Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alaska Adventure Day 3: Seward to Whittier

Thursday, August 23, 2007

As I type this entry, I’m watching a huge barge leave the dock in Whittier, heading into Prince William Sound on its way to Tacoma. Like everything here in Alaska, the barge is bigger than it looks. The entire lower level is filled with railroad tanker cars. Above those are shipping containers stacked three high. And at the front, on top of everything else, is a small motorhome. It looks almost like a toy, perched atop such a huge ship.

Barge and tugboat 2

We’re staying in a bed and breakfast that overlooks part of Prince William Sound and what appears to be the main shipping dock here in Whittier. Whittier itself is a working village, apparently populated primarily by dock workers, fishermen, tour operators, and the people who supply and serve them. It’s wet, cold, and dreary, a bit like November in Seattle but with more daylight. Yet it’s also beautiful. Whittier sits at the end of a small fjord surrounded by green mountains and blue-white glaciers. The water of Prince William Sound is greenish blue and chalky-looking from the glacial silt that fills the waterways around here.

Our B&B is toward the right end of this apartment complex, built in the 1950s to house military personnel:
Apartment complex in Whittier

Earlier this evening, we walked down the hill from our B&B to the Anchor Inn, which we were told was where the locals eat.

Anchor Inn in Whittier

Sometimes, our hostess warned us, tourists are “put off” by the “local color” in the place, but tonight the local color consisted of one guy having a beer, plus a cook and waitress. Instead, the local color was supplied by the local wildlife. About 100 yards from our lodging, we were approached by a sheriff’s deputy, who asked us if we’d seen a bear recently. Ummm, no. He said a bear had been seen about 20 minutes earlier at the harbor, which was about 100 yards from our lodging in the other direction. He warned us to be careful. A bystander pointed out that the bear had marauded through the building we were standing next to, which is why the deputy had been called. At that point, we contemplated driving to dinner but decided to be brave and continue our trek on foot.

When we arrived at the Anchor Inn, we were greeted by Beer Guy, who asked if we’d seen the bears. Note the plural noun at the end of that sentence. He said there were three bears (but apparently no Goldilocks), and they had been seen all around the hills above the restaurant--that would be the hills that house our B&B. He added that their visits were a common occurrence this time of year, because the blueberries are ripe. The waitress took a different view of the matter, informing us that the bears came down to raid the dumpsters but had never set foot in the restaurant. Clearly we are not in Portland anymore.

We had a completely bear-free dinner, followed by an equally bear-free hike back to our room. Son has alternated between being terrified of the bears and looking out our window, hoping to see them. So far we’ve had no bear sightings, but the night is young.

Today has been a long but fun day. We spent last night in Seward in a bed and breakfast overlooking Resurrection Bay. We began our day at the Alaska Sea Life Center, which has a few aquarium displays plus some marine mammal habitats. Center residents include Pacific octopus, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, moon jellies, and a variety of sea birds including Son’s favorite, the puffins.

Anemones, my favorite!

All together now: Awwwww....
(the puffin is the one with combed hair)

And a real (but less cuddly) puffin:

Funny bit of artwork from a wall display on the oil spill in Prince William Sound:

Our next stop was Exit Glacier, the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by car. After a stop at the visitor center, where we read about all the bear sightings this week, we headed up the trail to the glacier. Son was thoroughly freaked out about the bears, but once again we had a bear-free hike. As we got near the glacier, it got colder, and the rain got heavier. But we persevered to the end of the trail, which is about 30 feet from the glacier. The glacier is huge, and its size and temperature cause it to create its own wind. Brrrr… We took a few quick photos and headed back down the trail to the relative shelter of the forest.

Closeup of crevasses:

Jerry and me, freezing our butts off:

After that it was time to head on up the highway. We have to be in Anchorage by Friday afternoon, so we wanted to head back in that direction. To reach Whittier, we drove through the longest tunnel in North America, a one-lane hole in a mountain that’s about 2.5 miles long. It’s also the only tunnel in the world that uses the same road bed for both cars and trains (but fortunately not at the same time). Good thing we aren’t claustrophobic.

Portage entrance to Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Tomorrow we’re off to Anchorage. Will we arrive unscathed? Will our son’s whining finally push us over the edge? Will we be eaten by bears? To find out, be sure to tune in next time: same bat-time, same bat-channel.

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