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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Day 14 Talkeetna, Wasilla, Anchorage, Portage, Sterling

The next morning, we stopped at the Denali South View Point to fix my window again but there was no way you could see the mountain, it was all clouded in.  With the window fixed once more, we got back on the road heading to Anchorage.


Just a few miles south is the turn off to the small town of Talkeetna.  Sharon wanted to go there, so we took a small side trip.  There are some interesting businesses along in here.  Denali Brewing Company and several float plane tour establishments.  And then we saw a sign for the "Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe.  We didn't even have to turn in here, the van did it all by itself.  We go in and order some muffins and a cup of coffee for me.  You can never have too much coffee.  Well, the muffins were very good as was the coffee.  If you are in the area, look for this place just south of Talkeetna on the right as side as you head north.  If you are pulling a trailer use caution as the parking lot is a bit cramped.



Talkeetna is a popular spot for tourists and is reflected in the businesses here.  They all cater to tourists and while the buildings are nice to look at, we don't find much to our liking.  Not to mention that very little is open.  We do park and go into a gift shop to check things out.  We buy nothing however.


From here we head towards Wasilla.  As we get closer, the traffic really starts to get heavy.  I always thought of Wasilla as this peaceful small town out in the middle of nowhere.  Far from it.  We do make a stop at the Walmart for something specific, but I can't remember what that was.  


After Wasilla is Anchorage.  One of largest cities in Alaska and has the traffic to boot.  You can find anything you might need here.  We are driving without GPS and relying on maps to get us where we need to be.  When I reviewed the map prior to entering Anchorage I knew we had a left turn to make, but I thought it was further down.  Needless to say, we missed our turn.  No worries, we just go down a few blocks and go around.  Two lefts and a right makes the world go round again!


Even if I didn't make that correction, we would have ended up on Hwy 1 in good time, we might have seen more of downtown Anchorage that way.  Next up is the Turnagain Arm.  This stretch of road can be quite hazardous when the weather is bad.  The weather is bad today.  The road is hazardous.  Logic is a good thing.  This is a two lane road and winds along the Turnagain Arm which is a long bay that goes back to Portage.  The locals on this road try to go as fast as they possibly can.  I guess the gorgeous scenery and the possibility of seeing a Beluga whale is boring to them.  Luckily, the state has added slow vehicle turnouts every once in awhile so you can let the go fasters by you.


It is a beautiful drive but a white knuckle one for me as the winds were really blowing on this day.  Add to that the rain and you have a recipe for disaster.  You really have to pay attention here.  We didn't fuel up in Anchorage for some reason.  Poor planning on my part.  Fortunately, there is a fuel stop in Alyeska with good prices.  It is very busy and the diesel pumps are separate from the gas pumps.  We top off the tank and get back out there.  


Our next stop is Portage where we will go through the tunnel to the small town of Whittier.  Whittier was a top secret military installation back in the day.  It is the longest tunnel of it's type in North America.  It is one lane with a train track down the middle.  They reverse traffic flow every 30 minutes.  Trains have priority over other vehicles and will interrupt this schedule.


Portage is a small place that was destroyed in the Good Friday earthquake in 1964.  There are reportedly buildings still standing but are sunk in the ground up to the rooftops.  We couldn't find where these were.  The entire area is very swampy and I'm not surprised that the town sunk.


We stop at the visitor center for lunch prior to going through the tunnel.  The wind and rain are really at their high point and we feel like we are in a hurricane.  Fortunately, with the van, we don't have to go outside to get to the kitchen.  Just stand up and take a few steps aft and you have everything you need.  


There are several glaciers in the area but due to the weather, we can't really see any of them.  As we head to the tunnel area, we see small icebergs in the water.  They are almost blue.  This is the first time we've ever seen icebergs.


We head for the tollbooth where you pay to drive through the tunnel.  For our vehicle we paid $13 round trip.  There are no other vehicles waiting.  We are about 7 minutes before the lane reversal that occurs on the half hour.  This was nice as we were able to drive though at a leisurely speed.  The tunnel is tall, but very narrow and dimly lit.  The train tracks play with the front tires making it hard to keep a straight line.


The tunnel is about 2 miles long and even with the lighting is quite dark.  It is an experience you should not miss.  If you are pulling a trailer, drop your trailer on the Portage side and take the tow vehicle through.



There is light at the end of the tunnel!  As we exit, we see that the staging area is full of vehicles waiting to go through.  I'm already thinking about our return trip and wonder how many cycles it will take to empty that area.


There really isn't too much to do here.  There is a cruise ship docked and they are taking on provisions.  The population here is about 200 full time residents.  They all live in one of the dormitories that the military built.  There are other dorms that are unused and abandoned.  Lot's of fishing boats here.  This is a deep water port and one of the reasons the military built this place.


Here we are approaching the staging area on our way out.  Besides four motorcycles, there are no other vehicles waiting.  For some reason, the motorcycles are in lane 2 which has a red light.  Lane 1 has a green light.  We approach slowly in lane 1 and then proceed through the tunnel.  As we exit the tunnel the staging area on the other side is quite full.  Both our trips through were right before the end of the cycle, say 20 minutes after the lane reversal time and we were able to go right through with no waiting.


As we continue south on Hwy 1 we realize that we are now on the Kenai peninsula.  Our general destination is Homer but that will be tomorrow.  Right now we are looking for a campground for the night.


The road is a busy one being the only way in and out of the Kenai Peninsula.  It is a two lane road with alternating passing zones.  The speeds are high, but I maintain my normal 63-65 mph.  I notice in the mirror a car passing the RV behind us on a double yellow.  He pulls in behind us and gets right on my bumper.  I guess he thought he could intimidate us to go faster.  Ha!  He finally backs off a bit when his tactics fail to have the desired affect.


Soon, a passing zone appears on our side and the go fast pulls around and passes us at a high rate of speed.  I give him the evil eye.  He speeds off into the distance and soon is a speck on the horizon.  Right after that I see blue lights start to flash and I see an Alaskan State Trooper making a U-turn.  I slow down to give him room to complete his turn.  He speeds off after the go fast.  In a few minutes we pass the trooper and the go fast who by now is getting a driver's award for his display of speed.  This road is one of the most dangerous in Alaska due to the high speed and the scenery.  You can go fast or look at the scenery.  Pick one.  Try to do both and you will find yourself in a world of hurt.


We approach the intersection of Hwy 1 and Hwy 9.  Hwy 9 will take you to Seward.  We will be going that way after we visit Homer.  Hwy 9 bears off to the left and we continue to the right on Hwy 1.  We arrive at Cooper Landing which is a huge fly fishing destination.  There are RV parks here but we don't look at those.  We're hoping to find a USFS or state park along in here.  We do checkout one campground, Cooper Creek, but it is full so we move on.  The next one up is Russian Creek, but it is full as well.  Dang!  We're going to be sleeping along the road somewhere.


There are other campgrounds found off the main road down gravel roads to the river.   These are 10 miles or so down there.  We didn't try any of these due to the rain.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have.  Those gravel roads are in good shape and would have been an easy drive.  The main road is under construction and the signs for other campgrounds have been removed so we miss those places.


We press on towards Sterling.  We see a sign for a state park and wheel on in there.  Izaack Walton State Park is a small park but we find a nice level paved spot in the back away from the river.  $15 a night.


Another day in the books.  Today was one of the best so far.  Alaska is finally showing her beauty and there is a lot to see and the best is still to come!

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