Alaska Marine Highway

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Alaska has a well-developed ferry system, which the Alaskan proudly call the marine highway, because many of the Alaskan towns, such as Cordova, are accessible only by boat or flight. Some time even two towns are connected by highway, it's more convenient to ride a ferry boat than driving. In this trip we only covered a few towns near Prince William Sound: Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova.

Whittier, AK. Whittier used to be a military establishment in World War II. It was chosen because it's well-concealed among the snowy mountain ranges and often cloudy. it's connected to the outside world only by a 2.5-mile one-way tunnel drilled inside a snow mountain. So we drove from Hope, AK in the morning, enjoying the great view of snow, glacier along the way, until we stop in front of the tunnel (3rd pic). It's a one-way tunnel, we had to wait for the opposite direction to pass. It took us about 10 minutes to pass through the dark, narrow, and humid tunnel. There it is, the cloudy grayish town of Whittier. See that huge gray building? That's a military bunker (kinda remind me of the ugly Evans Hall on the Berkeley campus : ). That's where the whole town, some 200 people, used to live (Gosh...), until recent years.

So this is the office of the Alaskan Marine Highway (practically in a trailer). And our ferry boat that holds about 20 cars and trucks. It took two big trucks to fuel it up. So we finally got to leave the dull little town behind and head toward Valdez.

Along the marine highway Whittier to Valdez, the view is really not bad. Quite a few glaciers and icebergs along the way.

 

Valdez, AK. Beautiful tourist town. The northmost ice-free port in North America. It's also the southern end of the Alaskan pipeline, so there's a large refinery plant across Port Valdez. The town was rebuilt on the current site after the old town was completely destroyed in a 1964 earthquake.

Abundance of wildlife, even within the town. A pair of Ducks swimming in the wetland. This Golden Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla, 1 pic), is the potential prey of the Hawk (3 pix).

More wildlife. A Coyote (Canis latrans) looked at us from a distance in a camp ground (1 pic). American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus, 2 pix) gliding. A Bug resting on Fiddelneck Fern. Someone at the Valdez harbor showing off a weeks-old Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis, 2 pix), which costs $1,200. It will be trained for bird hunting.

Sea mammals in Valdez Port. This buoy is the favorite rest stop for sea lions (Zalophus californianus). This sea otter (Enhydra lutris) lives in the Valdez harbor -- he knows which fishing boat has left over seafood for him.

 

Kayaking to the Columbia Glacier was an adventure. When you are this close to the water, you are able to see many things -- small fish, seaweeds, sea jelly... Near the glacier the water becomes rough, we had to fight with tides and at the same time dodge icebergs drifting from all directions -- I'm sure it's not fun to be knocked into the icy water.

Our tour guide was quite experienced. He found a way through the icebergs and led us to a small island, where we stopped for lunch. Great view of the giant Columbia Glacier. Walking around the island, found the skeleton of a young harbor seal, and the nest of these Sea Gulls -- they yell angrily at me when I got near their eggs, sorry!

 

Cordova, AK. This small town is accessible only through the marine highway or by flight. The isolation make this town extra quiet and nice to stay. The fish taco in that Baja Taco truck is rated the best north of San Diego. Never tried it in San Diego, but that one was good. There's wireless internet access too -- that was really a pleasant surprise.

Cordova is known for bird and wildlife watching. Outside of the town, there're wetland and forests everywhere. Can you see a Bald Eagle resting on the tree (Haliaeetus leucocephalus, 2nd and 3rd pic)? More bald eagles in the next 3 pix. In the last 2 pix, a Moose (Alces alces) is hiding in the bushes.

These beautiful Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) really sound like trumpets (4 pix)! In the pic is a Beaver's Dam, built with fallen trees and mud. That's a perfectly natural way to form wetland, ponds, and even lakes. This site explains that beavers do that because they're annoyed by the sound of water flowing : ) Funny!

There's more. Rocky Mountain Cow Lilies (Nuphar variegatum) are everywhere in wetland and ponds (yellow, 2 pix). Beautiful Iris (purple, 1 pic) and Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia, pink, 1 pic). Butter cups (Ranunculus repens, yellow, 1 pic) has a glazing layer that doesn't wet by water. Spruce seed (1 pic) and Lupine leaf (1 pic).

Driving along the Copper River Highway, you'll see this Million Dollar Bridge, built in 1908 to ship out copper from Kennecott. In those days, $ 1.5 Mil was a big deal. Besides, quite a few construction workers lost their lives here.

The dirty and long glacier near the Million Dollar Bridge is called Child Glacier. There're a few other glaciers in a distance.

 

 

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