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Day 14: Wednesday, July 16, 2008
  • Day 14: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    Williwaw Campground

    We stopped for the night at Williwaw campground, near Portage Glacier. We had now driven over 3,200 miles.

    Williwaw is a beautiful campground which envelopes visitors in lush green vegetation. A glacier sits on the mountainside above the campground and a large stream runs along its edge. During certain times of the year the stream fills with salmon – but not at this time of year. We were in between runs.

    If Williwaw has a downside it would be that it sits in the rain vortex from hell. Apparently moisture is pushed up over Portage Pass from Prince William Sound and funneled through this valley. This would be why our time at this campground is documented with only this single photograph taken by my mom. Actually, it would be the rain and the repeated sightings of a (and I quote from a note left on the bulletin board at the self-service kiosk) GIANT GRIZZLY that repeatedly wandered through the campground.


  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Whittier Tunnel

    Occassionally one hears it said that Alaskans try to make their living working three months a year and taking the other nine months off. This sounds about right. Getting to Alaska is cheap compared to the cost of actually doing something once you get here.

    Today we would be taking a five and a half hour cruise across Prince William Sound to see Surprise Glacier. But first we had to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, AKA the Whittier Tunnel, a 2.5 mile one lane tunnel that is the only land route to the port of Whittier.

    The tunnel started out as (and remains) a railroad tunnel. In the 60’s, the Alaska Railroad started ferrying vehicles through it on rail cars. The year 2000 marked the completion of its conversion to a one-lane combination highway-railroad tunnel. Most of the day it alternates between car traffic headed in and out of Whittier with occasional breaks for train traffic.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Prince William Sound Glacier Cruise

    The Nunatak would be our vessel for the next five and a half hours. The Boy was ready to get going.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    There are at least three companies that offer cruises out of Whittier. I had chosen Prince William Sound Glacier Cruises, an award winning Alaska Native owned company. They turned out to be a good choice. The crew was very friendly; they served a great meal; and they included a coupon in the Alaska Tour Saver book that saved us $200 off our bill.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Dad decided to sit in a seat behind Lewis and me. Both he and I wanted to be facing forward while underway. The last time I was out on the ocean was over a decade earlier when my father-in-law took my brothers-in-law and me deep sea fishing. I was hurling over the side of the boat before we even got out into choppy water. Although our tour operator guaranteed that no one would get sick in the protected waters of Prince Williams Sound, I wasn’t taking any chances. They were right though. We would enjoy a nice smooth ride.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    We were not yet underway when I realized that we had a potential problem. The Boy had somehow managed to convince The Mom to let him bring a water balloon onboard the ship. This struck me as a prima facie bad idea. I figured it would be wet enough outside that we probably didn’t need it to be wet inside too. And I didn’t want some unsuspecting retiree to become collateral damage in the process. I brought Lewis back out onto the dock to ask one of the crew members if he could pop it there. The crew tried their best to convince him to fling it at one of their counterparts working on the other docked vessel; he ignored their pleas, instead tossing it straight up into the air and watching it return to the dock with a harmless splat. Disaster averted.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Our first stop was supposed to be the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery. We arrived to find a bunch of commercial fishing boats anchored in front of it.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    The fishing this year had not been good; salmon runs in particular had been dismal. Our captain never explained why he turned our ship around and left without stopping at the hatchery but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that the fishermen were actually catching fish today. This fishing boat was pulling in a nice haul of salmon.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Our meal consisted of crab cakes and some other stuff. The other stuff was good but the crab cakes were great. This was one time I wasn’t sorry a certain Boy was not interested in expanding his food horizons. Dad and I divided up his crab cakes between us.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    After leaving the hatchery, we wound our way through Esther Passage. Darla and I thought it would be fun to go outside for a better view of the scenery. The Boy was not entirely on board with our plan.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    With a little effort, The Mom was able to tickle a smile out of The Boy while Mimi took our picture.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Eventually, Esther Passage opened up into a broader part of Prince William Sound where we were able to pick up a little speed on our way to Surprise Glacier.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    As we got closer to the glacier, sea otters began to appear out on the water. These guys lived up to their reputation for being both playful and curious.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Visibility improved as we entered Harriman Fiord. We could now see enormous glaciers draped across the mountains. It was a majestic sight, enhanced by the swirling clouds that enveloped the mountain tops.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Surprise Glacier was awesome. The captain powered down the engines to let his passengers appreciate all the creaking and groaning coming from the glacier. Even parked in front of it, there was no good way to get a sense of its massive scale.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Surprise is a tidewater glacier, meaning that it terminates in the water. Each time it calves it creates more napping spots for the local marine life.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    I was pleased to see The Boy interested enough to brave the rain. Although it let up from time to time, the rain proved to be a constant on our cruise. The weather seemed appropriate to the scenery though and it is said that one gets a better view of the glacier’s color on a day like today verses the rare sunny day.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    The Boy eventually had enough of the rain and returned to the cabin to join Papa T. I was shuttling back and forth to towel off my camera, which was getting soaked, and to change lenses.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Darla and Mimi remained out on deck talking to one of the ship’s crew. I caught their reaction as the glacier calved, crashing down into the water. The crewman, who was standing out in the cold rain with nothing but a short sleeved cotton shirt, told us about a time when the entire face of the glacier calved at once, sending a twelve foot wave toward the vessel. The captain steered into the wave and everything was fine. That would have been quite a sight.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008
  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    We were able to remain at the glacier much longer than usual because we hadn’t stopped at the fish hatchery. It was a good tradeoff as far as I was concerned. By the time we left, visibility was decreasing and I was ready to dry off.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    If The Boy had to pick his favorite part of the glacier cruise it might be the point at which we started heading back to Whittier. That was when the kitchen crew began pulling fresh chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. The timing was perfect – although I suspect The Boy would argue that there is no bad time for fresh chocolate chip cookies. He’ll get no argument from me.

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

  • Day 15: Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Whittier, Alaska

    I grabbed this shot of Whittier as we disembarked from our ship. That now-deserted Soviet-style concrete building in the distance attests to Whittier’s origin as a WWII military base. Too expensive to tear down, the asbestos-lined building serves as a hang out for local kids and place for tourists with questionable judgment to explore. If its tentative structural integrity were not enough to dissuade visitors from wandering in, the fact that bears are often found inside during the spring strikes me as a good enough reason to just say no.

    The residents of Whittier spend their lives in another large structure built to house soldiers during WWII. Not only do they all live in the large tower, it also houses the school and provides space for other community needs. The whole idea leaves me feeling a little claustrophobic.

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Day 14: Wednesday, July 16, 2008