October 8, 2015

Chris and Kimmie – August 6-13th

Filed under: Calendar,Family,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 5:33 pm

In mid August, my son Chris visited, along with his fiancee Kimberley (Kimmie). Unfortunately, due to work schedules, they could only get a week away from their jobs, so with a day of travel on the front end, and another on the back end, we only had about 5 days together.

We almost always visit Valdez in August, so that Steve can fish the silver salmon there. We had no choice but to use two vehicles for the trip, rather than cut Steve’s visit to Valdez short.

Chris and Kimmie arrived late on Thursday evening, August 6th. Steve and I spent that entire day loading up the camper so he could leave early on Friday with Raven. This way, Chris and Kimmie could sleep in and get a start on battling jet lag.

Their flight got in a little earlier than expected, which was nice. We brought them home, chatted for a little while, and then we all went to bed. They had a very long day of travel and were exhausted, and after our very busy day packing the camper, we were too.

The next morning, Steve was on the road before 8am. I let Chris and Kimmie sleep in a few more hours and we followed at 10am. We had beautiful driving weather, and the temperature was just right for three people who tend to be “hot blooded”. Chris and Kimmie were quite thrilled about the idea of cooler temps, as Madison WI (where they are from) was quite warm when they left.

(c)Gary Larson - The Far SideWe made our usual stop at Sunrise Bagel for breakfast. Sunrise Bagel is a franchise here in interior AK, and I start just about all of my roadtrips with some of their breakfast fare. As we waited in line at the drive-through coffee shack, a yellow jacket flew into the car and landed on my thigh. Of course I freaked out! I was screaming at Chris to “Get it off me! Get it off me!!!” What was he going to do? Whack it with a magazine or something? That would make it sting me. He wasn’t about to swat it with his hand and risk getting stung himself. It was a comedy of errors as I screamed, he freaked, and the car veered out of line when I threw my hands up in panic. I can certainly understand how insects can cause vehicle accidents – especially stinging insects. The entire scenario reminded me of an old Gary Larson cartoon. (Remember him and “The Far Side”?)

The day was beautiful, and we made regular stops along the way to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery. This is Kimmie and Chris in front of Gulkana Glacier.

Chris and Kimmie at Gulkana Glacier

We stopped at the salmon viewing wayside alongside the Gulkana River at about mp 185 on the Richardson Hwy. There were a few salmon visible in the shallow water, and they were already red in color (this happens when a salmon leaves salt water and swims to its spawning grounds in fresh water).

We also stopped at the overlook above the Copper River. While there’s a formal overlook with informational signs, there’s also a path accessible from the parking area, to an overlook with a more expansive view of the river. Be careful though as there are steep drop offs and no railings. Way off in the distance, we could see fish wheels spinning in the current. A fish wheel spins in the current, and catches the fish in baskets as they swim by. The fish are then sent down a chute to a holding box. It’s a really neat thing to see in action.

We made the usual stops at Worthington Glacier and again at Thompson Pass. I love that part of the state and enjoyed showing it to Kimmie. (Chris visited Valdez with me back in 2008, when I had both boys and Becky up for a visit)

Gulkana Glacier Gulkana River Salmon Fish Wheel on the Copper River
Worthington Glacier Pano Magpie Thompson Pass

Chris took these panos with his cellphone along the way. The quality is really good, and he’s had some of his images printed – particularly his panos – with good results. I’m happy he enjoys photography too.

Copper River (where I took the photo of the fish wheels in the distance) from the lookout near Glennallen:

Copper River Pano - Photo by Chris

This pano was taken from a lookout at Worthington Glacier (seen on left side of this image). The trail is handicap accessible so everyone can get a little closer. You can also hike out to the glacier if you’re sure of foot and don’t mind scrambling over scree and rocky terrain.

Worthington Glacier Pano. Photo by Chris

Chris took this photo while we were stretching our legs at Thompson Pass – the highest point on the Richardson Hwy. The path you see is part of the historic 1899 Trans-Alaska Military Trail and Wagon Road which goes all the way to Keystone Canyon, down in the valley.

Thompson Pass Pano. Photo by Chris

There is a really nice sign welcoming visitors to Valdez. I’ve posted photos of it in the winter, when the sign is wrapped in a beautiful cover to protect it from the elements.  But in the summer months, you get to see this beautiful carved sign in all its glory.

All of us at the Valdez Welcome Sign

The waterfalls in Keystone Canyon just outside of Valdez are a must-stop, even if you’ve seen them a million times. Especially on a day with such beautiful sunshine! The first falls you come to is Bridal Veil Falls, and it is 400′ tall. The second major falls – just a couple hundred yards further down the road – is Horsetail Falls, at 330′. It’s broader than Bridal Veil and more accessible if you want to do a little climbing.

Bridal Veil Falls Rainbow in Bridal Veil Falls Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls Chris and Kimmie at Horsetail Falls Chris and Kimmie at Horsetail Falls

As always, we camped at Bayside RV Park. The campground has changed hands, and the new owners are still getting into the groove of running a very busy RV park.  We miss the personal relationship we had with the previous owners over the last 10 years, but we’re hopeful that in time, we’ll have the same with the new owners. This is the view from the campground where we stayed. We always book a spot overlooking the duck flats.

Duck Flats Pano


Steve had dinner ready for us when we arrived late that afternoon. After eating, we drove over to Allison Point to look for the bears that are known to hang out over there when the salmon are running. The salmon were thick at the hatchery, where they were returning to their spawning grounds. (You are not allowed to fish near the hatchery, but you can fish down the shore a bit). The gulls were enjoying the dead and dying fish, where some beached themselves trying to jump the adjacent man-made falls.

The sea lions were also enjoying the bounty, and we watched several of them catching fish and seeming to play with them – tossing them in the air at times, but mostly shaking their heads back and forth violently as they chomped down on the flesh. The gulls hung close to the sea lions waiting for the scraps.

We hung out at Allison Point until the sky turned orange and the light dropped off considerably. Unfortunately, the bears didn’t show themselves that evening. But we did see a beautiful sunset!

Sea Lion and Gulls Sea Lion and Gulls Salmon

Fisherman at Sunset:
Sunset and Fisherman

Chris took this pano at the salmon hatchery near Allison Point just before sunset. Steve and I were talking to another retired military couple we met.

Sunset Allison Point Hatchery. Photo by Chris


Stan Stephens Map Route - Columbia Glacier CruiseOn Saturday morning, the weather was just about perfect for a Glacier Cruise. Steve decided to fish instead of cruising, so I booked a Columbia Glacier cruise with Stan Stephens for the three of us. As soon as we pulled out of the harbor, we saw Sea Otters floating in the water.  A little later, we passed a large buoy marking the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal waters (no trespassing) with a large sea lion lounging on it. The captain got as close as he could without disturbing her/him so we could all get photos.

The landscape along the route was beautiful, with tall mountains and waterfalls, and spruce trees dotted with bald eagles (easily picked out by the white dots of their heads). The captain throttled up once we hit open water. We all took our seats inside the cabin and the crew served a light lunch (vegetarian options available, but let them know ahead of time).

Once we hit open water, the focus was on finding whales. Everyone wants to see whales! While we didn’t see any humpback whales, we did see a fin whale – which isn’t seen as often as humpbacks are. Fin whales are the second largest whale after the blue whale. Fin whales in the North Atlantic are listed as endangered, and some populations are faring better as a result. Like other large whales, fin whales are threatened by environmental change including habitat loss, toxics and climate change. What an amazing experience to see one in the wild!

After entering Columbia Bay en route to Columbia Glacier, we began seeing pieces of ice floating in the water. The ice pieces became larger and larger as we neared the glacier face. These huge icebergs glowed turquoise in the overcast light. (Why the blue color? Icebergs from older glaciers have little internal air or reflective surfaces. So when light hits the iceberg, it no longer bounces off. Instead, the light is absorbed. As in water, the longer – red or green – visible wavelengths of light are absorbed, so the light leaving the ice will be blue or blue-green.)

Some of the smaller ice floes had Harbor Seals pulled out on them. Unfortunately, as we approached, they all jumped off and disappeared below the water.

Columbia Glacier has retreated quite some distance. In fact, in 1986, the glacier extended all the way into the bay, as one large glacier. Now it has retreated so much, that it appears as two separate glaciers. If you look at the link, you can see by clicking under the photo, how it has retreated over the years. It’s rather sad. The photo I took of the glacier is actually of the “West Branch”, and not the main branch. I photographed that portion of the glacier because it was the most visible from the boat, and because of the other boat floating near the face. (Crazy!)

All in all, it was a wonderful cruise, and Chris and Kimmie both enjoyed themselves and the wildlife we saw along the way. After the cruise, we met up with Steve and had dinner at Mike’s Palace. The food was delicious, and it was the perfect way to end our day on the water.

Sea Otters Sea Lion on Buoy with Oil Tanker in distance Sea Lion resting on buoy
Scenery on Glacier Cruise Bald Eagle Fin Whale
Floating Ice Berg Sea Otters floating on ice Sea Otters on Ice
Columbia Glacier Fishing Boat and Glacier Gulls on big Iceberg
Iceberg Waterfalls in Prince William Sound


The next day, I took Chris and Kimmie around Valdez to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Visitor Center, which has a beautiful waterfall behind it. There is also a deck overlooking one of the streams that feeds into the duck marsh and bay. When the salmon are coming back to spawn, you can see them in a pond beneath. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes catch black bears fishing there. We weren’t so lucky.

Next, I took them out to Robe Lake. Robe Lake is located about 7 miles outside of Valdez. There used to be a dock and float planes parked here, and I was surprised to see that they are gone now. The reflection was beautiful as always, and we lingered for a little while, watching the salmon swimming beneath the clear water.

Our next stop was Valdez Glacier Park. This little park is pretty much a parking area, with a gravel beach adjacent to Valdez Glacier Lake. This lake sits at the terminus of the Valdez Glacier and is often home to chunks of ice that have fallen off. During the warmer months of summer, I’ve seen people kayaking on this lake – surrounded by icebergs of all sizes. The day we visited, tendrils of fog and mist hovered just above the water, and fog shrouded the glacier, mountains, and surrounding trees.

We went back to the campground to meet up with Steve and his truck so we could drive Mineral Creek Trail Rd and see some of the waterfalls. This road is a MESS. It is potholed and washboard, and even though a smaller car can certainly handle it, your fillings will be rattled loose! But to cross the stream at the base of the first huge waterfall, a truck would be best. (Steve says a smaller vehicle could make the crossing, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to do it in my little Dodge Caliber)

The first waterfall you come to is absolutely gorgeous. There used to be a wooden bridge that crossed near the base, but several years ago, someone lit it on fire. After the fire, it remained in its charred state – and you could walk across on foot, but a berm of gravel and rocks was built up to keep vehicles from trying to cross. This year, the bridge was totally gone. I don’t know if it was removed on purpose, or taken out by an avalanche, but you can still get across the stream where the bridge used to be, if you rock hop or can jump a good distance. Or wear rain boots and just wade through the water.

Steve drove the truck across, and we continued on the narrow dirt and gravel road to the next waterfall. There, we pulled off the road and walked to a small overlook about a quarter of the way up the mountain. It was raining by then, and the trail passed through tall alders and willow bushes. We made a lot of noise so bears could hear us (Steve and I have seen black bears on this road).

We turned around then, and headed back into town, making a stop at the City Dock to see how the fishing was. Despite the rain, there were die hard fishers with their lines extended a good 40′ to the water below. (You need a pier net, to bring up fish at that distance)

We were surprised to see the Cornelia Marie (of Deadliest Catch fame) docked nearby. While I was taking photos, Josh (owner of the boat) pulled up in his truck. He never got out of his vehicle, but watched the deck hands working hard below. I didn’t take his photo because I felt it was too much of an intrusion.

Next, we drove over to Allison Point again – to look for bears. We stopped to watch the salmon at the hatchery for a few minutes before heading back to the dry, warm camper to grab a bite to eat. After a late lunch, I went back out with Chris and Kimmie. This time we visited the historic Valdez Pioneer Cemetery. This cemetery dates back to the early 1800s. This cemetery is no longer actively accepting burials, but rather is a historic site that was affected greatly by the earthquake of 1964. I love this cemetery because the eagles like to hang out here. We saw several perched above. Our last stop before driving back over to Allison Point to look for the bears, was the Old Valdez Town Site. This was the original port and city of Valdez. The city was moved to its current location 4 miles down the road after it was devastated by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

Waterfall Behind Visitor Center Chris and Kimmie at the Waterfall Behind Visitor Center Robe Lake
Robe Lake Pano Valdez Glacier Pano Valdez Glacier Park
Chris and Kimmie at Valdez Glacier Park Steve and Me at Waterfall Mineral Creek Trail Mineral Creek Trail Waterfall
Mineral Creek Trail Waterfall Mineral Creek Trail Waterfall Valdez City Dock in Fog
Cornelia Marie at City Dock Valdez Salmon at Allison Point Salmon at Allison Point
Eagles at the Cemetery Juvenile Bald Eagle Raindrops on Grass
Chris walking in the rain Fireweed in the Rain Cold Chris at Old Valdez


Later that evening we drove back over to Allison Point to look for bears. We were lucky this time, despite the quickly waning light, as a sow and her triplets soon came down out of the woods near one of the overflow ponds. These ponds fill and empty with the tide, as the water flows under the road via drainage pipes. With the water, comes the salmon. This makes fishing in the ponds a safer option for mama and her cubs, as she can avoid crossing the road and the large crowds of onlookers that always gather.

The black bear sow was only there for about 30 minutes – just enough time to catch a couple of fish and drop them in front of her cubs, where they chewed and licked a little before becoming more interested in the fish flapping around in the shallow water. Finally, mama grabbed a large salmon, and headed up the hill with her cubs following. Soon they disappeared from view. I was happy to have seen and photographed them – even if for only a short time.

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

BACK IN FAIRBANKS – Gold Dredge #8 & Riverboat Discovery

On Monday morning, the kids and I drove back to Fairbanks. Our time in Valdez went by so quickly, and I hated to leave, but they were flying out of Fairbanks on Tuesday night, and we had reservations on the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Dredge #8 for Tuesday.

We had our customary farewell breakfast at the Totem Inn. Their breakfasts are reasonable and plentiful, and we always spend our last morning in Valdez dining there.

The drive back to Fairbanks was non-eventful. Since we did a lot of stopping on the way down to Valdez, we only stopped to stretch our legs on the way back.

On Tuesday morning, we had enough time to stop for a breakfast sandwich at Sunrise Bagel, before heading over for our 10:30am tour at Gold Dredge #8. I’ve done this tour several times, and although I prefer the Riverboat Discovery (they are both owned by the same people), the Gold Dredge is a fun excursion for those who want to pan for gold. TIPS: If you book the Gold Dredge, and want to check out the dredge itself, avoid the gift shop – which is where they hope you’ll spend all of your time (and money). If you’re having a hard time panning, the staff will help – but I suspect that’s to also get you into the gift shop faster. During our visit, we all felt very rushed, and Yukon Wanda even stepped in and grabbed Kimmie’s pan and finished panning for her. Kimmie wasn’t happy about this, as she wanted to do it herself. I don’t think I’ll do this tour again.

The Riverboat Discovery, on the other hand, is a wonderful excursion and gives a great overview of life in interior Alaska. I highly recommend it, although I do feel the regular cost is rather steep. If you’ll be traveling throughout AK, pick up an Alaska Toursaver book which offers discount tickets and “buy one/get one” deals. If you’re an AK resident, take advantage of the early-bird special with Riverboat Discovery (usually in March or April), when you can purchase tickets for 40% off the full price. You’ll need to give them a date for your reservation, but there is no fee to change the date, and the tickets are good for the entire season. While at the Riverboat Discovery, check out the 40-Below room too.

Pipeline at Gold Dredge #8 Earl Hughes entertain the train passengers at Gold Dredge #8 Gold Dredge #8
Panning for Gold Chris and his gold! Gold Camp - Gold Dredge #8
Kimmie and a Gold Nugget Small scale train that takes you to the camp Chris and Me at Gold Dredge #8
Chris and Kimmie in the 40 Below Room at Riverboat Discovery Chris and Kimmie at Riverboat Discovery Learning about Hunting
Log Cabin at Chena Native Village Smoke Shack at Chena Native Village Beautiful Athabascan Parka

Steve stayed in Valdez an extra day, and drove back to Fairbanks while we were enjoying the local activities. He made it home in time to have dinner with us, before it was time to take Chris and Kimmie to the airport for their flight back to Madison. Their visit just flew by!

I am really glad they were both able to visit this summer. Especially Kimmie, who had the opportunity to see Alaska during the summer months. Because we had both boys and their gals up this summer, I won’t be going to visit them at Christmas this year. I’ll miss them, but I’m looking forward to a laid back, non-travel, holiday season.



Just a reminder that I’m currently taking pre-orders for my 2016 Alaska Calendar. If you haven’t already added your name to the list, please email me at susan@susanstevenson.com. I only place one bulk order and once the calendars are gone, they are gone.

Many thanks to those of you who have already placed your order!

Until next time…

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