If this doesn’t end up being our favorite area in Alaska, I’ll be surprised. The misty mountains, glaciers you can reach out and touch, and the most peaceful, woodsy campground. This area had all our favorite things about Alaska in one place.
Williwaw Campground – Chugach National Forest
We stayed here for one night on our way to Seward and vowed to return. It was just too peaceful and beautiful to count this area as “done” with just an overnight. The last time we made reservations and lucked out with the prettiest of views. We’re learning the ways of Alaska State Park camping. This time decided we could score a spot without reservations if we arrived early in the day on Friday before the weekenders showed up. The plan worked like a charm and we had our pick of sites before the campground filled up completely. This campground has no services except a hand pump for potable water and bear-proof garbage cans, requiring some planning on our part.
Here we are in our secluded spot trying our best to blend in.
The Strategic Stop
To get to Williwaw, we knew we needed an in-between stop. One, because we are weenies and didn’t want to drive that far in one day, and two, because we needed to charge batteries, fill our water tank and dump our waste tanks in preparation for no services.
Why not an RV park run by a cruise ship wilderness lodge? Sounded resort-like. We’d not had anything remotely approaching resort quality in quite some time, and although not our usual style, had its appeal right about now. Suffice it to say, we got what we needed out of the stop, but the RV park seemed to have a little different standard than the lodge up the hill. Maybe it was the distinct sewer smell from the three lidded pipes next to our site, or the pair of underwear in the road… Anyhoo, only for the night and we had a grand little hike to see the rushing emerald green water of the Russian River.
Cooper Landing is the place on the Russian River and some kind of fishing mecca. People are mad for this spot and fish crazy. We just loved the color of the water.
This is also the 3rd day this whole trip that we were able to wear shorts! It got to 80 degrees and we actually liked it. View from the lodge and whoa buddy! How’s that for a burl?!
I think this place is a favorite because it is so lush and green. Portage Valley isn’t extremely wide so you have all that forest and you are right at the foot of the mountains. They tower over you on both sides, and the clouds come oozing over the top on the misty days. Misty and moisty turned out to be the weather most days, but we like the stillness and the campsites with lots of privacy. Our first night finds us unwinding from the crazy fishing crowds at the last stop, and quite a bit of traffic as well on a windy road with some pretty tight turns. We’re even able to eat our freshly caught rockfish. Ahhh, relaxing. So much so we’re thinking we need to stay an extra night. We’re good on batteries with short generator runs for 2 days easy. We’re set for 3 nights, so why not 4?
That all sounded swell until the inverter started alarming when the refrigerator wanted to turn on. This is bad, very bad and not even 2 days in. We’ll lose all our nice cold and frozen foods – including that tasty frozen halibut! We consider throwing in the towel and moving on, but first start by turning off the fridge in the night. Is it the refrigerator? One too many frost heaves jiggling its brains? Is it our big pricey batteries we picked up last year to support the new fridge? In the end, Pat cleaned the contacts on the batteries, and lo and behold, problem solved. Everything, and I mean everything is so completely dusty and dirty from the gravel roads. It is embarrassing how the car and motorhome look, so no surprise the contacts picked up dirt as well. We’re just glad it was that simple. So 4 nights it is!
Whittier is a town that used to be reachable only by plain or boat, but now is connected by road on the Portage Glacier Highway via the Portage Tunnel. A single-lane tunnel shared with the railroad system. So here’s how it works. You queue up for your 30 minute time to go through the tunnel – to Whittier from Portage on the half-hour, back to Portage from Whittier on the hour. All road traffic halts when trains come through. Wild system and a wild drive indeed. We read about this and just had to make the trip to Whittier just to say we navigated this tunnel. It’s 2.5 miles long, making it the second-longest highway tunnel and longest combined highway & rail tunnel in North America.
The first train went through in 1943. Not a lot different looking in 2017! Dark inside and the railroad tracks try to take control as you drive. This is a 10 and 2 stretch of road for sure! Glad we only took Bitsy.
A little perspective for you. We’re queued up waiting for our return trip and going through that mountain.
Not a bad view as we wait for our turn in the tunnel
There is something about a derelict building that intrigues me. Haunting in a way, making you think about what was, what is, and the passage of time. Whittier is home to two big structures that were leftovers from the Army back in the 50s. One building looks a little like a boxy hotel and houses most of the 200ish residents of the town. The other, left to ruin after only a few years of use.
I give you the Buckner Building. Built to house all Army operations in Whittier under one roof. Left for dead and such a stark contrast to the beauty around it.
That last picture is from our vantage point on Horse Tail Falls trail.
We chose this trail rather than the tamer looking trail down the hill, and before long encountered this locked gate with a sign you see taped to the metal gate. It tells about the black bear seen at the viewing platform, but that was a whole week ago we rationalize.
Then we get to this sign….
I’m thinking of that Alfred Lord Tennyson poem….”Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”. So onward hiked the Iversons!
You recall the name of this trail is Horse Tail Falls. We hike on wooden platforms you see in the top pic and through thick brush and even sections where you can’t see where you are placing your feet. All the while singing hymns and talking loudly to ward off the bears, in anticipation of that gorgeous waterfall we know will be at the top. Nah, only the one you see Pat looking at. But the ravines, delicate water droplets on the leaves and the misty mountains do reward our efforts.
And finally, the port town of Whittier below.
We were a little jumpy given our bear encounter at an earlier stop and recent sighting documented on the note at the **locked** gate. People said we needed bear spray. We didn’t have any, so Pat picked up a rock to carry. He asked if it was big enough. NO! So he picks up a bigger one. He also finds a nice piece of wood that looks like a pistol. We discuss this. Of course bears will think that is a gun and be scared.
We round a corner and my heart nearly stops. Looked like a bear to me, but just a fierce stump. Not to worry. Pat whips out his wood gun and we’re all good.
A few more pics from a fantastic day.
Another day, another hike and this time with Jackson. We head to the Portage and Byron Glaciers.
Portage Glacier is a little out of view due to receding, but Byron is out in plain view from this vantage point on the highway. The day before was brilliant and sunny. If I’ve learned one thing on this trip it is to take the shot right away. Going back for a picture later never works out. Either weather changes or you just don’t happen that way again. A lot like life. Anyway, this glacier is accessible by a relatively short, easy trail.
We all love the snow at the foot of the Byron. Keep in mind folks that this is July 16th and we’re sporting 3-layer fashion – and hats!
J Dog loved the snow. Rolled in it, romped in it, ate it!
Everything is on such a massive scale. I have to get some people in the shots so you can tell how big everything is.
And the backwards looking shot to see how far we’ve come. See those teensy people? That’s at the base of the glacier and where we were standing for the dog shots.
Odds & Ends
I am struck by irreverent things. As promised, this trashcan at the door of the restaurant in Whittier is indeed filled with sand.
In the Whittier shipyard. The container says “proud to be liven high wild and free”. Art galleries in unexpected places.
I’ve found that I enjoy strolling the harbors and reading the boat names. So many possibilities.
Next up – Prospecting and then on to Anchorage. See you on the way!