was the Buckner Building. Steve had read about it on Atlas Obscura. Once touted as “The City Under One Roof”, it is now a place of moldy walls and asbestos filled air, not quite hidden behind chain link and razor wire. The daredevil in me wanted to venture inside but the saner side of me opted to take a few shots from outside. It was a close call though when I found an opening in the fence! If Steve hadn’t been pointing at the No Trespass sign and shaking his head, I might have done it.

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We still had plenty of time before the cruise, so we drove out Shotgun Cove Trail. We stopped at a few of the day use areas and were treated to some spectacular scenery…

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Notice the boat? Gives a small sense of scale.

And my first sighting of a steller jay…

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At the end of the trail, we found  this…

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I had been seeing splashes of yellow along the road and was finally able to get close enough to get a picture. Turns out, it was yellow skunk cabbage…

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As we headed back toward the harbor, there was one more building I wanted to see. The Begich Towers are home to almost the entire population (all 200) of Whittier. (great story here)…

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Finally, it was time to check in for our cruise. We found a parking spot and walked along the harbor to the Major Marine office…

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As we left the dock, we had a great view of the Buckner Building…

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The onboard park ranger and the captain did a great job of explaining the variety of things were to see. Our first stop was at a kittiwake colony…

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I was content to take in the scenery and listen to the narrative as we navigated through Prince William Sound. The captain stayed a respectful distance form the sea otters, many with babies…

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When I saw movement and splashes of color, it wasn’t until I got out the binoculars that I was able to see the kayakers…

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The lingering clouds made a dramatic display in the mountains..

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26 different glaciers can be seen from Prince William Sound and the ranger pointed them out as we passed…

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But our cruise was to a specific glacier – Surprise Glacier. As we entered Harriman Fjord, we got our first glimpse…

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The captain explained we would be staying 1/2 a mile from the face of the glacier since it is actively calving and a 1/2 mile was safety factor needed for the tremendous waves possible if a large shelf were to calve. The closer we got to the glacier face, the more ice we saw in the water…

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I knew ahead of time about the glacier ice margaritas we could enjoy, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw two members of the crew scooping up ice…

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It is hard to describe the eerie beauty of the glacier. Between the stunning blue ice and the rifle like cracking sounds, I can only describe it as breathtaking…

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It’s hard to get a picture of it calving because by the time you hear it, it has already happened, I got a very short video…

But, Steve managed to get a great shot of it calving…

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It was time to begin our journey back to Whittier, but there were still lots of things to see. We cruised though Esther Passage…

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And stopped at a working salmon hatchery…

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And of course, enjoyed our glacier ice margaritas…

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It was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, made better by adding the all you can eat prime rib and salmon buffet! But, as you know, all good things must come to an end. So with our bellies full, our camera cards loaded with pictures and our eyes having absorbed so much amazing scenery, we once again took our place in line at the staging area to enter the tunnel one more time. This time, though, we had to wait for the train to clear the tunnel before we could enter…

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An interesting article about 1899 Harriman Expedition can be found here.

Have you ever been to Whittier? What did you think of the tunnel?

Our Hinkey Summit Adventure

Page had told us about another drive we would enjoy. “If you follow the road through Paradise Valley, you will come to the base of Hinkey Mountain. There is a road to the summit, your Jeep wouldn’t have any trouble,” he said. Frankly, the prospect of getting to do a little 4-wheeling really appealed to me.

First we had to find the road to Paradise Valley. Page had said it was easy. “Head out Hwy 95 for 25 miles or so, when you see a gas station in the middle of nowhere, take that left. That’s the road to Paradise Valley.”  Seems simple enough. Steve and I were enjoying the drive, just chatting about our adventures the previous day (you can read about that here) when I noticed these tiny heads popping up along the side of the highway. “Did you see that? What are those? Look, there’s another one. Slow down, I want to see what it is.” Well, there were cars coming up behind us so slowing down wasn’t an option. Lucky for me, our “middle of nowhere” gas station was just up ahead. Hopefully when we made the left, there would be more heads popping up. Sure enough, as we made our way down Paradise Valley Road, there they were. Steve pulled to the side of the road and I waited anxiously for the critter to makes its appearance. I didn’t have to wait too long…

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They reminded me of the pocket gophers we had seen in Texas but these were prairie dogs. It was comical to watch them pop up and scurry around, only to disappear into another burrow. We watched for a bit then resumed our drive. All the sudden, without a word, Steve banged a u-turn. Huh? What had he seen that I missed? He pulled over again and pointed to one of the prairie dog holes and said “Isn’t that an owl?” We got out the binoculars and sure enough, it was a burrowing owl. The problem was, it wasn’t feeling like being social. Every time we tried to get a picture it either dropped back down into the hole or it would fly off to a fence post just out of camera range. With a little patience we were finally able to  get a few shots…

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Leaving the owls to their activities, we drove on. I was thinking “Wow, Hon, get catch with the owls!” when a pheasant flew into the road. Naturally, it didn’t stay long enough for either of us to get a shot. Now it was my turn…”Pull over!” I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but I wanted a closer look. When I walked over to the fence line, this is what I had seen…

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Hey, it’s still wildlife, it’s just long dead wildlife. As I was getting ready to get back into the Jeep, I looked down the fence line and saw something a little more photogenic…

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Wow, I was loving all this wildlife! Once again, we started back towards Paradise Valley. Finally, we made it and had to get a few pics while we were there. It is another ‘has been’ town with more abandon houses/businesses then occupied, but it has a saloon too…

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We finally found Hinkey Summit Road. It wasn’t going to be 4-wheeling unless the road got a heck of a lot worse further on. With no other vehicle in sight, we crawled along, ever ready for our next wildlife encounter. Steve stopped by a pond and I got out to check it out. Lots of ducks and geese and a couple birds I couldn’t identify at the time…

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American Avocets – Thanks Google!

We came to the entrance to Homboldt National Forest where the road to the summit truly began. I oohed and aahed at the scenery…

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I took pictures of the winding road…

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As we neared the summit, I noticed a natural bridge…

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At the summit, we almost got to go 4-wheeling. There was still snow to play in…

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OK, not really enough snow to 4-wheel in. Perhaps it was the elevation getting to me but I had an idea – I would take a video on the way back down the mountain. Maybe not my best idea ever, but what do you think…

Thanks for coming along.

I am almost caught up. I have one more post about our trip then I will start on arriving in Alaska and our adventures so far (there have been some cool ones!)