Thursday, June 30, 2016

Portage, AK - Getting Slimed

We followed the bore tide up with a visit to the the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Here I learned 2 very valuable lessons:

        Don’t stand near the person tossing out bloody hamburger to the bears


        Don’t stand under a feeding area when sea gulls are flying overhead.

Got those two lessons? Because I’m sharing this knowledge so you don’t have to suffer the indignity that I did. We got to the Conservation Center, parked and noticed a big ‘jam’ a few yards away. One of the rangers was feeding the bear. We rushed over, I got a spot right in back of the ranger - who was reaching into a big pail, pulling out bloody hamburg, balling it up and tossing it into the enclosure. Cool, great view.
‘Ooh, what’s that liquid that just hit me in the eye? Ugh, blood.

‘Ooh, what’s that brown stuff that came from the sky and is now on the camera and all over the front of my shirt?’ Ugh - sea gull poop.
And, I walked back to the car to clean up, change and recover my pride. (BTW, these nylon hiking shirts clean up really well.)

The Center which takes in orphaned or wounded animals and rehabilitates them was pretty cool. We walked around, observing the animals they had.

Nursing elk.
A moose hiding in tall grass. Can you see him there? Look closely, now.
Then we hit the brown/grizzly bear feeding. I DID NOT stand next to the Ranger tossing the raw meat. I DID stand under the roof of the viewing platform. Lessons learned. But I did get this picture - these bears are huge.
Meanwhile Gary had found his inner Alaskan and knew he had to have these pjs.
We knew that Portage, the used-to-be name of the town where we are staying, actually disappeared after the 1964 earthquake.




As far as Portage is concerned, a few of the buildings are still visible, most have fallen into decay. Here’s one building we found. We didn’t see any others in this area.
These trees which originally had been on land, were now covered with salt water which killed them but then preserved them as they were. Yep. salt preserves. Theses are now called ‘ghost’ forests.’
Girdwood, the town we visited today, when the shoreline sank 10’, actually moved 2 1/2 miles inland from where it was originally on the shore of the Arm. It’s much safer here.

Great fun today, some planned and some unexpected. That must be what makes it an adventure.
Looking forward to visiting Whittier tomorrow.

I forgot to include these pictures from our campground in Anchorage. One day, we looked out and watched all of the RV’s in the 2 rows in front of us close up shop and move out. Hmmm. Something is going to happen, we knew. Sure enough, shortly after they all pulled out, we saw this scene across the way.
And, then 35 RV’s began to roll into the campground. That guy in the pink tutu pulled out a walkie-talkie and began to talk these newcomers into their space in the campground.
Very organized caravan or wagon train - a group of people traveling through Alaska led by this guy. I’m sure that the people who lived in the neighborhoods around us have seen this all before but, still, 35 RV’s in a line in front of your house must still be amusing. The front of the first RV has that white sticky stuff on its front just like the white sticky stuff you see in new houses stuck to every carpet for protection. This protects the front of the RV from bugs, rocks a bit and sure does look dandy.

Our campground in Portage, Williwaw, has filled up today. I saw only one spot as we came in. On the other hand, we’ve seen 6 RV’s racing through the campground while we ate dinner. Hey, don’t they realize that there are kids biking in the road here? Older people strolling around? Speeding in a campground just frosts me. Either they’ve got a spot reserved and are heading towards it OR they came here without a spot reserved and are racing for the last one. Good luck. I’m not sure what they will do if this campground is full - there aren’t many others around.

I’m adding these lines not because I’m making fun of Alaskans but appreciating their ingenuity. They live in a harsh climate and they have adapted.

You know you’re in Alaska when:

. . .you design your Halloween costumes to fit over a snowsuit.

. . .the mosquitoes have landing lights.

. . .you have more miles on you snowblower than your car.

. . .you have 10 favorite recipes for moose meat.

. . .you've taken your kids trick-or-treating in a blizzard.

. . .driving is better in the winter because the potholes get filled with snow.

. . .you think sexy lingerie is fleece socks and a flannel nightie with only 8 buttons.

Portage, AK - Bore Tide & A Hand Tram

Hmmm, which is the most dramatic picture we took today? Hard to choose so I guess I’ll put them in chronological order. We headed into Girdwood today, a cool town with an upscale vibe. Maybe it’s the ski resort that adds to the laid-back nature of the place. Streets with names like: Telemark, St. Moritz, Innsbruck, etc. One look at the homes in the area and I knew that I didn’t need to check them out on Trulia. Most have A-frames somewhere in them with lots of windows and all on acre+ lots.
But we heard rumors of a good breakfast joint with cinnamon rolls and a neat trail with a hand tram. Gotta check them out.
Yes, the breakfast was very good: veggie with potato omelet, sourdough toast, never-ending coffee (sometimes a problem on the trail) and 5” tall cinnamon rolls. At first glance they looked a bit dry but we took a chance. Luckily we did, were they ever good. Warmed from the oven, bits of apple in them with almond flavoring, almonds and a sweet caramel bottom. Can’t fault these at all. We recommend them. No pictures - it was gone too fast.

The trail begins behind the Alyeska Resort: skiing in the winter, tram to the top, mountain biking and trails in the summer.
Every trail can’t be a winner but this one surely is. First off - it’s named the Winner Trail. Ha, ha. Secondly, well, let’s get to that in a minute. Oh, oh, Looks like I’ve found a nice bench to relax on. ‘Go on ahead, Big Gar, I’ll wait for you here.’ Oh, crap, Gary’s really expecting me to hike today.
Very woodsy trail, in fact it really is a lush rain forest and has all the moss, big leaves and ground cover to prove it.
But, it’s a trail in an upscale town - lots of boardwalks, railroad ties and well-made bridges over rushing water through a narrow gorge

This bridge is over a narrow 15’ wide canyon with thundering, churning water with power you can feel. It shoots through the gorge like a cannon, spewing frothy white water. Look just below the bridge, and you’ll see the river go over a series of 5-10 foot drops.
Lots of others on the trail, lots of families, well, actually, lots of mothers with children. Where are the fathers? Golfing, fishing? Probably one of the two.

OK, here’s the fun part - the part that really makes this trail a ‘Winner’: the hand tram. There was a line and everyone was laughing and having a good time. The tram will only hold 400 lbs: 2 adults or 1 adult and 2 kids. And, it’s a lot of work - especially if you’re alone. We were not. Cross the creek one direction and pull the rope one way. Come back and pull the rope the other way, Whichever way, your arms are going to hurt - guaranteed.
The easy part is when the tram is going down towards the middle but, pulling the tram up to the platform on the other side - oof-da. That was hard. Here is some of the action we saw when we got there.
There’s a biker in the tram here with a bike hooked on the side. Clever tram builders. We took our turn at the rope and helped the people in the picture cross and then came back. We pulled so hard that our shoulders felt like they were being pulled out of the sockets. Then it was our turn. That’s when questions popped into my mind:

        Hey, where’s the certificate of inspection for this tram?

        Will it hold us?

        Check those ropes? Are they frayed?

        How far down is that water?

We were in, the tram was moving - too late for questions. Pull that rope. Luckily we had others to help us cross - and luckily we were there to help them, too.
Back down the trail and we were back at the Alyeska Resort. We then headed out to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. However, as we were driving down Turnagain Arm I was looking at the water flow.

‘Is the tide coming in or out?’ Gary asked.

‘Hmmm, I can’t figure it out. I think it’s coming in. Hey there’s a paddle boarder out there. Oh, Gary, it’s a bore tide. I can see the wave coming in.’

Tides usually don’t come in as a wave like this one and this one was small for the Turnagain Arm. they come in imperceptibly slowly. Two things are necessary for a bore tide, a shallow narrow channel and rapidly rising tides. Thus, when tide comes in, it comes in all at once, like a tidal wave. Sometimes bore tides can be 6’ high and travel at up to 15 mph. And, they sound like a wave hitting shore - all the way down the Arm. It’s a long, long, wave. And we watched it roll towards us and then roll on by us to the end of the Arm, miles away. So cool.

The birds followed it possibly thinking that fish would be stirred up by it.

A few days ago Gary spent time trying to figure out when the best bore tide was going to be and we’ve planned our time around this. The best bore tides are during a full moon when the difference between the low tide and the high tide are the most - like on my birthday this year in 2 days. We’ll be looking then too for a bigger bore tide.

Ah, serendipity. Who knew we were going to get this today?

But, there’s still more to the day. What next? I certainly wouldn’t have said ‘getting slimed’ but that’s what I did.

Alaska is the only state in the Unites States to have coastlines on three different seas (Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea)

Portage AK - Road Scholars

We almost always stop to read the signs along the road - although sometimes we have to pass them by because our RV won’t fit in the space they’ve allotted. But today we learned all about beavers. Thought you might like to see these signs too.





Sometimes you can see Beluga whales in Turnagain Arm. We didn’t but we know what they look like by stopping here at a rest stop. They are the only white whales.

This is not a learning experience but we heard this talking coming from up above. Now. we thought we had been good this week but are always willing to listen to a voice from above. However, this time it was two guys working on an electric pole.

And, how about some more pictures of the beauty we saw as we circled Turnagain Arm?

There, wasn’t that fun?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Portage, AK - What's a Williwaw?

The heading here says Portage, AK but, in truth, the town of Portage died some time ago. We’re in Portage Valley in a US Forest campground called Williwaw, centrally located to visit some areas that we want to explore.

First question of the day: what is a williwaw? Now, I had no idea where this campground got it’s name. For all I knew it was the name of a small insect that likes to bite me in the back of my neck. Heaven knows, I’ve found several of those recently. But, no, a williwaw is a really big wind, really, really big. Let me go back a bit. Portage Pass through which loads of miners came during the gold rush days is a narrow pass between the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage and Prince William Sound, part of the Pacific Ocean. As the air pressure between the two areas equalizes, extremely high winds can be created. Winds that can snap 50’ flagpoles like twigs. Winds that can peel away asphalt. Winds that can lift boxcars from railroad tracks. Winds that can create ‘flag’ trees, trees that have branches on only one side. That big.

Maybe I should have checked into the name of this campground before I made this reservation. Yep, we’re in Portage Valley where, even if it’s sunny and warm in Anchorage 50 miles away, there may be gale force winds driving heavy rains here in the Valley. Hey, let’g go. Yeah, right. Well, here we are and it was a beautiful day, we had sun, we had warmth and we had a great hike. Natch.
We started out about 9:00 so we could hit Costco to fill our RV with diesel. I, of course, can always buy more food, even if I shopped in Costco yesterday. Well, they didn’t have walnuts and my sweet hugga bunch loves his walnuts: for ‘snack’ at night he even has some cereal with his walnuts. Walnuts, Bark Thins (if you haven’t had these, you’ve not lived.) and multi-vitamins. OK, thus fortified, we’re on our way.

Beautiful trip along the Turnagain Arm.



On the bottom of Turnagain Arm is a pasty, muddy, silty mixture that can seal like cement if you step on it. It’s nasty stuff and here’s a picture of it. Don’t dare to step out in it.
We stopped every now and then to enjoy the view. Then we got to Williwaw, parked and headed out to the Portage Glacier Begich Boggs Visitor Center.
Gorgeous VC, designed to give visitors a spectacular view of Portage Glacier out of the observation decks, telescopes, floor to ceiling windows - all designed for maximum exposure to Portage Glacier right out side. Then, to the dismay of everyone, the glacier retreated so fast that you can no longer see it from those windows. It retreated up the valley and around the corner.
Now, you have to take a boat to see it, the Ptarmigan. Most glaciers are retreating. We saw one in Glacier National Park several years ago that is now abut 1/5 of its size in the 60’s.

The boat wasn’t working today, so we took the Byron Glacier trail to see that Byron Glacier. Cool trail, through a forest, over some shaggy rocks and there we could see the tell-tale azure blue of the glacier, way up high. Sadly, it’s retreated a lot also, though it is still visible. We clambered over moraines left by the glacier as it retreated up the mountain. Here’s Gary at the top of a circular mound of rocks, left by the retreating glacier. He’s almost at the top off to the center right of the picture. Small guy, big rock pile.
There are lots of boulders here.
Lots of others found this trail today.
So, why are glaciers blue? Are they that sad? Nope, it’s all about the ice. Glacier ice is formed under the weight of countless snowfalls which pushes it down and squeezes out all the air leaving dense, compact ice. Ice, like the ice you put in your sodas, has lots of air bubbles all over it which creates the white look. When sunlight strikes glacier ice, the lower energy colors are absorbed by the thick ice and only the blue color, which has the most energy is left and reflected back to the eye. Got It? I don’t. I just enjoy it.

Why is the water so cloudy? That’s because of the silt or ‘rock flour’ that stays suspended in the water. As glaciers move over the landscape, they pick up rocks and grind them to grit as they move. The steams from the melting snow in the glacier, pick these up and take them down the mountains to the rivers and streams around here. This grit stays in the churning water as it heads to the oceans.
Final question of the day: why is this visitor center called the Begich Boggs VC? It is names after Congressman Nick Begich of AK and Hale Boggs of Louisiana. They, along with their pilot, Don Jonz and congressional aide Russel Brown, disappeared in 1972 en route to Juneau from Anchorage. They were last heard from as they flew over Portage Pass. No sign of the men or their plane has ever been found.
Lots of exhibits here but we’ll stop to see them in a few days. But, here’s a salmon exhibit.
We walked along the Trail of Blue Ice after we left the Visitor Center. It’s the newest trail here and they certainly have put a lot of work into it.

And, here’s our campsite.
Huge, we haven’t even begun to fill it. The campground isn’t full today but this weekend, the weekend of July 4th it will be roaring. Meanwhile we’ve seen quite a few RV’s rushing through the campground to find the last best spot. The rules are: reserve a spot online as we did or get to the park, find a spot, park your vehicle and go to the kiosk to pay. And, ‘rush’ is the word I want to stress because these RV’s, with kids in them, are driving way above the park’s speed limit to get to a spot before someone else does. Hey, people, there are kids here in this campground.
Why is there a bear box right across from our campsite?
We have an overhanging glacier, Middle Glacier, above our campground.