We left Seward yesterday morning in bright sunshine (warm enough for just a short sleeved shirt) and retraced our way back along the Seward Highway to Anchorage and then on to Palmer. The area around Palmer is the food bowl of Alaska, where the long hours of summer sunshine encourage the the fast growing of vegetables. I don’t yet know where they are as we really haven’t yet seen any signs of agriculture from the road – just lots of churches. This area of the world is very conservative and religious. There are more brands of religion here than there are cars on the road.
We passed some beautiful scenery long the way. We hd seen it before on our trip down the Kenai Peninsular but it always looks different going the other way. We are actually getting a little blasé about it. Every time that I stop to photograph something, Jill says “It’s just another snow covered mountain”. At this point by a lake, I watched a professional photographic team fly a drone to do some videography. They said it could fly for 20 minutes at a time, fly up to 3 kilometres from their location. At one point, it was at 300 metres recording a panorama of the area. The only way that they could have done this type of photography a few years ago was to charter a helicopter. The quality is just as good!
The highway is a very good road. It is Alaska’s busiest. From now on, we are looking forward to getting on some of the other highways that are less busy so we can have a chance to potter along more comfortably.
We saw a turn off to the Portage Glacier along the way. You used to be able to see this from the road but it has retreated so much that you need to take a boat on the lake left by the terminal moraine to get up close to it. The view across the lake is quite stunning. Several other glaciers are visible, but the Portage Glacier (once one of the most accessible in Alaska) can just be seen as a tiny patch of blue ice behind the spur to the right and under the centre peak in my photo.
I was talking to the members of a road construction gang, having noticed that to get to the port town of Whittier, you had to pay a $13 toll. They said it would be worth it as Whittier was unique and we would at least find somewhere there for lunch. The toll was actually to pay for travel through a 2.5 mile long road-rail tunnel.This one-lane tunnel is just wide enough and high enough for a train and along its distance, you drive along, occasionally slipping a little to each side of the railway tracks which have been set into the floor of the tunnel (just like tram tracks). The design of this tunnel, which seems unique in America, saved tens of millions of dollars over the cost of constructing a second tunnel for road traffic. Cars travel into Whittier on the hour and back again on the half hour. Trains seem to be big enough to create their own timing.
Whittier is unique in a number of ways. It was originally a part of the portage route of the Chugach people who were native to Prince William Sound and now have a very extensive area of forest named after them. During World War II, the United States Army constructed a secret military facility, complete with port and railroad here and named the facility Camp Sullivan. This was built as a response to the Japanese launching attacks on the Aleutian Islands. The spur of the Alaska Railroad to Camp Sullivan was completed in 1943 and the port became the entrance for United States soldiers into Alaska. Now it is used extensively by cruise ships.
Secondly, it is dominated by a huge 14 storey building in which virtually all of its 2000 inhabitants live. It was built in 1957 and contains 150 two and three bedroom apartments plus some single room accommodation. It can be se from all over town and hasn’t been updated for years as it contains a lot of asbestos. It reminded me of a block of housing commission flats.
The third thing about Whittier that struck me, is that it is basically a huge parking lot. Every bit of flat ground has something parked on it – trains, hundreds of boats, trucks, cars, trailers and RVs. Most of the parking along the shore is controlled by permits and we could find just a few 2-hour places to leave our car while we had lunch in a little backwater cafe in which most of the employees were Chinese.
By the time we left Whittier back through the tunnel, it was well time to make a beeline for Palmer. The traffic increased as we got closer to Anchorage where the main highway took us just around the edge of the town.Leaving Anchorage to the north, the road has three lanes each way.
We arrived in Palmer by about 5.30 to find our B&B in a very nice garden setting. We have a big room under the main house with wildflowers growing in the garden outside our door. They will be very pretty in a few more weeks when they are fully out. ,Jill is complaining vociferously and continuously about some sort of odour in our room. I can’t smell it, or else it s not bothering me at all. We had some packaged food left over from our trip up the haul road, so we cooked it in the kitchen area of our room for dinner rather than drive another 25 minutes to a local restaurant.