Homing in from Homer
Jul 8, 2005
|MONDAY June 27, 2005 - Valdez, Alaska
Valdez was a busy stop for us, but first we'll look at how we got there. We left the Alaska Highway at Tok, turning onto Alaska State Highway 1, the "Tok Cutoff," to Glenallen, turned onto Highway 4, the Richardson Highway, to Valdez on Prince William Sound. There were great photo opportunities, especially of Worthington Glacier, and we took a lot of pictures. This was, to date at least, the most spectacular scenery of our entire trip, and the competition has been stiff!
Our RV Park faced right onto Prince William Sound, and each of us parked facing the water. Across the harbor was the crude oil tank farm storage facility at the end of the 800-mile Alyeska pipeline. You may remember the huge oil spill from the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the largest oil spill in North American history. It occurred about 25 miles from Valdez near Bligh Island, when the skipper made a course correction but forgot to turn off the autopilot. By the time they realized the ship wasn't turning it was too late to avoid the jagged reef. By now visitors never see any lingering effects of the disaster, but cleanup is still going on in some areas. The Exxon Corporation so far has failed to pay a penny of the fines levied against them.
Another disaster in Valdez is more obvious. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, a 9.2 earthquake lasting over 4 minutes struck about 45 miles west of town. Because of the shape of Prince William Sound (like an old fashioned bathtub, sloping at one end, vertical at the other), the water in the Sound was sloshed from one end to the other several times. The first slosh killed 30 townspeople (out of a population just over 600), mostly women and children, and wiped out the town's waterfront. The US Government condemned the town and Valdez was relocated to its present site.
We didn't face any disasters while we were there. Our highlights were an all-day cruise to the beautiful Columbia and Meares Glaciers on Wednesday and on Thursday, Suzy and I went on a chartered fishing boat to catch halibut. Suzy caught the second fish of the day, and we both caught our limits (two halibut per person), and caught and released a few more that were smaller. While our fish were far from trophies, we were sure proud to come back with them. We now have 33½ pounds of dressed fish, vacuum-sealed and flash frozen, on board the motorhome.
SATURDAY, July 2 - Anchorage, Alaska
Leaving Valdez we retraced our journey to Glenallen, and turned westward again on Highway 1 toward Anchorage. The total trip would be over 300 miles, so the group stopped for one night at Mendeltna. It's a small place in the middle of wilderness, with scant electricity, but they put on a great pizza buffet for us; next morning they served a continental breakfast, including fabulous homemade cherry and blueberry Danish pastry. After breakfast we continued on to Anchorage, passing Matanuska Glacier and some other notable scenic delights. The day was marked with low hanging clouds, and our pictures aren't the best.
Anchorage is a large town, big enough to have a Costco, two Sam's Clubs, and two WalMarts! The population is nearly 650,000, with 275,000 within the municipality itself. They celebrate their Native heritage here in a big way, with cultural centers and events galore. Arriving at church Sunday morning, we thought the Mass would be celebrated with a native theme. However, the choir was Samoan, and the congregation was a mix of Filipinos and other Pacific Islanders, Anglos and a few African-Americans wearing their own cultural attire. The priest was Irish, to balance the score. And across the parking lot was the parish church's Korean Cultural Center. This is truly a cosmopolitan area.
Our caravan provided an Anchorage City Tour including the marvelous Anchorage Museum of History and Art (featuring dioramas of early native cultures), lunch at the Sourdough Mining Company (all you can eat ribs, chicken, halibut, corn fritters, cole slaw, served family style), then the Alaska Wild Berry Products store, with the world's largest (real) chocolate waterfall.
This is the Land of the Midnight Sun, and so any major fireworks show was not in order for the Fourth of July, but the caravan celebrated at social hour: one of the couples provided enough satay with peanut sauce to feed the group, nearly everyone else brought something to share, and the Caravan Hosts and the Tailenders put on an ice cream social!
FRIDAY, JULY 8 - Homer, Alaska
The "spit" in Homer, when viewed from the highway above, looks nowhere big enough to accommodate the 22 rigs of our caravan, yet here we are in only one of several RV parks, not to mention dozens of stores, restaurants and resorts. Like any tourist area, most of the stores are tourist traps and they do an excellent job of trapping tourist dollars. Fortunately, we are familiar enough with the size of our motorhome that we no longer look at souvenirs larger than embroidered patches to sew on our jackets.
Where is Homer? It's on the Kenai Peninsula, facing Kachemak Bay just off Cook Inlet (named for Captain Cook). It is 143 miles from Moose Pass and you have to go through Soldotna and Clam Gulch to get here. On the way, we ate lunch at a restaurant in Anchor Point, which has the distinction of being the westernmost point on the North American continent that can be reached by highway.
We're getting ahead of ourselves. We had also stopped a couple of nights in Seward, on Resurrection Bay (named by the Russian explorer who discovered the bay on Easter Sunday centuries ago). Again we parked right on the water. Upon arrival, we all climbed aboard a school bus (designed for second- and third-grade students) and toured the town, visited Exit Glacier (good photo opportunity), then went home with the tour driver to hear stories of his life in Alaska. He and his wife had lived in Oakland, California, but left in 1967, hitchhiking to Alaska. To make a long story shorter, they have purchased, relocated and restored an old log cabin, raise Alaskan Huskies, and give people tours of the area.
Today's Alaskan Husky sled dogs don't look much like our image of the faithful canine pal of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. The Tour Guide, Whitey, explained that there are three purebred dogs from early gold mining days: Siberian Husky, the original sled dog; Malamute, the larger, harder-working dog used for work loads; and Samoyed, the all white dog that never was much of a sledder. Sled dog breeders, especially those breeding for the Iditerod and other races, have cross bred these original lines with other breeds such as Greyhounds (for long legs), Border Collies (for intelligence), Labradors (for personality), and other breeds for other purposes. Many breeders consider their dogs' blood lines to be a trade secret.
Whitey's wife Nicki stood up and told us how she went into labor on December 27, had to snowshoe out to their vehicle a mile and a half away, at 20 below zero, at 2:00am. The car wouldn't start, so he built a small fire under it to warm the oil. Once they got it started, it was 80 miles to the hospital where she delivered a 9 pound 10 ounce baby!
A few words about motorhomes and motorhomers, since we know some of you are not overly familiar with our culture (I won't use the word lifestyle because there as many different lifestyles among RVers as there are with any one else). Motorhomes typically come in two styles: gasoline and diesel. There are more gasoline models on the road than diesel, largely because they are less expensive, generally smaller, lending themselves to vacationing or casual use. Diesels are usually more powerful machines, giving them larger payloads and better hill climbing abilities. Diesel is no longer as hard to find as it used to be, and many gas stations have diesel and gasoline at the same pump.
The two types of rigs look very much alike. One difference is the front end design: gas rigs have front grills to allow airflow; diesels, with their rear engines, don't. Because of the engine location, diesels usually have the entry door right in front of the passenger seat, while gasoline models have a mid-body door.
We, as gas rig owners, know something that the diesel owners don't want to admit: diesel rigs are NOISY and SMELLY! Some diesel owners (not all, for sure, but enough) still believe that when they arrive at their campsite they have to leave their engines running for ten to fifteen minutes to cool down, then when they get ready to go in the morning, they let them warm up for twenty minutes. Not necessary, folks, modern engines don't need that.
Are there good reasons for wanting a diesel rig? You bet! There are also good reasons for wanting to stay with gasoline, and the LeRoys are quite willing to stay, at least for the time being, gasoline owners as we continue ... Our Life on Wheels.