~Wednesday, August 3, 2022~
Day 44 of Alaska Trip
Wow, what an amazing weather day….the best of our time in Alaska so far. Low to mid-70’s and very few clouds; an ideal scenario for touring a seaside town…….Whittier. The only way to get there? Boat, plane or through a 2.5 mile tunnel bored through 2,684 foot tall Maynard Mountain. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, better known as the Whittier Tunnel, and appropriately named after the chief engineer of the Alaskan Railroad, is the longest dual-use (train and cars) highway tunnel in North America
and is the gateway to Prince William Sound. Because Whittier was an optimal staging point for bringing Army troops and material into Alaska during WWII, the tunnel was built to shorten voyages and reduce exposure of ships to Japanese submarines. In addition, it avoided steep railroad grades required to traverse the Kenai Mountains.
After the war, as the town grew in tourism and population (300), something had to be done to make the tunnel more useful for both cars and trains. To avoid the exorbitant costs in widening the tunnel, millions were spent on retrofitting the roadway itself to accommodate both. I must say it was quite strange driving over 2 miles of train tracks. And this is one dialed-in operation as the staff is hyper sensitive in making sure you get to the other side safely. Travel is closely monitored upon entering as they have metering lights to keep distances between cars as well as a 25 mph speed limit. Directly above are large exhaust fans that keep the air circulating while removing noxious fumes. The whole thing is an engineering marvel. We were told to expect a 20-minute wait from a fellow tourist, with ours only being 5. Toll was $13/vehicle.
The Whittier Museum was highly recommended, but because temps were too high for our Sadie pup to be left in the car, we had to nix that idea. Another time. But we could do a hike. In the distance, we could see a number of waterfalls, one of which was Horsetail Falls. Once we arrived at a small parking lot, nearly full with about 10 cars, we still questioned if we were on the right track since the trailhead begins more on a narrow utility road that was gated. About 5 minutes in, we knew it had to be
it with its carefully plotted steps and boardwalks. A lot of work has gone into creating this fine, moderately challenging 2.0-mile route. The elevation gain was a much more pleasant 700-feet as opposed to our 2,000 foot hike a few days ago. For the first 30 minutes, we didn’t run into a soul, though we knew there were others on the trail based on the number of cars in the parking lot. I’d prefer to see more people on trails like this, especially ones that are dense and full of berries….a perfect spot to run into a bear. Not to surprise one, today’s music selection was the fun upbeat and lively music of Zydeco. This wasn’t just any hike having an open invitation to sample delicious berries along the way. And after finally running into a few hikers, we were able to see just how successful the harvest can be with their buckets of little gems.
July/August is the prime time for berry picking (late by the Lower 48 standards). We learned that the popular varieties in this part of Alaska……
Cloudberries-a golden raspberry that has a tart taste)
Lingonberries (also called low-bush cranberries) that are small, red and pretty tart
Salmonberries which look like red raspberries that can also be yellow or orange (orange apparently tastes best).
Who knew we’d have the added bonus of getting an education about berry picking while on the Horsetail Falls Trail?
Once we got to the top, we ran into a few more hikers who suggested we hike just a little further through the mud (of course) for unobstructed views of the surrounding glaciers and numerous waterfalls, including Horsetail which shoots right over Blackstone Ridge. It really was beautiful! One of the families we ran into had hiked another awesome trail earlier in the day….the Portage Pass Trail and couldn’t say enough about its unrivaled scenic views of massive glaciers, craggy mountains and cascading waterfalls. It would have been an elevation gain similar to what we experienced at Alyeska, but had we taken it today, it would have prevented us from touring Whittier. So we are adding it to our “next time” list for sure! We already told ourselves before the trip, not to get frustrated that we wouldn’t be able to do everything.
By the time we got back to the marina of Whittier, we were starved and thirsty. Hmm…..a milkshake sounded good on this warm, sunny day and was the ideal accompaniment to us walking around the harbor to check out the few funky shops and the afternoon slurry of boats coming in with their scores of fish. We spotted one fisherman who had just taken down his prized halibut, the largest we’d ever seen, so missed that photo opportunity. At least I got a shot of him prepping it. I’d forgotten just how big those fish can get. The average price for halibut in Alaska…..$35/lb. Ouch!! But oh so good.
Early in the evening, with the sun still a few hours from setting behind the Kenai Mountains, we took a quick peek at the Inn at Whittier, right on the marina. We had hoped this would be a good place to relax and take in the activity on the waterfront. But there was no outdoor seating to be had, considering we had Sadie. Just as we were walking back to the car, Jeff spotted a great shady spot for her after all, allowing us to go back to the inn. We were able to snag a window seat, with the perfect views to take in all
the action of the marina. Sadly, we knew we were in trouble when it took 20 minutes to get our beverages….a beer for Jeff and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for me. And it just went downhill from there. I don’t like to complain, but this was probably some of the worst service we’ve ever experienced. We had also ordered an appetizer of smoked salmon served with red onion, capers, cream cheese and 4 small pieces of sliced french bread. The bread to toppings ratio was not quite aligned right forcing us to ask for more french bread which never came. In fact, nothing did….no napkins, no silverware, no water. And we never saw our waitress in the remainder of our seating. I finally had to ask for the bill which she delivered without even as much as a thankyou. We know that many restaurants are understaffed, but the management of the hotel’s bar/restaurant is in dire need of an overhaul. The one good thing it has going for it are the views. Sorry….just had to vent.
We didn’t get back to our campsite until about 9:00, a bit late for starting Sadie’s much needed bath, since with a bath comes blow drying which requires generator use since we were dry camping. But since quiet hours are after 10:00, I went through with it, working fast. So nice to finally have one fluffy, clean smelling pup. It must feel so good for her too, as she always seems so invigorated after having one!