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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Valdez, Please!

~Tuesday, July 12, 2022~

Day 758

Day 22 of Alaska Trip

What better way to start off the day with a burning smell coming from the stove (while on). All the rackety, bumpety, bump roads have caused a few mishaps inside the rig as of late. It sure has been quite the test for our Lance to see just how well built she really is. So far, it’s been terrific with very few issues. We are absolutely certain that had we bought an inexpensive, poorly made travel trailer, our travels would not have gone as smoothly. We would have certainly endured more delays and more repair costs for sure! Anyway, back to my story. It appears the sheath of the wire that helps start the burner was beginning to melt. There’s one sure fire way to prevent this from happening to the other 2 burners. Cut them off. Who needs them anyway? This was the last straw for Jeff making the decision that a new stove/oven is in order. I wouldn’t be the only one to tell you……don’t ever buy a rig with a DOMETIC stove/oven. You’ll have headaches down the road. We’ll keep you posted on the installation of a new one (different manufacturer), sometime hopefully in November when we’re back in California. Evidently, the one’s Lance is currently installing on all their models, is a way better design and even comes with a standing pilot light….no more lighters! Yippee! Not sure how that works while on the move? 😝For now it looks like we’ll be doing things the old fashioned way of starting the stove with a lighter, but at least we have a working stove otherwise.

Another issue we needed to address was the small water leak we had under the kitchen sink. If it was going to leak, it was good we already had pans under there to catch it. After inspection, all it was, was a loose fitting……a much simpler fix than needing a new pipe. Finally, an easy project.

We also discovered this morning in our perfect full hookup, free wi-fi spot, that our next boondocking site, the Valdez Glacier, has shut down (not sure why), though we know it’s not from ADVANCING glaciers. We think it’s from overuse with the explosion of RV’ing. Watching a few videos of this ideal boondocking site only added salt to the wound of not being able to stay there. This would be the 2nd strike on the Valdez portion of the trip. The first one was not being able to stay at Blueberry Lake due to receiving inaccurate information. So our decision is to stay where we are for a few more days which was not quite in the budget, but it’s all good. It would be one of the few things that hasn’t gone according to plan. Unfortunately, our premium site is not available for us to extend our time there, but we can MOVE to another site, just a row back. We’ve done this a few times in the past and it really is no big deal…..just a few extra hours of taking down/setting up.

And since we’re in a spot that allows us connectivity to the outside world, we decided to take advantage of the situation by ordering a few necessary items. Amazon has definitely been our friend these last 2 years. Our future campground in Seward doesn’t accept packages. But they were so kind as to give us an alternative number for a “General Mailbox” in the same town. The post office there offers this service for free where you have up to 18 days to pick up your packages. It lines up perfectly with our timeline! Now for some Valdez touring!

Just a 2-minute drive from our campground is a salmon spawning spot called Crooked Creek. And where there’s salmon, there are bears (normally), but not today. What attracted us to the area in the first place was the thin ribbon of water coming down the mountain, visible from our campground.

Crooked Creek Falls is simply gorgeous. It is situated between the marine world of Prince William Sound and the Chugach National Forest. This 3-acre site includes a clear water area that is home to two species of Pacific salmon: chums and pinks.

These fish are a bridge between the ocean and the land, and their return each summer brings a remarkable surge of life to this tiny stream. They are even willing to spawn in intertidal areas such as lower Crooked Creek. Unlike other Pacific salmon, chums and pinks don’t spend a summer or more feeding and growing in the stream. Instead, they head for the ocean soon after emerging from the gravels, between March and May reaching anywhere from 10 to 13 pounds, then making their way out of the saltwater to freshwater either at the hatchery or upriver.

When in Valdez during the summer months, one thing you want to pay particular attention to are the tides, especially if you want optimal bear viewing. One of the best places to watch their feeding is at the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery, about 10 miles from our campsite. Along the way, there was a concentrated amount of cars off the side of the road, usually indicating wildlife action. Our first grizzly bear siting, an adolescent, in the wild!

Better here than on some trail with just the two of us. He didn’t seem at all interested in his fan club but rather focused on whatever he was digging for in the muck of low tide, until he began to look for another digging location. O.k. time for us to head back to our cars. But how cool was that?!

We accidentally passed the hatchery, driving to the end of the road which is the Valdez Marine Terminal, where the Alaska Pipeline ends its 800-mile journey from Prudhoe Bay. From Prince William Sound, the ships pick up the “raw” oil, shipping it to refineries. Fascinating and dangerous, especially when remembering the 1989 Valdez Oil Spill which took years of recovery. In fact, the town built extra hotels and housing for the many people that descended on the area to aid in the clean-up efforts.

Back to the self-guided hatchery tour. What a fascinating place. Solomon Gulch is the largest salmon fish hatchery in North America. I will never look at Salmon the same way again. They are one smart, resilient fish! And we didn’t know there were so many breeds. Of course I’d heard of Coho, Sockeye and King.

But there is also Chum, Chinook, Pink, Silver and Dolly Varden. And we didn’t know that salmon undergo a physical transformation during their transition from the saltwater environment to their freshwater home to attract a mate. At the hatchery, its mission is to ensure adequate numbers of wild salmon return each year to increase the harvests for both commercial and sport fishery. The hatchery is basically their home, knowing to cycle back to it every year to spawn. Some of the salmon go out to sea for 2 years while others stay out only a year. These fish are released into the wild, not a farm in which lies the difference. The hatchery is allowed to incubate, rear and release 270 million pink salmon and 2 million Coho salmon annually. To do this requires 400,000 salmon per year to fill its incubators. During the summer spawning season, fish weirs are installed to catch or restrict fish movement upstream. These weirs are meant to withstand the harsh Alaska marine environment. Those that don’t make their way to the hatchery will spawn naturally in the stream. Sadly, there was no action at the facility today other than a curious, swimming sea lion from our boardwalk viewpoint. We will have to come back at high tide and during business hours to see this place in full action. Sea lions, bears, sea otters, eagles and seagulls are typically found feeding at the base of the facility… easy buffet for all.

As we were leaving, we noticed two guys with their cameras pointed upwards…….perhaps viewing a bear up a tree? No, it was a stunning bald eagle and the area is full of them but it would be Jeff’s second spotting, my first. Wow!! Now would be the time for that zoom lens! Alright… we’ve seen black bear, grizzly bear, bald eagle, and sea lions on the trip. Now where are the moose?

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