Sunday, August 5, 2012

Next up - Whittier

After arriving in Anchorage that Sunday night in June, we spent 2 nights at the Anchorage Grand.  I'm pretty sure I told you about that hotel in my last entry about our honeymoon, so I won't bore you again.

However, I'm not sure what we did for the full day there in town.  I know we went to the Ulu Factory, saw all the gray hairs, and didn't stay long.  I know that at one point we mailed a package back home from the post office that was a couple blocks away.  Oh, and we went to the not-even-worth-it Alaska Earthquake Experience movie.  I had read some reviews online that said that wasn't worth it, but Jeff wanted to and it didn't cost much because we had a 2-for-1 coupon.  There's a lot of great photos and historical information in the hallway and entrance to the theatre which I would recommend over paying for the video.  Wanna know why?  The host of the video has a thick accent.  The seats that move to give you the "experience" of the earthquake are just ridiculous.  But, hey, it cost us less than $6.

On Tuesday morning, June 26, we hopped back on the train to go to Whittier to catch the ferry over to Valdez.  We were so excited.  You see there is this cruise tour in Valdez on the LuLu Bell that Capt. Fred Rudolf has captained every one since he started back in 1979.  Cruises can last 5.5-7 hours because if Capt. Fred thinks there's something to see, he'll take you to it!

On the train ride to Whittier we had some crappy weather, but still got some nice pictures...

The train tracks and the highway, follow along the Turnagain Arm - the body of water that Capt. Cook explored, and kept getting stuck!  The water is very shallow because of all the glacier silt that has washed into it.  Apparently when his ship would get stuck, Capt. Cook would yell, "Go back and turn again!"  Hence the name.

A lot of the way had steep mountains on one side and then the water on the other.

In 1964 there was a huge earthquake on Good Friday.  9.something.  Huge.  Parts of the earth were swallowed up.  There were multiple tsunamis.  Massive destruction.  The trees above were killed by the earthquake because the tsunami brought in a bunch of salt water.  Not only did the salt water kill the trees, it also preserved them, which is why they haven't decomposed.  They're called Silent Dogwoods, because they've lost their bark...

Not only did the water kill the trees, but it also changed the land.  Much of the area became bogs, or marshy, or just plain under water.

Before going through the longest tunnel in North America that is used by both trains and cars, we saw this glacier.  See it?  Where all the snow is - kind blue?  The tunnel takes 25 minutes to get through, and it was the darkest we ever saw in Alaska.

Once we got to Whittier, we hoofed it across town to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry station.  The plan was to catch the ferry to Valdez.  We had tickets but were considered walk-ons because we didn't have a car.  When the ferry was a half hour late getting in to port, Jeff knew something was up.  When they unloaded and didn't have us embark, he knew something was wrong.  Then, the announcement.

Something was definitely wrong with the ferry.  Broken.  To the point where they weren't allowed to run.  There wouldn't be an outgoing ferry that day.  Try again tomorrow.  We were stuck in Whittier.

Jeff had used a service out of Homer called Alaska Ferry Adventures to plan this little 3-day trip.  They used to handle all the ferry scheduling and they know how the train and ferry schedules work together.  He worked with a woman named Pia who was very helpful.  He said that he would definitely go back and use their services again.

So, since the trip was getting screwed up and we didn't have anywhere to go (we were getting kicked out of the station) or anywhere to sleep, he called Pia.  She was able to get us the last room at the Inn at Whittier.  The new plan was to wait until the following day to see if the ferry was fixed.  She changed hotel reservations and changed the date for our cruise with Capt. Fred.

Since we were stuck in this itty bitty small town where most residents live in one building...
this is where the Whittier-ites live
...we found a great pizza parlor ice cream shop called Varleys and had the best kraut pizza ever!  Checked in to the hotel and took a few pictures...

the (zoomed in) view from our hotel room
Do you remember the stories from last winter where so much snow fell in Alaska that they had a snow-shovel shortage?  Whittier really got slammed with snow.  Above you see the melting snow rushing down the mountain.  And, it may look like sky above the highest rocks, but that's just more snow...

Whittier is an open water winter port, so it's very busy with boats year round.  Here a fisherman is headed out to work...

Whittier is also a port of call for a lot of cruise ships.  This one dwarfs our hotel (to the very left) and the marina.  We counted at least 13 floors* on this behemoth.  And you know what happens when a cruise ship comes in to town?  People.  Lots of 'em.  Shuttled off to various places.  Using special trains that cause traffic jams - traffic jams in towns that only have one road in or out.  That's what happens.

Next up, the conclusion to the drama surrounding our trip to Whittier....

*Editted to add...
Dad e-mailed me to let me know that it's decks, not floors.  Oops, my bad.  Thanks Dad!

See the full itinerary here...

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