“Bearfooting” is an action word in Alaska that describes having a good time! We knew we were bearfooting when back at our campsite we were discussing the next day’s adventure and had to consult our phone to know what day it was. Alaska is truly magical.
Crossing the border from Canada into East Alaska, we felt we had finally arrived when we hit Tok (rhymes with smoke), a town 92 miles from the border. It is generally the first town and the last town travelers from the Lower 48 travel through on a land tour. After a stop at the visitor center in Tok, we traveled southwest to Valdez.
Valdez is nicknamed the “Little Switzerland” of Alaska due to its average annual snowfall of 25 ft. per winter! On Thompson Pass, the route into Valdez, the average snowfall is over 50 ft. per year; which is why when you drive to Valdez in the middle of the summer you still see snowfields in the Chugach Mountains.
Valdez is not only the snowiest area of the state, but also the most glaciated area of Alaska. Heading towards the town from Thompson Pass through the Keystone Canyon, we stopped at the Worthington Glacier for a firsthand look at alpine Alaska as well as the two most notable waterfalls, The Bride’s Veil and the Horse’s Tail. In all, the canyon is decorated with 20 waterfalls.
Each summer, Pink Salmon return to Solomon Gulch and you can see them splashing around the shoreline, especially along Allison Point, a great place to go salmon fishing. John tried his hand at fishing off of the rocky point with many local anglers and hooked one, but the salmon won that day.
At the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, thousands of spawning Pink salmon swim into the hatchery ladders to ultimately enter the pools to hatch eggs. Then, the young salmon, known as smelt, are released into the Sound to start the cycle all over again.
When the tide became too high to fish, we were treated to the sight of eagles and sea lions fishing in the Sound.
Exploring historic downtown Valdez uncovered two fascinating Natural History museums showcasing the history of the town, primarily its role during the Gold Rush, the Alaskan pipeline, the Valdez Oil Spill and the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Over 30 townspeople lost their lives on the docks of the Small Boat Harbor and the original town of Valdez was destroyed. A “new” Valdez was built 4 miles away on firmer ground.
Valdez is a friendly, relaxed fishing town with a beautiful harbor on Prince William Sound, ice blue glaciers, magnificent snow laden mountains, lush foliage and wonderful wildlife.
Leaving Valdez on the Richardson Highway enroute to the twin cities of Palmer and Wasilla, you pass through Glennallen, called “the Hub of Alaska”- where the Glenn and Richardson highways meet. Not much more than a large gas station with a country store, the bustling atmosphere is “airport like” with the constant stream of RV’ers coming and going to refuel and to replenish their stores.
As you drive the Glenn Highway, at the headwaters of the Matanuska River is the Matanuska Glacier; this glacier is prominently visible from the Glenn Highway as it is 4 miles wide at its terminus and extends for miles back into the Chugach Mountains. Following the grand views of the Matanuska River and the mountains, you come upon a narrow lake called Long Lake, just east of Palmer and another popular boating and fishing spot.
The Glenn Highway then leads through the town of Palmer, which was started in the 30’s as a farming project during the Great Depression. Agriculture is the leading influence in Palmer and many of the early pioneer families still live in the area. We were fortunate to camp right beside Finger Lake and were able to watch the sea planes land and take off in true Alaskan style.
After touring Wasilla, we visited the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wasilla; what a fascinating museum with its historical displays, videos and bronze tributes to the 1100 mile race. Joy even let John talk her into going for a cart ride with an Iditarod musher and dog team!