Chapter 5.  Valdez, Alaska

Bert & Shari Frenz, 1998 All rights reserved.

Day 72 - July 22, 1998 - Milepost 6435 (65 today) - Anchorage, AK

(Shari) All night the rain falls and the morning brings more of the same. We leave RTENT only to hitch the car and depart. About 30 miles later, the rain disappears. Ermine mentioned another campground in her latest post: Anchorage RV Park. We are starved for hookups and open our wallets for the $24 nightly fee. RTENT is a self-contained unit but I relish modern conveniences from time to time. Conserving power and water all the time gets old. Consuming our share of electricity is not a problem. The hair dryer, vacuum, bread machine, crock pot, coffee maker, TV, radio, computers and printer all know their turn in the socket. Three loads of wash are also completed before we take off for a birding/shopping trip. The day is nothing much to write home about, but an enjoyable one for us nonetheless.

(Bert) Throughout the early morning hours I hear the pitter patter of rain hitting RTENT’s roof, a soft serenade to half-sleep. Raindrops continue through a leisurely morning when, finally, we decide to venture forth to attach the toad and leave our campsite. We round the bend of Turnagain Arm passing fireweed and fog, dulled details of mountains softened by wisps of rain laden clouds. Twenty-five miles dries the landscape and I realize we spent the night in a pocket of rain not shared by more distant surroundings. In Anchorage we try a new campground, one recommended by Ermine, at Anchorage RV. Water, electricity, sewer, modem jacks - luxuries to dry campers - greet us. We take advantage with vacuum cleaner, bread maker, deep cooker, battery charger, AC-powered computers, portable heater, long hot showers and two e-mail sessions. In early evening I head to the Cook’s Inlet at high tide while Shari checks out downtown shops. Then we meet for grocery shopping and Subway sandwiches, which we take home and eat while watching a video tape, another luxury of electricity.

 

Day 73 - July 23, 1998 - Milepost 6578 (143 today) - Glennallen, AK

(Bert) Not finding the bird rarities last night, I try once more this morning. I again see the Red-throated Loon, but none of the others reported. At Ship Creek I watch the salmon fishermen, probably 75 strong, lining the muddy creek. I see three silvers caught, but many more fishermen are unsuccessful. One man slips while shifting his fishing stance, falling in the mud and coming up blackened by the experience. The water too is muddy and the fish are soon covered with the slimy mud while hooks are removed. I conclude Ship Creek is not a pleasant place to fish. With a late start, we head north out of Anchorage and at the Y we pass the Parks Highway which leads to Denali and, instead, take the Glenn Highway east toward Palmer and Glennallen. Our road follows the Matanuska River through a lush valley edged by green mountains. Every square foot is covered by vegetation: deciduous trees, predominantly aspen, showy Squirreltail Grass, tall stalks of white-flowered Cow Parsnip and shorter Northern Yarrow. Blue lupine ends its season, to be replaced by magenta beds of Fireweed. The Matanuska Valley is supposed to be a source of bountiful farm vegetables, but we see only a few farms hidden behind thick woods. After Palmer, the area is largely uninhabited and no roads intersect with ours. We stop for lunch beside the churning white-capped glacial river and look up to towering mountains. A shaved gravel embankment high up on one mountain evidences winter avalanches, but now is snowless. Further, the riverbed widens its gravel base and the stream serpentines helter-skelter within its perimeter. We climb to higher elevation, catch up to an overloaded flatbed semitrailer and crawl upward at 15 m.p.h. Stopping at an overlook we can see Matanuska Glacier below, snow covered yet surrounded by green mountains. Two hundred years after Christ, the glacier reached all the way to Palmer and over the centuries carved the Matanuska Valley as it receded. Our narrow road winds up the edge of one side of the valley, straining on the incline, coasting too fast on the decline. We reach a construction site where we are escorted by the "Follow Me" pilot car through 9.5 miles of gravel road, again at 15 m.p.h. Nevertheless, the slow transit gives us opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Finally over the crest at Eureka Summit, having climbed 3,322 ft., we flatten to a high plateau of scattered spindly spruce poking out of dense muskeg. After a few dozen miles, trees propagate into forests, short but dense. A new road, completed since our 1996 trip, slices through this section, wider and leveler, but plagued by frost heaves. We stop short of Glennallen and pull into a gravelly campground surrounded by a nostalgic junkyard of antique cars we remember from high school years.

(Shari) While Bert tries to find some rare birds, I luxuriate in the hot water as I rinse my hair without fear of using too much water. I watch the Good Morning Show and notice the heat wave strangling the south and northeast. I luxuriate in the weather also, a cool 60 at 9 a.m. After retrieving one last batch of e-mail (another reason Anchorage RV Park is so enjoyable) we head out at the rather late start of 11 a.m. The scenery today is spectacular as we climb and descend the mountainous terrain on the Glenn Highway. The fireweed are in bloom. We have been waiting for it all these weeks and it was worth the wait. The blue lupine has been replaced with huge patches of bright fuchsia along the roadway. The fireweed plant can grow taller than my head and its bloom is more than 12 in. tall. The flower consists of blooms of four fuchsia petals attached along the stem. The bottom flowers open first and as summer progress the petals open further upward on the stem. From a distance it looks like a tapered plume. The natives say that when the top of the fireweed is in bloom, summer is almost over. The wild flowers in Alaska have been the biggest surprise to me. I did not think much could grow in the cold climate, but the land is a profusion of a variety of flowers in a brilliant rainbow of colors. I find them better than Texas wild flowers, if only because vast numbers of flowers bloom all summer and are not wilted by the hot sun. The colors are more brilliant, the petals bigger and the variety abundant. Anchorage RV Park had pansy petals as big as my fist and Geranium blooms as expansive as peonies. We only travel 143 miles today, but are tired when we stop for the night at KROA 30 miles west of Glennallen. Tonight we again luxuriate with full hookups. In its former life KROA must have been a graveyard for dying Dodges. Behind the campground, amid the muskeg and fireweed, more than 50 rusting Dodges tell stories of the past. A steering column unattached to any car, a girl’s prom coat lying on the ground, and an empty antique gas can have little use to the current occupants. If only these cars could talk, we’d know why they were here and how they arrived.

 

Day 74 - July 24, 1998 - Milepost 6734 (156 today) - Valdez, AK

(Bert) Our breakfast blueberry pancakes reach to the edge of big plates and eating three of these at KROA takes a Paul Bunyan appetite. When we finally hit the road, we are treated to bright sunlight and powder blue skies. Ahead we see what appears to be an unusual cloud formation, but as we get nearer it turns into mountain peaks covered with clouds, snow and dark shadows. Mt. Sanford, a dormant volcano, and Mt. Drum rise so high on the horizon that I find it hard to believe they are mountains and not clouds. After we stop at a rest area to take photos, Shari offers to drive since the pancakes and reindeer sausage have made me sleepy. So Shari takes the wheel - her first time in Alaska this trip - while I nap. When I awake, we have passed Glennallen and are headed south on the Richardson Highway to Valdez. Rounded, glacier-crafted, tundra-covered mountains shoulder our road on both sides. When we switch drivers again, Shari is relieved that she didn’t have to make the descent I encounter within another mile. The steep decline requires low gear and is only the first of many we encounter. Worthington Glacier looms large before us and at Thompson Pass it looks like the road will strike the glacier head on, but we curve to the left and drive nearly a mile along the leading edge of the massive glacier. We enter a broad valley, almost treeless, but covered with the soft green rounded shapes of tundra. Our steady descent becomes sharper and we drive a 7-mile stretch of 6% to 7% grades. I use second gear and occasional braking to keep at 35 m.p.h., but on the steepest grades I use first gear and crawl at 20 m.p.h. without braking. At the bottom a dense Black Cottonwood forest surrounds us and then a sparser one as we follow the Lowe River. The forest bottom is covered with Ostrich Ferns which spill out at the edges onto the road shoulders. We reach sea level and the small city of Valdez, rebuilt since the 1964 earthquake leveled its predecessor. Built at the base of a natural fjord, Valdez looks up to steeply sloped mountains, dark green to the north and glacier capped to the south, with the narrow port opening to the west. Large RV parks are everywhere, but mostly filled, and we take second choice with a less than ideal view of tightly clustered RV’s on all sides. Other Alaskan travelers have told us that Valdez is one of the prettiest spots in the state, but after an afternoon of exploring, I am not convinced. I find a basic similarity between ports Homer, Seward and Valdez, but would rank Homer and Seward ahead of Valdez in beauty. I prefer Homer’s wide-open view of Kachemak Bay, the wildlife and distant mountains. And I like the busy activity of Seward’s port as viewed from our coastal campsite. Later we find another campsite with a view of the bay and consider switching sites in a few days. Maybe I’ll change my opinion then.

(Shari) After 45 minutes, our blueberry pancakes finally arrive. Sitting at a table fashioned from a tree with a burl the shape of an eight, we chat and look out at the river flowing beneath the deck. We have been with Don and Jean for 74 days and still never run out of things to talk about. It is amazing. The day is postcard perfect. Progressing east along the Glenn Highway, mountains as magnificent as McKinley come into view. Fireweed pink paints the valley floors as we peer down from the crests of hills. Bert is tired and I drive RTENT for the first time in Alaska, quitting after an hour just in time to miss an 8% descent. We rock and roll over the frost heaves through Thompson Pass toward Valdez. The road into Valdez is 7.5 miles long with 6.7% descent, which RTENT easily coasts in first gear. Valdez is a disappointment to me. I expected another Seward or Homer. We park at Eagle’s Rest RV Park in the heart of the city. Eagle’s Rest has modem and utility hookups, but definitely lacks a view. We are lined up on the gravel facing the cement wall of Eagle Quality Center open 24 hours. Yuck! Bert and I walk to the post office (no mail yet) and then to the boat harbor. I am gathering information on the fishing charter and glacier tour I want to take. We meet Don and Jean at the only fish processing establishment in town and find to our disappointment that the company does not make lox. Now what are we going to do with all those fish we are going to catch? Don has signed up for a fishing charter that departs the boat harbor at 7 a.m. tomorrow. We walk down to the slip to check out the boat. Luckily we meet those just returning from their outing. We learn the silvers are coming in slowly and the group of three only caught five fish all day. I want to check out the Lisa Marie on Dock D-8, but it is not back yet. We return to RTENT and, over drinks, discuss the plan for Valdez. Don wants to go fishing. Jean wants to see a glacier and guess what Bert wants to do? Bird of course. I want to fish and see a glacier. So Jean and I will take a glacier tour tomorrow afternoon, if the weather is nice and if I do not go fishing. Our Friday date night is at the Westmark; the only restaurant in town with a view of the water. Bert and I each have a hamburger with fries and water to drink. Total bill is $20.60. During the entire meal I keep one eye on the lookout for the Lisa Marie returning to port. It has still not returned by 9:30 so we return to RTENT for computer and e-mail work. My fishing decision will have to be made tomorrow.

 

Day 75 - July 25, 1998 - Milepost 6734 - Valdez, AK

(Shari) Our two heads peer out the water-soaked window as Don returns from his chartered fishing trip. We want to know if he got any fish today, but do not want to venture outside in the rain. He looks up, shrugs his shoulders and holds one finger up. Earlier Jean, Bert and I walked to the small boat harbor noticing most boats were still in their slips. The captain of the Olive Oil says he started out this morning and was forced back due to bad weather. Because the halibut are in deeper water than salmon, he needed to reach the open sea. The silver salmon that Don is after are in the shallower, calmer waters of the bay. Needless to say, Jean and I are not taking the glacier tour either. Too wet, too cold, too rough, too foggy. Reports indicate more of the same for tomorrow. It is a nice day to cuddle under the afghan and take a long nap listening to the pitter patter of rain on the roof. Later in the evening we and 50 others crowd in the local hot spot, The Pipe Line Club, and hear Missy say "You two are too weird." By request the host, singer entertainer Chris Driesbach, calls friends and relatives of the audience and blasts their voice over the speaker system. Victor answers the phone on the third ring and I wonder if we awakened him. 10:20 p.m. here in Valdez is 1:20 a.m. in Sugarland. Chris wishes Victor and Missy a happy 7th anniversary and I picture Victor thinking "Who in the world...?" I grab the microphone and tell Victor that I promise to be home by 3 a.m. Now he realizes this is a gag from us in Alaska, tells me he will set the alarm on the steps (a reference to how we would know if our teenage daughter came home before curfew) and gets Missy on the phone too. Chris sings them a beautiful song and I wonder what they are doing during this time. We have huge smiles on our faces. "Do you think they went back to sleep?" I ask Bert as we leave the club.

(Bert) Valdez has night life. Well, at least at one bar called The Pipeline Club. Chris Driesbach is a one man show: playing keyboard, singing and comedy. But the unique part of his act is the telephone. From cards filled out by his audience he calls friends and relatives across the country. His first call is to Spokane, Washington. After chatting with the person on the other end of the phone, Chris asks the Spokanean what song she would like to hear. The lady says "Leroy Brown, and I want Chuck and Sharon to dance to it." So Chris plays and sings Leroy Brown while the two dance. The next couple of calls reach answering machines, so Chris leaves a comical song as a message and suggests they use this on the answering machine for future callers. For the call to Montana he sings an English ditty about seven ladies locked in a lavatory, from Monday to Saturday, and gets the bar audience to sing along on the refrain. Eventually, Shari’s request comes to the top of his stack and Chris calls Sugarland, Texas to reach our daughter Missy and son-in-law Victor. At 1:20 a.m. Houston time, Victor answers the phone and Chris says he’s calling from the World Famous Pipeline Club in Valdez, Alaska. Chris banters on, but Victor doesn’t sound convinced that this isn’t some kind of crank call. Finally Shari gets on the phone and says a line only he would recognize. I guess he believes it now, because he calls Missy to get on the other line. At Shari’s suggestion, Chris congratulates Missy and Victor on their 7th wedding anniversary. Then he sings to them "I need your love" in remarkably good voice and even throws in a trumpet solo. I suppose we woke them up in the middle of the night, but somehow it seems like sweet revenge for the times we were up in the middle of the night when Missy was a teenager. I guess it’s time for the parents to be the wild ones, gallivanting around the country, visiting bars and having a great time while their daughter is the responsible one, staying at home, working and raising a child.

 

Day 76 - July 26, 1998 - Milepost 6736 (2 miles today) - Valdez, AK

(Shari) "This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made; we will rejoice, we will rejoice, and be glad in it, and be glad in it." The words to the song pull me out of my melancholy mode as the small congregation on the MV Lu-Lu Belle chugs out to sea for Sunday Worship Service. It is another dreary, foggy day in Valdez and gray fog on all sides covers the supposedly beautiful scenery out the boat windows. The First Baptist Church of Valdez sponsors today’s worship service, but the service is nondenominational in nature. Singing, fellowship, message and singing are the Order of Worship aboard Lu-Lu Bell, with its plush atmosphere of teak, mahogany and oriental rugs. As I am reminded of God’s gifts to me, his word, his Savior, his peace and his eternal life, my fog of gloom lifts, if not the fog in the bay. After service we drive to Allison Point, the secret fishing hole and watch thousands of salmon plunging their way upstream to finalize their life cycle. The silvery 3-ft. fish are jam-packed into the shallow stream, tails touching heads, dorsal fins protruding above the surface, heads forging forward. Don and I are ready to get our fishing poles. First we have to check out of Eagle’s Rest RV Park. We are tired of viewing the blank wall of the store across the street. Sea Otter RV Park is situated on the small boat harbor and the view from our site 66 is similar to Kachemak Bay in Homer. As the fog lifts, activity on the bay picks up and from my front window I can see float planes taking off and landing, gulls and sea otters playing in the water and, across the bay, tankers loading millions of barrels of oil from the pipeline, headed for refineries in the Lower 48. Fish are jumping and it is time to go fishing. The city dock in Valdez is already crowded with people and poles as it is near high tide. The fish are biting. People all around me are catching fish. It takes me awhile to get the hang of it, how to cast this new rig

with six hooks, how deep to fish, how fast to reel it in, etc. Finally I get my first fish and they come fast and furious afterward. Bert sees the action and gets his pole to partake of the fun. One layer of fish is in our bucket, then two, three, four and five layers. We lose as many as we catch. The end of my line barely touches bottom when I feel a tug. Pull it in, another fish for the pail. Realizing every fish we catch, we must clean, we decide to quit. We have 56 fish and people all around stare and ask questions. Some tourists take our pictures with 35 mm and video. What kind of fish? What do we intend to do with them? Eat them of course, silly, but after we pickle them. We caught 56 herring; a fish the locals use for bait. I had such good luck with the pickled halibut, why not the herring? In addition we had fun catching instead of fishing.

(Bert) After lunch and a nap, I am ready to do something and apparently Shari is also. So we decide to try herring fishing. We drive to the ferry dock and Shari uses her special herring lures to fish. We only have one of the multi-hooked lures, so I go off to try to find some interesting birds. When I return, I see she has only caught one little fish and I notice she has spent a lot of time unraveling her line. She asks me to get the salmon rod and reel because she can’t get the bass setup to work. When I return, I discover her bass pole problem and I use it while she uses the salmon equipment. Soon we both begin to pull in the fish. Sometimes almost every cast brings in a fish and occasionally two or three fish on the same line. Shari exclaims, "This is catching, not fishing." The fish may be small, but the excitement of catching so many makes up the difference. Shari giggles with delight. Finally, I say I’ll start cleaning our catch. Later Shari joins me in the cleaning, and together we finish off with 56 fish which Shari intends to pickle. When we return, we find Don has also met with success. He has a pink and a silver salmon in his ice chest, so we all have been successful fishermen today. We now have a view of the bay, having changed campsites to Sea Otter. With the view, our fish catch and a slight lifting of the rain clouds, Valdez is looking better.

 

Day 77 - July 27, 1998 - Milepost 6736 - Valdez, AK

(Shari) When it rains, it is miserable here in Alaska. When it does not, it is wonderful. Yesterday I was ready to leave Valdez, seeing only a dreary, dirty town offering me nothing to do. Today with sunny skies, I see the town and its surroundings as spectacular. Across the bay from RTENT the mountains reflect purples and greens and browns all drizzled with white icing. We board the Lu-Lu Belle again to take the Columbia Glacier tour. Numerous tour companies offer trips to the glacier and everyone in town sells tickets. I decided I do not want to pay for a meal either on the boat or on an island. That alone raises the price $25 to $55 depending upon the length of the tour. I only want to go to the glacier. We settle on the Lu-Lu Belle’s five hour tour departing at 2 p.m. Other RV Parks in town charged $65 for this tour. For whatever reason, the Sea Otter only charges us $60. We luck out with this tour. Captain Fred is the owner and builder of the Lu-Lu Belle. He has a bucketful of stories as he steers his pride and joy out into Prince William Sound. He loves to talk and he loves his job. He takes us to a cave where puffins nest and to my surprise he drives his boat right into the cave. I do not know what to do as I stand up front. Should I get frightened that he might hit the rocks I can touch with my left hand or should I relax and enjoy a view of wild puffins so close I can almost touch them with my right hand? The puffin is my favorite bird. I can just describe it as cute. Big orange webbed feet, a bill that looks like a candy orange slice, white breast, black back and a white head with black smile lines emanating from its eyes. The bill is really yellow and orange and in a frontal view the bird looks like it is kissing or whistling at you. Their little wings flap like mad in flight and I question if they will become airborne. Captain Fred spends a good long time in the cave and we all get our fill of the wonderful little birds. Next he takes us to a beach loaded with sea lions, barking at each other and ignoring us. Again we get so close I wonder if we will beach the boat or shake hands with the sea lions. Bert tells me there are more than 500 of the brown blubbery things sunning themselves. A few even put on a show for us by diving off a rock and swimming under the boat. Close to the beach, purse netters are fishing for salmon. The State of Alaska allows certain hours and specific days for the commercial fisherman to net fish for the canneries. Today is one of the days and as we watch we understand why sport fishing was poor this morning further in the bay. A big net is dropped into the water and allowed to sink to the bottom. Then a pop gun is discharged to scare the fish into the net. A motorized crank wheels the net up into the boat. Lots of jelly fish are caught in the process but discarded back into the sea. As the net reaches its end, it is turned over into an opened hatch and thousands of wigging squirming Silver and Pink Salmon fall into the bowels of the ship, ready to be sucked up by a vacuum tube at the cannery for processing. Again we get very close to this operation and I ponder what the fishermen think of the gawking tourists on the Lu-Lu Belle. They look as if they are too busy to even notice us. Finally Captain Fred takes us to the highlight of my trip, the Columbia Glacier. It is the second biggest glacier in North America, some seven miles across. Eleven miles from the face of the glacier we encounter ice bergs that have fallen from its face. We travel through this minefield of ice and as we hit chunks of the frozen water we are reminded of the fate of the Titanic. The cool 43 degree air and water temperature does not hinder us from experiencing this awesome sight from outside on the deck. Words cannot explain the beauty of it all. Hundreds of ice floes in varying shapes and hues of blue float past. The glacier shimmers in the afternoon sunshine. Mountain peaks above the glacier rise in awesome splendor, some completely snow covered and others decorated with only patches of white. I hope the roll of film we used will capture just a little of the beauty of this scene.

(Bert) Cruising with Captain Fred Rodolf on board his Lu-Lu Belle is akin to spending time with a friend on his private yacht, only we share our ride with some 70 others. Hand crafted by him, the deep grained, heavy woodwork is richly polished in marine varnish, the supple seats at galley tables offer grand views of the sea, the interior decks are cushioned with antique oriental rugs. Shari, Don and Jean prefer the lower deck galley; I spend more time on the upper deck in the captain’s room where I have a better forward view. Together we hear Capt. Rodolf softly entertain us with story after story of Valdez history, Prince William Sound wildlife, the great oil spill and the famous Columbia Glacier. While heading out to the sound, I encounter few birds, but the ones I see are quite entertaining or unusual. A Mottled Petrel wings powerfully a few feet above the waves, staying in sight long enough to get a good look at its black and white pattern. It’s the first time I’ve seen this pelagic wanderer who breeds near New Zealand and "winters" in Alaskan waters during our summer. A large flock of 30 Harlequin Ducks at the shoreline is unusual, but a few minutes later I spot a more exciting drama unfolding. I stand next to the captain and he asks what I’m seeing. I say, "Bald Eagle, but what’s that black bird chasing it?" He brings his marine binoculars to eye level and says it’s a jaeger. Then I recognize the features also and notice a third bird, Black-legged Kittiwake, is also in the squabble. The kittiwake has food and the eagle and jaeger want it. The aggressive Parasitic Jaeger (3-ft. wingspan) manages to discourage the much larger 8-ft. eagle. Then the dark jaeger chases the light kittiwake until the gull releases his catch. This robbing behavior, called kleptoparasitism, is one of the ways to identify jaegers and I recall watching a similar scene in the Gulf of Mexico, their winter home. We pass a huge 1,000-ft. oil tanker heading out to sea with its cargo of two million barrels of oil. Then Capt. Rodolf points out the exact location where the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, spilling 11 million gallons. They’ve put a buoy at the spot but, interestingly, another buoy already existed a bit further out to sea to mark the edge of shallow water. Obviously, the tanker captain was not paying attention that Good Friday night of the accident. As we cruise further, we edge around Glacier Island and in the tall dark caves I spot Horned Puffins. Capt. Rodolf nudges the Lu-Lu Belle into one cave and from the bow I get amazingly close up photos. I hope the lighting is bright enough for good photos and I’m glad I loaded Kodak Gold Max 800 for this trip. Passengers usually are more exited about bigger wildlife, but the comically dressed pudgy puffins are a delight for all. The captain patiently waits for all to get a closeup view and lots of photos. Around the corner we see the big animals: Stellar Sea Lions. They’re lined up along a narrow rocky beach in front of a rock wall, more than 500 of these endangered mammals. We are so close we can hear the bulls roar and we approach the sea lions within a flipper length away. Our next stop is Columbia Glacier, named after the university along with Harvard and Yale. But Columbia is the more popular one since it is a tidewater glacier that reaches the sea. In the past 25 years large chunks of the glacier have peeled off and the glacier’s face is no longer reachable through the sea of icebergs. But the Lu-Lu Belle navigates a mile or more through the maze until we are completely surrounded by floating blue ice sculptures. Only a Kittlitz’s Murrelet and a few gulls invade the stillness of the ice flow as we float in the winter wonderland.

 

Day 78 - July 28, 1998 - Milepost 6736 - Valdez, AK

(Shari) What a wonderful day! Weather looking good. Temperatures cooperating. I walk to the laundry in shirt sleeves and drink in the atmosphere: fluffy white clouds in an otherwise deep blue sky, mountain peaks showing their splendor all around, air so crystal clear it almost squeaks as I breathe it. We were to leave today but it is just so beautiful. Bert changes the oil in RTENT. I wash. We retrieve our mail that Missy had forwarded here. There is a picture of her in the packet and she looks so cute with short hair. I think I am finally getting a little homesick. However, it is still too hot in Texas to even think of returning yet. We just diddle the day away. Bert birds, I fish. No luck with either of us. We hear a funny story of a man who hears of a secret fishing hole. He is so excited that he immediately gets his pole to fish. An hour later he comes home with his limit. He enthusiastically tells how millions of fish were there for the taking. Just put in your lure, bounce it along the bottom and wham, another fish for his pail. Happily, he finally experiences the Alaska of his dreams and tells all his friends of his luck. Later he finds out that the secret fishing hole is off limits to anglers. He has had his fun but it lacks its glory. We say he is lucky the game warden did not get him. Don fishes in front of d’Bus. He gets a pink and lands it onto the rocks. The line breaks and the fish is wedged between the rocks with the lure in his mouth. This is a doctor’s operation. First a fork is used to extract the fish. Then a barbeque fork is used. Another man helps with a long steel pole and still no fish. Don is not about to give up on his fish. He grabs the tail and pulls and finally the fish is headed for the dinner table.

(Bert) Our best weather summer day in Alaska, we enjoy bright clear skies and warm - by Alaska standards - temperature in the mid 60s. It’s a shame most of the day is wasted on household chores that have accumulated for too long. Even on vacation, occasional work days intrude. In late afternoon I take a drive around the bay intending to look for birds, but finding salmon watching more interesting. Each little brook or stream is filled with Pink Salmon. Watching them fight their way upstream is fascinating. The spawning drive must be incredibly strong because the fish exert tremendous energy in the effort. In shallow water they kick their tails and slither along the gravel with their upper half exposed to the open air. At rocky rapids, the salmon slide between the rocks with a few strong flips of their tails. Then they rest in calmer water, but still have to continue swimming or they drift back downstream. When I reach streams at the spawning grounds, the fish are in bad shape with discolored bodies and large chunks of flesh ripped or missing. Here gulls and crows feed on the dead bodies of salmon who have reached their end. Further around the bay I come to a great waterfall dumping torrents of fresh water into the sea. The strong current titillates tens of thousands of salmon to push up the stream, slowed by an artificial barrier and then stopped at the foot of the falls. A sea lion gorges on the easy pickings. In some places the fish are so thick that you’d think you could walk across their bodies without getting wet. Seeing these masses of salmon, it is hard to believe they are extinct in hundreds of streams in the Lower 48 and threatened even here in Alaska. I’ve read in the Anchorage newspaper that the salmon run in Western Alaska is the worst on record. On today’s radio I heard the Kenai has been closed to sports fishing and subsistence netting out of fears that not enough are coming upstream to insure future generations. Sally and Dave e-mailed us to brag that the two of them caught 25 reds this season. But Sally admits, "After that they lowered the limit to three and with good reason, as the run seems to have fallen off considerably since then. It's really not a very good run this year." Like much of the wildlife here, I am afraid many Alaskans take the bounty for granted, just as their forefathers assumed an infinite supply of buffalo and Passenger Pigeons. Selfishly, the natives demand their inherent right to subsistence fishing; the commercial fishermen claim their very livelihood depends on fishing; the sports fishermen grumble that the others are taking all the fish that belong to them; and the Canadians say the Americans have taken all the fish before they even reach their waters. Don’t expect a happy ending to this story.

 

Day 79 - July 29, 1998 - Milepost 6767 (31 today) - Blueberry Lake, AK

(Bert) When discovered by Spanish explorers late in the 18th century, a tide water glacier blocked inland travel from the area that eventually was named Valdez. Gold miners lost their possessions and sometimes their lives trying to climb over the glacier. But today the glacier is gone and we drive a well paved, wide highway as we exit Valdez. After a few miles of flat glacial gravel the land tilts upward, we pass through a narrow gap between high rock cliffs and we stop to view Bridal Falls plummeting from the mountain edge to the river below. We climb in second gear for half an hour and near the summit we stop at Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site, perhaps one of the prettiest camping spots in Alaska. From our alpine perch we can see Blueberry Lake - home to Rainbow Trout and Barrow’s Goldeneye - to the north, Thompson Pass to the west, and a glacier-carved valley to the south and east. Remnant patches of snow are at eye level on the opposite mountainside. Barren rocks tell the history of mountain building: at the highest levels sharp peaks arose from the collision of North American and Pacific plates, but further down the mountain the curved surfaces show the evidence of the glacier that once stood here. The rocks of our campground all show an east-west pattern with pressure lines created from the massive weight of the glacier. A thin soil layer has transformed the area into a wildflower garden. As I hike along the park’s gravel road, in a couple hours I identify more than two dozen different flowers. I love wild places, habitat untouched by humans, and this is an enchanting example. For wildflower lovers, here’s a list of what I discovered: Wild Geranium, Dwarf Fireweed, Dwarf Dogwood, Alaska Poppy, Alaska Spiraea, Mountain Harbell, Alpine Meadow Bistort, Club Moss, Large Leaf Avens, Wood Fern, Meadow Arnica, Goatsbeard, Sitka Valerian, Monkshood, Cow Parsnip, Yellow Arnemone, Alpine Arnica, Alpine Spiraea, Alaska Cotton, Starflower, Wild Iris, Arctic Daisy, Ross Avens, Dwarf Blueberry, Coastal Fleabane, Yellow Oxytrope, Broomrape.

(Shari) I am going to play hooky today and not write much of a journal. I feel out of sorts and just want to take a nap.

Next Day Table of Contents