Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Alaska Adventures Part Eight - Whittier Whistle Stop

After leaving Homer, the plan was to stop in the Portage area for one night, check out Whittier that afternoon, and then spend the following night at Cabela's in Anchorage again. Ahhh...plans...only to be changed at the last minute. It is making the trip more fun any way.

A quick stop at a pullover near Ninilchik gave us a grand view of the mountains/volcanos across the bay. We had to make a stop in Soldotna at yet another hardware store. I think this trip is turning into a tour of Alaska hardware stores. This one was okay, more fishing stuff than hardware it seemed. George was able to get a knife sharpener King had recommended so all was good. We also got fuel before leaving town.

Panoramic View @ Ninilchik (click to enlarge)

Bye-Bye, Kenai! (I missed it on the way in)

We were going to try to get a campsite at Williwaw Campground about four miles south on the Portage Glacier Highway. All indications led us to believe Williwaw was a popular campground so we made sure to have a backup plan in place. We kept our fingers crossed that the weekenders had left a spot available for us. Arriving at the campground, we found a nice campsite. Really nice. No hookups, but private feeling and a very large fire ring. Plus there were waterfalls from Middle Glacier cascading down the hillside behind our campsite. Woo hoo! We quickly changed our plans to stay two nights at Williwaw and skip Cabela's. We really didn't need anything at Cabela's any way. We would visit Whittier the next day and relax around the firepit at night. The flies were horrid here but nothing that a shot of DEET wouldn't handle.

Our Campsite @ Williwaw

View from our campsite

Middle Glacier

We slept in the next morning and then headed towards Whittier, about 7 miles away. But...there is a two and a half mile Anton Anderson vehicle/rail tunnel that you have to drive through! Yep, you share the tunnel with trains, luckily not at the same time. Since George and I are fans of the Railroad Alaska TV show, this tunnel has been on our bucket list for Alaska. Traffic heading from Whittier passes through on the top of the hour, and going to Whittier is on the half-hour. It does have a toll going to Whittier but not on the flip side. We easily made the 10:30 a.m. crossing. I was surprised by the number of glaciers in the area. There are several tour boat rides out of Whittier taking passengers to see up to 26 glaciers (we abstained).

Tunnel Entrance - Whittier side

Leaving the Tunnel (note the train tracks)

Possibly Seth Glacier

Learnard Glacier

The town of Whittier itself felt depressing. I am not sure if it was the gray overcast skies, the large abandoned building looming over the harbor, or what, but it just did not feel like a happy place. We needed to wash mom's Travasak (no thanks to one of our cats, Baby Girl). We were able to glean a little history of the town in the halls of the building housing the museum. Whittier was a vital port and railhead facility and need a strong defense. Several of the buildings were built during the Cold War to house military personnel. The Buckner Building was built to house over 1,000 troops under one roof. The Hodge Building could house over 700 people in its 1, 2, or 3 bedroom apartments. Both were able to withstand the 9.2 magnitude earthquake in 1964. Today the Hodge Building is the main residence for a majority of people who live in Whittier. (FYI - $1,000/month for the 3-bedroom.)

Buckner Building Then

Buckner Building Now

Hodge Building Then
Hodge Building Now (known as Begich Towers)

After our laundry was completed, we took a short ride around town. The Alaska Railroad yard takes up most of the town space followed by a couple of boatyards. There doesn't seem to be much more comprising the town other than the docks for tour boats so we didn't stick around too long. We were kind of disappointed in it all.

Multipurpose Building Today

Laundry was in the basement

Heading back to the campground, we lucked out waiting to traverse the tunnel. The train!! We saw the Glacier Express leaving Whittier and using the tunnel. The engine is at the back of the train for the return trip. No "summit shuffle" here which we found surprising. Does the engine push the train all the way back to Anchorage? After the train cleared the tunnel, it was our turn to go.

Train Engine Entering the Tunnel

On Tuesday morning we departed Williwaw and started our journey north towards Denali. George had read several reviews for a restaurant in Anchorage he wanted to visit, so we did. The food portions at Gwennie's Old Alaska Restaurant were good size leaving Mom and George with enough leftovers for the next day. The inside of the building was interesting with their rock walls and decor (no pictures though).

Breakfast Stop

Putting Anchorage in our rear view mirror, we started up the Parks Highway. Our plans were sort of loose once again on where to stop for the night. One option was a spot called Denali View South - another campground with no hookups. Reading our Alaskan campground book also gave us a place in Trapper Creek, due west of Talkeetna (tal-KEET-nuh). Prices looked decent so we made a last minute decision to stay here. We got the last pull through spot! What a difference in temperatures at Trapper Creek though. We went from using our heater last night in Williwaw to our air conditioner in the afternoon. At 82 degrees, this is the warmest day we have had so far.

Coming up the Parks Highway before arriving in Trapper Creek, we were able to see Denali for the first time. Wow! It was a fairly clear day and the views of the mountain were spectacular! It's huge! I am not sure if we will get another opportunity in the coming days to see the mountain. It all depends on the weather. 

Our First Sighting of Denali!

Getting Closer to The Mountain

My sister and brother-in-law are flying up from Western Washington and we will rendezvous with them tomorrow for several days. There will be more tales to tell for sure!


  1. It isn't surprising that we hit so many of the same places, I hope you aren't tired of me saying stuff about that. Even though you toured just about backwards from how we did it. We actually got off the ferry at Whittier and went through that tunnel. (Which was on our bucket list too. So amazing). Then we drove to Anchorage and all the stores -- Costco, Walmart etc. WE stayed at an RV Park in the city and after a couple of days we drove from there to the Kenai.

  2. That tunnel is very interesting. I guess they really have to keep track of the who goes when schedule...


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