We spent three nights in Anchorage and finally left the city on July 18. Our time in Alaska is fast coming to an end. We have not seen even one hundredth of the attractions in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. We do not know what these cities look like in winter. Anyway it was time to leave and we left our hotel Springhill Suites after breakfast. Springhill Suites serves a good breakfast and their coffee bar is open twenty four hours.
Our next destination was Gakona which is about 385 kilometres from Anchorage. We were not going back to Fairbanks. We were taking a different route via the Glenn Highway and later via the Richardson Highway. Glenn Highway is equally scenic and provides many photo opportunities to nature lovers. On our way we stopped at a small town called Palmer and had our lunch in a small café.
The town has a small Visitor Centre. We went in there and checked the various attractions in the area.
Palmer Visitor centre
One of the main attractions on the Glenn highway is the distant view of the Wrangell Mountains. On a clear cloudless day, you can see the peak of these mountains from the Richardson Highway. These mountains claim to have the second highest peak in Alaska.
Details of Wrangell Mountains
Gakona is a very small village and we have booked the historic Gakona Lodge for two nights. The present Gakona Lodge was built on a historically important site in 1929. It has several cabins and we were given one of those cabins. Our cabin had two rooms and a kitchen. Gakona river is less than 50 metres from our cabin. Gakona River joins the world famous Copper river or Ahtna river (Native Athabascan name) less than a kilometre from the Gakona lodge. Sokeye Salmon caught in the Copper River are supposed to be the best Salmon variety in the world.
We selected Gakona Lodge for a good reason. Gakona is the ideal village from where we can do a day tour of Valdez. Port of Valdez is another important sea port that is on the Alaskan Marine highway and regularly visited by sea cruises.
The next morning (July 19), we drove to Valdez after early breakfast. We had to drive along Richardson Highway a very scenic road. While driving to Valdez, we saw the Alaskan oil pipes again. During our trip to Arctic Circle, we found the Alaskan oil pipes run from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the port of Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska. When we go to Valdez, we are covering almost the entire length of the Alaskan oil pipes from one en d to the other end.
On our way to Valdez, we saw some beautiful waterfalls, snow covered mountains and glaciers. Worthington glacier, one of the well known glaciers is on this road.
Melting snow near the road to Valdez
Snow capped mountains on our way to Valdez
One of the Waterfalls on the road to Valdez
Worthington Glacier from a distance
Mala and Malisha near the bottom of the Worthington Glacier
We arrived at Valdez in time for lunch. There are two museums in Valdez and we decided to visit one of them to find the history and learn more about Valdez. We found some amazing things about Valdez. Valdez was hit by an earthquake on March 27, 1964. It was the largest earthquake to be recorded in the history of North America. This earthquake measured an amazing 9.2 on the Richter scale that caused a landslide and tsunami and virtually destroyed Valdez. The other cities like Anchorage, Whittier and Skagway in Alaska also underwent severe damage, but Valdez was the worst hit village. The local waves and the earth slips claimed 33 lives. The old city had to be abandoned and a new city was built about four miles from the old town and the people were moved to the new town.
We had a good discussion with the person in charge of the museum. He was born and bred in Valdez and he kept us nearly for one hour telling us about the earthquake and the effect it had on the people. He told us that some of the undamaged houses in the old city were scooped up and re-installed in the new city to look the same. The old city is now a ghost city. The original mile posts shows the distance from the old city centre. They decided to keep it that way without changing them. The reason for the earthquake is that Coastal Alaska is on a fault zone where the Pacific plate meets the North American plate.
I asked the person in charge of the museum why they still want to live in Valdez knowing there can be future earthquakes even more destructive. His answer was simple and heart warming. They love their home town and there is no other place like Valdez. They do not have wildfires, floods and hurricanes. He laughed and said they only have earthquakes and tsunamis - they can live with it.
Before leaving the museum, Mala asked him where we can buy raw Alaskan crabs. He gave us the address of a shop, Peterpan Seafoods. We went there and found both Alaskan salmon and Alaskan king Crab Claws for sale. Mala bought them for a very reasonable price and the shop sales person packed them with ice so that we can keep them fresh for the long drive back to our cabin.
Valdez has the highest recorded snowfall in Alaska. The all time record year was in the winter of 1989/1990 when 560 inches of snow blanketed the city. That is more than 46 feet of snow.
In 2012 January, it had a snowfall of more than 20 feet. The amazing thing is that the city roads are continuously cleared and the businesses remain open in winter.
On our way back, we stopped at a grocery shop and Mala bought spices needed to cook crab and salmon. We came back to Gakona Lodge and Mala and Malisha prepared a delicious dinner using Salmon and crab. One thing we noticed is that restaurants that serve salmon overcook it so much to the point where you can’t enjoy its natural flavours. We were sure to cook it until it was perfectly cooked – the best salmon we’ve eaten!
Mala ready to cook Salmon and crab
Malisha cutting onions
Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Beaver Creek. We will be crossing the Canadian border just before reaching Beaver Creek, which means leaving Alaska and entering Canada.