Alaskan Adventure, August 2005

Day 11: Tuesday

Well, we made it through the night in the creepy hotel, sleeping well, falling asleep to some Ghost in the Shells. Finally, we escaped: we were up, out, and driving south by 8:30.

We stopped at some more scenic views, and to get gas near Copper Center at a place with a friendly clerk and free coffee. Then, in a small detour loop into Copper Center, we went to a tiny museum that, contrary to what some guidebooks say, no longer has the Alaskan record-largest set of moose antlers (they’re privately owned, and the guy who owns them removed them from the museum four years ago to go in his own house).

We spent awhile at the Visitors’ Center and exhibits at the entrance to the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park (at left, the Wrangell mountain chain, with many of the highest peaks in North America after Denali) ; the interior of the park is pretty inaccessible unless you’re willing to drive down a 60-mile dirt and gravel road, and then walk over a bridge to the car-less small town on the other side of a river that’s the real gateway to hiking and other activities in the park. Barring that, we settled for a short walk around the woods near the Visitors’ Center, where we could see the amazing Wrangell mountains and look into the middle of the country’s largest national park. There were great exhibits on glaciers, geology, rivers, animals, original inhabitants, and explorers, in a new and nice center. We also saw a movie about the park, on continuous loop; we learned a lot about the Copper River Valley and its rivers and peaks; and we used their free Internet terminal.

All day, the weather had alternated between sun showers, cloudy drizzle, and cloudy mild fog, but after the park it actually began to really rain--this was just in time for us to see the Worthington Glacier, which we had planned on hiking up to, in the rain. It was really heavy rain, though, and we were getting very wet, so we just enjoyed the very impressive from a much shorter path that ran alongside the glacier, rather than right up to it. Because of the rain, some of the greens were greener than usual near the glacier, and there were numerous waterfalls coming down the rocks alongside it. We sheltered in a little hut with interpretive signs and about eight magpies before hurrying, soaking wet, back to the car.

At left, two views of Worthington Glacier, as we approached in mixed sun and clouds, and as we hiked toward it in the misty rain.

The drive through Keystone Canyon was also beautiful in the rain, with Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls both much bigger than the pictures in guidebooks. We stopped for awhile next to Bridal Veil Falls and tried playing with shutter speeds and exposures on our camera, but none of our pictures could really express the power of the water falling in sheets straight from the top of the canyon, rather than gently tumbling down four separate steps in the rock, as it would on a dryer day.

At left, Horsetail Falls; at right, Bridal Veil Falls.

In very heavy rain, we drove straight into Valdez, then, completely unable to see the harbor, the boats, the mountains, or indeed anything other than the single block ahead of us because of the rain, mist, and fog.

Since “dinner” last night had been overpriced badly fried frozen food from the scary Paxton place, and breakfast today was granola bars, dried fruit, crackers, and cookies in the car, we were thrilled to have a real, if slightly late, lunch upon arriving in Valdez. We had the salmon/halibut combo special for $19 at Fu Kung, which came with a bowl of hot and sour soup and some white rice, and consisted of a large piece of salmon and a large piece of halibut, very lightly coated with flour, and pan-fried, then topped with a lovely mild, tasty ginger and soy sauce. We relished every bite, since we love fresh, local seafood prepared Asian-style, and we finished off the meal with a pair of salmon nigiri--beautiful red Copper River sockeye salmon, which we’ve never in our lives before had as sushi. The fish was somewhat firmer and though I know it has some of the highest fat content of wild salmon, in appearance and mouthfeel it was far less fatty and striated than farm-raised salmon sushi, and really, really red on the plate (indeed, almost ahi-colored).

Valdez is having both a halibut and a silver salmon derby now too, so we stopped in at a number of different fish places, weigh-in stations, cleaning stations, and charter operations to chat, gawk, and generally (in Robert’s words) act like fanboys/girls for fish. Valdez seems far smaller and less bustling than Seward, although they’ve really taken the fish decorations to an extreme in their street lights, dumpster screens, sidewalks, and banners. And yes, the smell of fish and water once again predominates--I would dab it behind my ears if I could.

We checked in for the night at the Best Western in Valdez harbor, a positively posh hotel with a comfortable queen-sized bed, a working shower and tub with high water pressure, a TV and DVD player, phone, and space to walk around the bed on both sides. Amazing! We did laundry and tried to use their wireless internet access, but the wireless card on my computer hasn’t been working quite right, and that was a mild impediment.

Around 7:15, we headed over to the Halibut House for dinner: the Admiral’s Platter, with fried local halibut and rock cod, which were excellent, and fried (still excellent, but not local) oysters, squid rings, prawns, and scallops. We’d never had fried halibut before Alaska, but I like it far more than the fried haddock you get so often in Boston. After dinner we hit two supermarkets looking for more salmon sticks, since Old Glenn’s in Seward were so good; we found some in the second place, Three Bears, which also has a wide selection of tools and of car heating adaptors. At right, Robert with espresso drinks in Valdez, with misty mountains behind him.

Since Valdez seems to have proportionately fewer espresso places than any other town/city we’ve been in in Alaska, we practically ran to Bad Ass Coffee when we saw them down the street. We both had syrupy, steamy espresso drinks with lots of foam and sweetness, and then we used their free internet access and their newspapers for awhile, just relaxing in the cafe and remembering the old days of the Liberty Cafe in Central Square.

Back in our hotel, just before a DVD and then bed, we stuck the salmon sticks in our fridge and will eat them happily on the ferry tomorrow. It was a really relaxing, fun day, with lots of beautiful sights.

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Introduction  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6  |  Day 7
Day 8  |  Day 9  |  Day 10  |  Day 11  |  Day 12  |  Day 13  |  Day 14

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Created: 8/29/05. Last Modified: 8/29/05.