Cooper Landing, Whittier, Valdez, Haines, Skagway

Sept 1, 2009,  Upon our departure from Homer, we stopped at the Norman Lowell Gallery.  This expansive, multiple room building, showcases his life's work.  Known for his Alaskan landscapes, he does oils, pastels, watercolors, sculpture and writes poetry.  This spry artist, now in his 80's, still paints 4-5 hours a day, in spite of severe eye problems.  He lives with his wife in the 3000 sq. ft. cabin, which he built by himself, on the property he homesteaded 60 years ago.

At Cooper Landing, Alan took a guided float trip on the Kenia River, a world class trout fishing experience.  In this river, you are allowed to keep fish under 16" (and there aren't many that size) so it is all catch and release.  He not only caught 2 nice trout but witnessed fishermen along the shore fishing side by side with a grizzly.

On our way to Whittier, we camped at a US Forest camp beneath some glaciers.  In the morning, we hiked along a stream loaded with spawning salmon.  Found a lifetime supply of fire starters, otherwise know as moose poop, and also spotted fresh piles of bear skat, but no critters.  The entrance to Whittier is a single lane 2 1/2 mile tunnel though a mountain, with a track that also accommodates a train.  The town (pop. 120) overlooks Prince William Sound.  As you sit along the tranquil green water,  it feels like you are sitting in a postcard.  Idyllic.  Took a 3 hour ferry from Whittier to Valdez.  The highlight was passing the Columbia Glacier, which was depositing hundreds of small icebergs into the Sound.  An eerie but beautiful sight accented by the low dark clouds of the day.  We saw the marker on the reef where the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989 occurred.  the oil spill killed tens of thousands of birds, an unknown number of fish, sea lions and seals.  Upon approaching Valdez, there is over a mile long area along the shore, where the Alaskan pipeline ends and the storage and refinery areas begin.  Once in town the oil processing area is not visible.  The harbor opens out to the Sound and is ringed by mountains.  Fishing , and salmon in particular, is a big industry in this area.  Walking along the harbor the following day, fishermen were cleaning silver salmon by the wheelbarrows full.  Rain, rain and more rain in Valdez, so we decided to move on.

Wrangel-St. Elias National Park
Spent the next evening inside the Wrangel-St. Elias Natl. Park.  There are only two roads in this park and no campsites.  Interior access is primarily by backpacking, plane or boat.  We drove 18 miles on a gravel road to an overlook to spend the night.  Vast lonely and splendid.  This park is immense in every sense.

Headed back into Yukon, and discovered Tachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain), over one hundred Dall Sheep dotted the face of the mountain.  A special experience to watch them playing and grazing on the mountain sage.  The highway meandered back into Alaska and our next destination,  Haines.  Hit the jackpot with the eagles and grizzlies.  Both were totally oblivious to us, intend on their hunting.  At times we were less than 30 feet from the grizzlies.  They were small females (300-350 pounds).  We would not have been so brazen if they had been 1000 pound males.  It was a thrill to watch the grizzlies romp through the the river to ponce on the salmon.  Definitely our ultimate wildlife experience.

We took a ferry to Skagway the next night.  This town is the starting point of the White Pass Trail with nearby Dyea being the start of the Chilkoot Trail  Skagway is now a tourist town but many of the old buildings from the gold rush days have been renovated by the US Park Service.  We had planned to hike a portion of the Chilkoot Trail (full trail is 33 miles) but the rain has not stopped since Valdez and we are wimpy wilderness explorers.

Alaska is a state of superlatives.  The tallest mountain in NA, Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet; the largest national park and preserve, Wrangel-St. Elias at 13.2 million acres; the biggest glacier field in NA, Malaspina at 1500 sq. miles (or bigger than the state of Rhode Island).  The are 3,000,000 lakes and countless waterfalls.  The wilderness is vast and awe inspiring.  And then there is the food.  We travel by our stomachs most of the time.  We have experienced the ultimate oysters from Kachemak Bay and the tender, buttery razor clams from the Clam Gulch area.  In Valdez, we purchased Dungeness crab and Alaskan king crab which were the epitome of what crab should be.  Alaskan scallops were tender and sweet and will now be the scallop that we will compare all others to for the next 20 years.  Maybe we get a little too excited about food,  miracle we both don't look like manatees.

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