States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wrangell-St.Elias National Park, Glenn Highway, Matanuska Glacier, Explorer Glacier, Portage Lake

The joy of staying in a viewpoint without anyone else around was that we could start the generator without bothering anyone and linger a while, enjoying the solitude.  We had quite some distance to cover today, but we are always tempted to spend time at National Parks, this was no different.  Wrangell-St.Elias National Park is the largest of all the National Parks, covering an incredible 13 million acres of land and including three mountain ranges: the volcanic Wrangells, St.Elias (the tallest coastal mountains in the world), and the Chugach – together they contain nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the United States.  There are more than 150 glaciers; one, the Malaspina, is larger than Rhode Island.  Bagley Ice Field is the largest sub polar ice field in North America.  Additionally it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unbelievably is six times the size of Yellowstone National Park!

Given the dismal weather, we had to rely on the park photos and 3D maps to get an idea of its vastness and beauty.

The kids decided they wanted to complete the Junior Ranger program despite my encouragement to finish it on the road.  We watched another wonderful movie presentation, talked extensively with the Rangers, spent time looking at the exhibits, and enjoyed a short walk along the overlook.  Much of this park is inaccessible wilderness which means its beauty remains supreme.  The Park receives an incredible 60 feet of snow each year, compacting down to add to the glaciers throughout the National Park.

Leaving the Park, we stopped for gas in Glennallen, and I bought fruit from a massive refrigerated truck.  Apparently he travels from small town to town all the way down the coast.  In the next three days, he’d be heading to Valdez to sell his wares.  Given the amount of fruit and veggies we consume, I’m not sure how we’d manage with limited resources – a lot of freezing and storing!

Along Glenn Highway, a plane took off, speeding parallel to our RV; the runway was right next to us on the road - rather bizarre!

We stopped at many overlooks particularly at Glenn Highway’s highest point, the Eureka Summit.  Unfortunately by this time, rain had been our constant companion, so the views were less than stellar.  We gradually dropped down into the Copper River Valley. The AAG had mentioned the incredible Matanuska Glacier, so we followed a steep gravel path down to the river, crossed a rather scary, rickety bridge (eyes partially closed in prayer!), only to discover that the cost to hike the two miles – in the rain – would be $60 for our family.  As the glacier was accessible only by crossing private land, the owners were able to charge a fee BUT were obviously then responsible for ensuring the bridge and roads were passable, as such, they were prepping the road and had to move the equipment as we passed.  Knowing that we’d be hiking to glaciers later in the trip, we decided to forgo this one.  The return trip back to the Highway was no less exciting - the river was raging!  We were able to see the glacier from a further vantage point though.

All the way along this Highway, at various points, stones spelled out words and messages on the soil verges.  Some pictures were quite elaborate.

Just a little further along, we pulled into Matanuska Glacier State Park which afforded us better, wonderful views and fabulous scenery.  One of the information boards told us about ice worms, the only worms known to inhabit snow and ice, they are brown-black and only about 3mm long. Feeding off red algae, which grows on glaciers, the ice worms burrow into the ice to hibernate.

The mountains and random unique homes continued to wow us despite the rain.

By this point, the kids were feeling a tad weary and in need of rest...
...Jake on the bed above the driver - glad he didn't fall off!
 ...Caitlin on the sofa.
 ...Nate on the dinette.
 ...Becca, well, she rarely needs sleep, so played DS behind the passenger seat.  We made good use of all the space!

South of Anchorage, we joined the Seward Highway, with a helicopter overhead, and slowly made our way toward Portage.  We snapped pictures of Potter Marsh as we passed checking out the great number of migrating birds, fearing a mosquito invasion (the words marsh and swamp tend not to encourage me to exit the safety of a vehicle), we chose not to stop!

A few miles further on, we walked to the top of the waterfall at McHugh Picnic Area in Chugach State Park. 

At Beluga Point, we climbed down in the rain, crossed the train tracks, and spent a while on the rocky beach overlooking the Cook Inlet, searching for signs of marine life and watching the interesting bore tide which we just happened to have timed our arrival perfectly for.

We passed Bird Point, another great spot for viewing the bore tide, and drove on to Girdwood.  The ghost forest here is a result of the earthquake which brought salt water to the soil - eerily pretty with the mountains in the background. We met up with the Scarani’s for dinner at Chair 5 Restaurant, following their RV through the mountainous scenery.

Leaving Girdwood, en route to the campground, I noticed a small, seemingly insignificant turnoff to an unmarked glacier.  AAG had mentioned the spectacular hanging Explorer Glacier at mile marker 2 – we were so glad to have this information.  The light meant conditions were perfect.  The small lake below the glacier was incredibly still – Dave immediately went into full ‘mirror’ mode!  He took fabulous pictures.

Stopping again before making it into the campground, we pulled into Portage Glacier overlooking Portage Lake, deep enough to submerge an 80 story building, it was carved out over thousands of years of glacial advances.  No fish survive here due to the immense deposits of silt.  The Scaranis, who’d spent the previous night in the area, had taken a boat ride out on the Lake earlier in the day, but the conditions were much improved now that the rain had subsided – we were loving the extended days but sleep was lacking!  Machinery prevented us from driving further along the road but provided an elevated viewing platform!

We did eventually make it to gorgeous Williwaw Campground – part of Chugach State Park.  Apparently the campground is named for the 130 mph winds that gust through the valley, strong enough to peel asphalt from the parking lot and lift boxcars off their tracks.  The trees and shrubs are bare of branches on the side facing the winds.  Thankfully we did not experience anything like this force of wind during our brief stay!  

As we were heading back the way we'd come the next day, we were relieved not to have to deal with the ONE WAY tunnel for which there can be a two hour wait if you inadvertently time your arrival as the light turns red!

There’s a big back story to the fox hat, a US beer commercial from years ago; Dylan’s such a cutie and wears it well!

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