I tried hard to keep my expectations in check before we left on this journey. I didn’t want to be disappointed and was afraid that maybe the reality might not live up to the hype. I expected a bit of what Mo has experienced; some disappointment that much of the wildness has been tamed. What has happened in the last few days, however, is a growing appreciation of this beautiful state with all its diversity and magnificence. The hype IS the reality, and at last I have accepted that even with the smoothed highways, the many RV’s plying the roads, the lack of the “Big Five” game animals around every corner, Alaska is still a magnificent place. While it may not be an epic journey, I think it may fit the billing as “The Last Great Road Trip”.
Today on an interpretive sign for the Chugach country I saw a quote: “There is one word of advice and caution to be given to those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means. But if you are young, wait. the scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything of is kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first” Written by Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaskan Expedition, 1899. I guess that said it all more than 100 years ago, and I think it’s still true.
This morning we found the free dump at the park and left town by 9:30. With 300 miles planned for today, it wasn’t fair for me to keep procrastinating. On this journey, I have had a very few places that made me really really want to stay longer and Seward was one of those places. I could hang out in this town, exploring the trails, wandering the charming streets, finding the hidden nooks and crannies, exploring the museums and searching out the beautiful murals tucked away here and there. I could sit in the campground along the water watching the cruise ships come and go, and spend some time finding the small lagoons and bays on a quiet windless afternoon in my kayak. I was hooked by Seward and would love to spend more time there.
Instead we are traveling the return route to Anchorage, with an entirely different perspective, and some great memories of our time on the Kenai Peninsula. As we traveled again through Turnagain Pass and down to Turnagain Arm, we had enough sunshine and cloud free skies to see the snow and glacier covered mountains across Cook Inlet. The Arm was wild today, with its heavy load of silt, even in the sun it looked dark and spooky only today the tide was coming in and the winds were blowing up whitecaps on the dark murky water. I was surprised that it really didn’t look as lovely in the sunlight as it did shrouded in cloudy mystery. After a couple of attempts to pull into the turnouts in heavy traffic we just gave up and were happy for the photos from our previous day of traveling this route.
Gasoline at the small station on the arm was 2c less than in Anchorage, so we filled up again to be ready for the jaunt to Glennallen. Traffic in Anchorage was thick, but we made it through town quickly enough and were soon on the Glenn Highway exit toward Palmer. I once looked into a survey job available in Palmer and considered going there so I was interested in seeing it, as well at the lush agricultural MatSu Valley surrounding the area. The valley is named for the two mighty rivers that intersect and form it, the Matanuska and the Susitna Rivers.
An interesting story about the MatSu Valley tells about the US government offering free land to immigrants to help develop the agricultural resources of the rich valley. More than two hundred families were hand chosen from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, assuming those hardy folk could handle the rigors of farm life in the cold climate. Many failed, but several remained and their descendants populate the valley to this day.
Once again, Mo and I managed to hit a very small town during some kind of very busy festival and decided that we needed to just get through rather than taking the time to fight the crowds and traffic. Palmer was small and in a lovely setting, but certainly didn’t have the ability to capture my heart the way Seward did.
We then drove east along the Matanuska River, a wild, wild, braided river fed by the Matanuska Glacier to the east. The road was initially just fine, but after milepost 60 or so, things started to change and I was a bit white knuckled as Mo negotiated the tight curves and narrow road while I looked down over the very steep, no shoulder drop offs to the river far below.
We originally thought to make it over 300 miles to Glennallen for the night, but also really wanted to boondock. By the time Mo finished negotiating the curves and construction on that stretch of the highway, she was ready to call it a day. We started looking for a boondock site around mile 80, but it just so happened that the construction started about there as well and all the pullouts were filled with equipment. Finally, at mile 118.8, we found the site written up in the Milepost and even though the construction was still evident, we decided to stop.
It is a beautiful site overlooking the river valley and we stopped just in time for the rain to start in earnest. Tomorrow the plan is to drive all the way to Valdez, but with our Jell-O plans, who knows exactly where we might land. Our waste tanks are empty, our water tank is more than half full, we have a new battery and anything else we might need. Of course, we don’t have internet, but even in this crazy wild place I have a cell phone connection. I also have a good book to finish on my kindle which is now fully charged after our last night in an electric site so I am ready to go. The traffic is now almost non existent, with an occasional rig pulling into the turnout for the view, but that should stop once it is dark.
Sunset now is around 10:30 and the darkness, while not total, is still plenty dark enough to sleep comfortably. Another perfect night out. I love these sites with views that go forever out my window, and nope, not a telephone pole or a power line to be seen. I guess that is my personal test of the wild.
Road condition: still excellent Alaska highways to Palmer, and then some very scary, narrow winding miles on the Glenn Highway near the Matanuska River. No shoulders, steep drop offs.
The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here