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Alaska trip report (Anchorage, Katmai, Homer, Seward, Cordova, Valdez) Very Long!

Alaska trip report (Anchorage, Katmai, Homer, Seward, Cordova, Valdez) Very Long!

Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:02 PM
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Alaska trip report (Anchorage, Katmai, Homer, Seward, Cordova, Valdez) Very Long!

We went to Alaska the first two weeks of August. Thanks to you all for your help and support! Trip report is VERY LONG!


Day 1 Arrive into Anchorage:

Land in Anchorage around 5:30pm, pick up Enterprise Car (premium car cost about $720 for the two weeks) which is a brand new Charger. Head to the Historic Anchorage Hotel located downtown.

Lodging:

Historic Anchorage Hotel: Great front desk service and our room was very quaint. We asked for a room in the back of the hotel because of the bar noise. We were given a third floor suite, which had a separate sleeping area, tons of windows, dressing area and kitchenette. $240 a night including taxes. We dropped our bags and headed out for dinner.

Food:

We stopped at the Glacier Brewhouse and were told it was a 2-hour wait. The hostess recommended Humpy’s, and so we went. Humpy’s is a bar and restaurant with a mix of locals and tourists. The place was packed but we were able to find a couple of spaces at the back bar. We ordered halibut tacos (Yummy!) and fish and chips (which you will notice gets ordered a lot throughout the trip) which were good. Would recommend a meal at this place.

Day 2 Drive to Homer:

The weather was cloudy but it did not rain. The drive through Turnagain Arm was nice and we stopped at the Alyeska Resort and took the tram to the top of the mountain. It cost $9 per person and we were the first people to go up that day. It was a little cloudy so we could not see the entire view, but it was still a site to behold. A local guy at the top told us that in his 51 years in the area (he skied there as a kid) he had never seen snow on the mountain in August. The tram ride was also a thrill.

Next we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and that is a must do. You can drive through the park or walk to each section. The entire walk is about 1.5 miles; we did a combination of both. They have grizzly and black bears, bison, elk, reindeer, eagles, fox, etc. Great way to see the animals up close and personal.

The first part of the drive to Homer is pretty and we really enjoyed the Kenai River area. We stopped in Kenai to see the Chapel of Saint Nicholas, which was a nice side trip. We didn’t really stop at any other sites and I forgot the place we had lunch, but the meal was not memorable, so harm done.




Lodging:

Alaska Suites: Right off the freeway. Could not find anyone to check us in so headed to the Safeway in town (should have gotten a club card, because you will notice it became our hangout). Came back to the Alaska Suites and still could not find anyone to check us in. Finally, a young kid saw us standing around and gave us our keys. The cabins are very nice and there are two queen beds, a kitchen area with microwave, refridge, table and chairs, couch, TV, VCR, DVD player and sound system. The views are great and you can sit by the outdoor fire each night and enjoy the scenery. They also have a hot tub. The bathroom is good size but the shower felt like needles on your skin. The cabins are close to a busy road, so you do hear road noise when you are outside. $285 a night.
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Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:03 PM
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Day 3 Off to Hallo Bay:

Got to Smokey Bay Air at 9 am and we are told to come back at noon. The weather was causing the delay so we go off to Sourdough Express for the biggest sourdough pancakes on earth. I could only get through 1 out of the 3 pancakes on my plate. I would suggest sharing a breakfast. The food and service were outstanding.

We then headed to Anchor Point for some fishing and moose site seeing. Husband is a good spotter, so while driving the curvy road, he spotted a moose and her two babies. Just as husband was packing up his fishing, we got a call from Hallo Bay at 11:30 telling us to high tail it back to the airport for our flight. Husband broke all speed limits to get us back.

We arrived at the airport and met our pilot, Gary, and saw our little (and I emphasis little) plane that will take us to the bears. The plane is a 6 seater with two of the seats being stuffed with baggage and the other four seats with people (Me, husband, Eunice and Gary). Because of the cloudy day, Gary took us up the coast from Homer, crossed over at a point where there is a fairly good size island (forget the name) and then took us down to Katmai National Park. This is the long way and adds about 30 minutes to our flight time which would normally be 1 hour. The flight over to Katmai is stunning with the clouds…I keep thinking I am in the movie, Lord of the Rings. As we approach Hallo Bay Camp, Gary takes us over some of the meadows and we see our first bears. Gary also asks Eunice to help him find the runway…she looks, points and he continues to play with her. You see, there is no runway, just a long stretch of sand to land on. We land (softly) and Fanny, the camp manager is there is greet us. At Hallo Bay, you can only bring the luggage you can carry and we are barely able to carry what we have (two duffels and two backpacks) through the sand and up to the point that begins the camp area.




The Camp:

Hallo Bay Camp consists of 6 large weather ports, two smaller ones, a galley and several staff ports which are situated behind the main camp area. There are two showers and two composting toilets located near the galley up on a large platform area. Showers have instant hot water and bathrooms are clean and don’t smell.

We are taken to tent # 2. Each tent has cots with sleeping bags, pillows and sleeping bag liners. There is a large wooden table, a Coleman sink set up, a small, yet effective heater (it was 39 degrees one morning), a burner with a teapot (which came in handy for warm water to wash my face with each morning), a few hangers and a very ineffective battery powered Coleman lantern. Sparse, but better then sleeping in a real tent (my opinion, husband may disagree).


Food:

The galley has two large eating tables, the kitchen and the small office area. Since we are talking about the galley, let’s talk food. Let’s just say, you won’t starve. Breakfast consisted of eggs, potatoes, sometimes French toast, cereals, toast, bacon or sausage. One morning we even had biscuits and gravy. Breakfast was at 8 am each morning

Lunch was very unassuming and was a sandwhich consisting of some kind of meat (ham, meatloaf from a previous nights dinner, etc.) some cheese and mayo. On our last day the new cook (more on that later) made chicken salad sandwiches, which we heard, were good but husband and I didn’t eat. See, I have this new rule after getting food poisoning in Africa last year. Any sandwich with mayo on it that gets stuck in a backpack for more then a few hours, does not get eaten. I could not imagine having to deal with food poisoning and composting toilets…makes me slightly woozy just thinking about it! But we didn’t starve; when you pick up your sandwiches in the morning, they have cookies, crackers, fruit, chips, granola bars, etc. also laid out for you to pick from, so we ate those.

Dinner was meat…. usually (Ham, meatloaf, chicken, spaghetti), veggies, bread, and a starch such as mash potatoes and then dessert. There was tons and tons of food. Drinks consisted of tang, lemonade, ice tea, water, coffee and hot chocolate. If you want any alcohol you have to bring it yourselves…which we did. Dinners were at 5:00.

Half way through our stay they hired a cook (Fanny, the camp manager was doing a fine job in the interim) and we thought his food was really good.

Schedule for the Days:

The typical schedule for the day was a hike out at 9am with a return back to camp at 4pm. Husband and I liked taking our shower when we returned at 4 since we didn’t have to wait on anyone. You have to bring your own towel (which never seemed to dry) and soap. After the shower, we went to the galley, had our cocktails, looked at pictures, then had dinner and went back out at around 6:30 or 7. We usually came back to camp around 9:30pm.
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Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:06 PM
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Hallo Bay Continued….

Arrival Day:

On our first day, after arriving at bout 1:30, we settled into camp, did dinner and then went on our first hike. Symira, the owner of the camp, took us out for a great evening hike to the “Y”. The “Y” is about 1.5 miles down on the beach where the river dumps into the sea. We had about 5 in our group for this hike and saw many bears that evening including one of my now favorites, Audrey. Audrey is a stud of a bear…she is awesome at catching fish and we saw her catch 4 fish in a 20-minute time span. One day we saw her catch a flounder out of the surf…. she was amazing. We were joking at the end of the trip that Audrey needed to open here own school to teach the other bears to catch fish, because no other bear came even close to her skills.

That first evening on our way back, Simyra asked us to sit on some logs as Audrey was approaching. The guides ask you to kneel or sit when bears are around, as standing is dominant and aggressive to the bears. So, we sat on a piece of driftwood and here comes Audrey. Audrey came strolling by about 10 feet from us. I personally stopped breathing as I pondered how fast Audrey could take us out of she wanted to…so much for thinking positive thoughts. Simyra had to stand in front of us, talk to Audrey and get her to move along. Audrey was not threatening us, she was just curious and wanted a closer look. I have to say, while I was taken aback with how close she came, and my heart was pounding, I felt safe with Simyra. The other guide, Phil, and his group were a few pieces of driftwood over from us and Phil also had to stand up and move Audrey along. Did I mention she looks very big up close?

Side note about what the guides carry: They carry no firearms and no bear spray. They carry flares with them as bears are afraid of fire. So if one comes to close and the guide needs to really get a bears attention, the flare will be used. We were told that in all the years that Hallo Bay has been in operation, only 4 times have flares been used. At first I was not sure I would feel safe with flares, but we did.

Let’s chat a moment about Phil, our guide, who we spent the majority of our time with at Hallo Bay. As soon as we arrived via the plane on the beach, Phil came over to us and introduced himself. Phil was a great guy and very comfortable with bears. He had worked with Sloth Bears at a zoo in Florida for 5 years and has a great love of all animals. He had a great personality, didn’t mind having a client that didn’t follow directions very well (husband) and we actually left Hallo Bay with a friend for life. He made sure all his clients were protected at all times and had great stories to tell us during our long hikes. Thanks Phil for an amazing experience!

The first full day: The weather was cloudy and there was a light rain on and off. Phil decided we should hike over to the next bay to the mouth of Big River and see if we could see bears clamming. We headed down the beach, through Nancy’s trail which is a forest walk that comes out over a stunning bay. The mountains around the bay were lush green and the clouds hung over them. We could see bears off into the distance so headed for them. We found two smaller bears clamming and watched them for about 45 minutes.

We continued to head for the river and could see more bears in the distance on the tidal flats. A note of the tides…….the change of tides was 20 feet each day. The entire bay would empty out on low tide and then fill back up on high tide. We finally made it to the mouth of the river, looked for bears in the meadow (none) and had lunch. Did I mention how stunning the scenery was? I could have stayed all day in that one spot.

After lunch we headed back walking on the beach and through some meadows. Saw Rosie and her cubs hanging out on the tidal flats and watched them for awhile. One of the cubs dug around the sand like he was looking for clams, but with no enthusiasm, while Rosie sprawled out on her back and the other cub slept curled up in a ball.

As we were walking back on the beach, suddenly we saw a bear head pop up from behind some drift wood (and there is a ton of drift wood). We stopped and kneeled down and waited to see what he was going to do. You know what he did? He laid right back down and continued on with his nap. We walked around him and he did peer up from his spot and watched us awhile. Farther down the beach we found a large part of a pier that had washed up recently.

Later in the evening we went to the “Y” and saw lots of bears. A mom and her young cub showed up along with Ted (the king bear with the dropping lip) and lots of other bears. The bears are very active during the evening hours and the lighting is just gorgeous.

Second Day:

There were only 3 of us with Phil this day, myself, husband and Eunice. We hung out at the “Y” and the tidal flats in front of the camp. Saw Ursula and Orso, Ted, Audrey catching more fish along with other miscellaneous bears. The evening proved to be the most exciting part of our trip. We were heading back to camp around 9:30pm and there were bears everywhere. The other group was ahead of us and we decided to sit on some driftwood as bears were in the path back to camp. As we came up the beach, Phil also decided it was time to sit and let the bears have space. Behind us, Ted was meandering up the beach. Ted came strolling past us within about 10 feet. At this time, I was whispering to Phil, “Phil, he is freaking me out, he is freaking me out.” Phil told me to stay calm and that bears can smell fear…..great….just what I needed to hear being that I was scared out of my mind. At about that time, Ted stopped, looked at us and took a step forward. Phil then stood and walked toward Ted and started talking to him. Ted stopped and then went on his merry way. Whew!




Third Day:

We hung out at the “Y for a while and watched Ursula and Orso for an hour or so. Ursula was fishing unsuccessfully and Orso was just being cute. Orso is about 2.5 years old. There were 7 in our group this day and we had a bit of a tense moment when Ursula walked to the meadow behind us and we all suddenly realized that we were now positioned between a mom and her cub. I was sitting in the back of the group, so I felt fairly safe. Orso, wasn’t sure if he wanted to cross by us, but eventually did and was VERY close. Another great moment in bear country.

It was a glorious sunny day and we headed back to the bay via the bootleg. The tide went out at about 1:00 that day allowing us to walk around the large rock formation jutting out into the sea. It was a great walk with lots of tide pools and some fossils. Had a great lunch near the meadow (no bears) and again I could have spent the rest of the day lazing in the sun. We headed back to camp via a “shortcut” which really was through a bunch of bushed/trees, over some logs, but fun nonetheless. Back to camp for dinner and then out to the “Y” for the evening and our final bear viewing.

What to wear at Hallo Bay:

We wore our rain pants everyday since you just never knew where you might sit….tidal flats, wet grass, etc. Also had rain jacket. Brought hiking boats but never wore them. If you are going for a few days, I would invest in some rubber boots. They have them at the camp, but they don’t have a lot of arch support. Buy and bring your own…wish I had. Bring and wear lots of layers so you can peel off cloths should you get a sunny day. The wind can be strong and chilly at times. Also bring water proof gloves. I wore a baseball cap everyday to control my hair in the wind and to prevent rain on my face.

Other Stuff:

While we were there, a BBC crew of two was starting 30 days of filming for the sequel to Planet Earth at this time called “Life”. One had just come from the Congo filming the lowland Gorillas and the other came from Australia, I think. They were very funny guys and had some great stories and told us a little about their involvement in the filming of Planet Earth.

I had read that there was some tension at the camp and that the guides were turning over but that did not deter me from going and it shouldn’t you either. The owner, Simyra, did not seem comfortable in her hosting duties as she did not introduce herself to us or our trail mate, Eunice, at any time. She did not greet us upon our arrival or say goodbye to us when we left. That seemed a little odd, especially after being in Africa last year and the entire camp greeted you and saw you off at the end of your stay.

They do seem to run through guides and a long term employee, Dennis, had recently left, but I have to be honest, it did not detract from my experience and I have to say it was because we had a great guide, Phil, and all the Hallo Bay bears. Besides, I don’t know what the standard length of time of a guide is anyway…that could be the norm. That being said…just go!
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Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:07 PM
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Day 7 and 8 in Homer:

Lodging:

Beach House B&B, Compass Room: $270 a night, continental breakfast. Loved this place! Owners are very friendly and the room is just perfect. This cabin is built on the side of the hill looking over the water and the spit. It has a king size bed, flat screen TV with two lazy boy type chairs, a small table and chairs, a kitchenette and a bathroom with a good size shower. The deck off the room is small, but two people can sit and enjoy the best view in town. The grounds have 4 other rooms in the house. There is a wood heated hot tub. They also have some chairs and a swing on the grounds that look out over the spit and the rest of the bay. This was, by far, our favorite “civilized” place to stay. Worth every penny! This property is right next to the Ocean House Inn…. easy to confuse…just an FYI.

Funny side story: One of the evenings we decided not to go out to dinner and instead went and got fresh oysters, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers and paired that with a killer bottle of wine from home and sat on the lawn area and had our dinner overlooking the bay. It was a glorious sunny day and the evening was turning out to be just as great. The property next to ours was having a wedding that evening and when we arrived “home” they were starting the reception in a tent with a live band. It was awesome. We sat and ate/drank and had our very own band playing all sorts of music…how great is that?

During the reception, I kept telling my husband how I wanted some wedding cake. Well, I got my wish. The mom of the bride came over to us and offered us each a piece of cake for their intrusion into what should have been a peaceful evening for us. I, of course, accepted and we had two huge pieces of carrot cake brought over to us; little did they know how great we thought it was that we had a live band playing for us for dinner. And by the time we were ready to retire (10ish) the band stopped playing. Wow, what a memorable evening.

Sites:

We thought about doing the Danny J to Halibut Cove, but after all the days in Katmai, we decided to just hang out. We did go down the Old Seward Highway (saw moose twice) to fish at Anchor River. We also drove East End Road as far as we thought the Charger could make it. We drove to Skyline where you can see all of Homer, the mountains and the bay…should absolutely do this and this is a great place to take some pictures.




Food:

Fresh Start Café: No surprise, husband had Fish and Chips and I had the Silver Salmon Soup (and did eat some of his fish), drank diet coke and the cost was about $40 with tip. Service was great and the food was pretty delicious as well. Big thumbs up!

Fat Olives: Husband had the Shrimp and Scallops fettuccine with cream sauce, I had the huge Salmon Steak, we had two orders of oysters for appetizers, and 4 glasses of wine and the cost came to $120 with tip. I thought the service was slow but who cares when the food is that good (it was) and where did I have to go anyway? Another big thumbs up.

Salty Dawg Saloon: Ok, so what does one do on a lazy afternoon after fishing at about 4? Head to the Salty Dawg, of course. Husband suggested we go and who was I to argue, and again, where did I have to be anyway? The Dawg is an old bar on the spit full of locals and tourist. We sat at the bar, had a couple of beers, and listened to the jukebox play loud music. It was fun to do once. So here is the good part…. as we are sitting enjoying the atmosphere, my husband suddenly sits up in his bar stool and says, there is the captain of the Time Bandit. Sure enough, Johnathan comes strolling in with a friend and sits at the bar and everyone starts buying him JD.

We finished our drink, headed down the road to find fresh seafood for dinner and happen to run into another friend of Johnathan’s (she was sitting next to him at the bar as well), we chat, we learn a little history about Homer and Johnathan’s family and learned she used to live 10 miles from us. Whew, small world. As we stroll back to our car, we see Johnathan outside. We ask him for a picture, he happily agrees, husbands camera battery dies, Johnathan waits as husband runs across the street for the other camera and we get our picture with him. He was a super nice guy and was signing autographs and taking pictures with anyone that asked. I like that guy!!

Safeway: Deli sandwiches $5.49 (a deal in Alaska) and a Starbucks!!!! We got our lunches everyday from here (and lots of other Safeway’s in Alaska…good, fresh and cheap!)

Day 9 and 10 in Seward:

Lodging:

Angels Rest, Wing Cabin, at Lowell Point. This is not in town and located close to Miller’s Landing. When you drive out to Angel’s Rest, you begin to wonder if booking this place was such a good idea. It has been stated on the Fodor’s board that the cabins are right next to the RV park, and they are a couple of lots away, but I did not find that to be an issue. It is not like the RV park next door is a dump….the RV’ers are families or seniors enjoying the bay side setting.

We liked the cabin and found it to be cozy (small). It had a good size kitchenette, a queen bed and a great view. The cabin is set back a bit from the beach, while the cabins on either side of it (new Cloud 9 cabin and the other cabin..name forgotten) are sitting right over the beach. Bathroom and shower were tiny. Room seemed to smell like propone after being locked up all day, so did have to ventilate….due to heater in the cabin. There is a fire pit in front of the cabin right next to the new Cloud 9 cabin, so we spent our evenings by the fire with our neighbors enjoying the last hours of daylight. $230 a night with tax

Sites:

The downtown portion of Seward is a couple of blocks long and is a mixture of bars, food establishments and stores. Had a beer at the Ale House and did some shopping but nothing caught my eye as something I could live without.

Exit Glacier: Our first glacier and it was exciting to see. We did the upper river trail (not the longest) and got fairly close to the glacier, but you could not go up and touch it. We spent about 1 hour at the glacier and I would recommend making this stop.

Boat Trip: Mariah Tours Captain’s Choice. Now this was a great day. The sun was shining (the day before and after had no sun) and the sea was like glass. The Captain, Ryan and his first mate, Chris, said it was the best day they had seen all summer. The boat holds 22 people and we had 15. This trip started at 8:30 and came back at about 5:30. We went all the way to Northwestern Glacier and saw 3 Humpback whales, two pods of Orcas, porpoises, puffins, seals, etc. They had breakfast of yogurt parfaits and for lunch we had yummy soup, sandwiches, chips, sodas and a brownie for dessert. Cost $379 for two. I highly recommend this trip and make sure you dress warm, as it was still very cold with the sun shining.


Food:

Ray’s Waterfront: We decided to order 4 appetizers (calamari, warm crab dip, ahi tuna and oysters) for our dinner along with a bottle of wine, had after dinner drinks for dessert and the cost was $130 with tip. Food was very good.

TNT: Located at Exit Glacier Road. We decided to pick up some fresh salmon and husband pan-fried it for dinner at the cottage. Very delicious!
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Old Sep 21st, 2008, 06:11 PM
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Day 11, 12 and 13 in Cordova:

Alaska Marine Ferry from Whittier to Cordova: We took the fast ferry to Cordova and found the whole experience to be easy and fun! We took the tunnel into Whittier, which was an interesting experience, and found that Whittier was a cute little town. My guidebook said some of the locals say, “There is nothing shittier then a day in Whittier” but I thought that was a little harsh. Sure it is small, and sure most of the population lives in a high rise, but the mountains, bay and harbor are very pretty.

We picked up our tickets (reservations made as soon as the ferry schedule was posted) and got in line in our proper lane. The ferry arrived early; we drove our car on and headed upstairs to the passenger deck. The ferry was super clean, had a snack bar and tons of seating, some with tables, some without. They showed movies for the kids in the back section and there was an outside observation deck. This is the best why to travel, by far. The ferry ride was a little over three hours and when we arrived in Cordova it took about 5 minutes for us to drive off the boat…so simple.

Lodging:

Reluctant Fisherman Inn: This is my least favorite place we stayed during our time in Alaska. I read that the current owners bought the place 3 or so years ago and have started to do some renovations but the hallway down to our room was dingy and our room was only slightly better. We had a harbor view room and the view was lovely. The room has two queen beds and the cleanliness of the room was questionable. There were 3 smashed bugs still left on the walls, the toilet seat was stained, a wash cloth left over in the tub from the previous guest, the doors did not include a dead bolt and we could not figure out if one of the beds actually had the sheets changed and the other bed with the “clean” sheets had a yellow stain on the sheets. The bad news was that we were there for 3 nights. My husband told me he has stayed in worst places (and I had too) so we sucked it up.

Our room did look like one of the remodeled rooms as it did have nice wood paneling on the floor, but the walls are paper-thin. There was also a ½ inch gap under the door allowing you to hear every person that was in the hallway day and night. The room did come with a very small balcony with room to stand, which we did enjoy. Continental breakfast was included. Cost was $175 a night, which included taxes. Would not stay there again…in case anyone was wondering.

Food (Stop at the visitors center and they will provide you with all sorts of information along with a list of restaurants in the area.):

Reluctant Fisherman Inn: We did have a drink in the bar and did have lunch at the Inn. The bartender (woman with long black hair, never got her name) was a pleasure and very nice to us. The lunch we had was very good. Husband had fish and chips (bet you are surprised to read that) and I had the halibut sandwich with delicious onion rings. Would recommend the restaurant.

Ambrosia: Italian restaurant. Had a pizza, which was very good. Service was good as well.

Baja Taco: Had salmon tacos (take-out) that were very good. Cost was $25.

The Powder House: On Lake Eyak. I had the King Crab Legs with twice-baked potatoes. Husband had prime rib? with baked potato. Dinner comes with a salad bar with really good potato salad. Service was very good and overall, while it was expensive, the food was very good. The view of the lake on a sunny day must be lovely.

Sites:

Childs Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge: On the day we wanted to go to Childs Glacier, it was still raining. We jumped in our Charger (with very little clearance) and headed the 50 miles to the Glacier on the Copper River Highway. The first 15 miles are paved and just past the airport (named something “Mudhole” something Airport) the road turns to gravel for the next 35 miles. The speed limit says 55 mph, but there was no way I could go that speed with potholes. Our drive was cloudy, but the mountains, clouds, Cooper Delta, etc. was truly beautiful. I can hardly imagine how spectacular it would be on a sunny day. On the dirt road you pass over many bridges, which have been built over the delta. We had the pleasure of seeing a bear a mile or so away from the bridge.

We finally arrived at the Glacier and it was magnificent. You almost drive right up to it. There is only a river between you and the glacier and the glacier was very active. You could hear what sounded like thunder and lighting and then eventually a piece of ice would explode into the water. It was spectacular. When there wasn’t any calving you could just watch chinks of ice (from Miles Glacier just up the river) float on by.

Then we went back to Million Dollar Bridge, which is right next to the Glacier and drove across. It is such a beautiful place and you could see Childs and Miles Glacier from the bridge. After that we drove the 2 minutes back to Childs and had lunch.

The next day went back on the road (about half way) as my husband wanted to revisit an eagles next with two young eagles in it. And yes, it was raining. When he got there he put on his rain gear and proceeded to make his way through very, very thick brush to try and get a closer shoot of the eagles. It was so thick that he had a hard time finding his way to the tree with the nest and was a little paranoid about bears. I kept close to the car in case I had to make a fast getaway from bears (with or without husband…hee…hee).

As we headed back on the dirt road, we decided to take some roads off the main road just to see what was there. We found streams, picnic areas, campsites, lakes, hiking trails, and stunning scenery. And what we didn’t know is that I had punctured the tire at some point and air was slowly leaking out.

We swung by the Power House on the way back for dinner and when we came out we noticed the tire was low. Hmmm. We drove back into town and looked for a gas station with air. No such luck. We drove towards to ferry terminal to see if there was any place to get air there and a very nice ferry worked opened the ferry terminal garage and put air in our tire. He also told us where we could find air in town in case we needed more. We went back to the hotel and prayed the tire would hold. Prayers not answered. At 5:30 the next morning I went out to check the tire and it was flat, flat, flat. I alerted Husband, aka tire changer, and he processed to change the tire in the rain in about 20 minutes. Whew…we needed to get to the ferry terminal by 7ish.

Now here is the funny part…the first day my husband complained I wasn’t going fast enough on the dirt road, but alas, no flat tire So the second day, I went faster and look what happened. So what I am trying to say, I am not responsible for getting the flat tire even though I was driving…. Mr. backseat driver is!

I also did walk the town for a couple of hours (yes, in the rain) and would recommend that to everyone to get to know the town a bit aside from the downtown area, which is only a couple of blocks long.


Day 14 in Valdez:

We took the ferry to Valdez (about 2.5 hours) from Cordova and again the ferry ride was easy and very comfortable. Now, I have read about Valdez and it did not get great reviews so I only planned 1 day…..big mistake. The setting is stunning….I mean stunning. Even on a cloudy day (not raining…lucky us) it was stunning. There is so much to see and do and I was bummed that I didn’t get to do more hiking in the area.

Lodging:

Best Western Hotel Valdez Harbor Inn: Loved this place (or was I over excited because it was not the Reluctant Inn?). It is next to the harbor and within easy walking distance to almost anything. I had a harbor room, which really overlooked the passageway between the harbor and the bay. The room had a king bed and it was very clean. It came with a continental breakfast. I really, really liked this place and it cost $ 169 a night including taxes…. a steal in Alaska.

Sites:

After lunch (see below) we drove around and went to look for a dirt road, leading to a trail called the Mineral Creek Canyon. We finally found it (ok, maps do come in handy sometimes!) and started up the dirt road into a valley that was stunning (there is that word again). The road was in pretty good condition and my husband only bottomed out once on the Charger (we started counting how many times we bottomed out in the car and finally lost count…learn from us…say no to the Chargers). We finally came to a point that was washed out by a waterfall and a river. The waterfall was large and we were able to walk over the river via a very old bridge. We hiked a little further up the road to see more waterfalls and to enjoy the mountains and the valley. I highly recommend you take this road and trail.

Upon our return, we decided to start the first 10 or so miles of the Richardson Highway in case there was something interesting to see so we could save time in the morning (we were going to be driving from Valdez back into Anchorage). A mile or so out of town is a place where you can stop at a platform over the river and see the Salmon spawning. It is called the USFS Salmon Viewpoint. There is a forestry office right here as well and I highly recommend you pick up their booklet (free) on hikes you can do in the area called “Trail Map Guide”. They also have a underwater cam in the stream so you can the action eye to eye with the fish. Very good place and we stopped a couple of times in hopes of seeing the mom bear with three cubs that had been reported over the last couple of nights…no such luck for us.

On our sightseeing drive, we took Dayville Road as recommended by Moon Book (travel guide…the best in my opinion) and we found ourselves constantly pulling over to look at all the salmon. My husband stopped at a river to try his hand at fishing for a bit. There were so many salmon he was catching (via fly pole) and releasing so many fish he stopped counting. The waters were so thick with Salmon I think you could have literally walked on water from bank to bank. When he tired of that (or perhaps he thought I might be bored), we drove further down the road and saw all this action on the shore of the bay. When we got out, we saw thousand of salmon next to the shore swimming around. What was going on?

A little further down the road, we figured it out. There was a river they were all trying to get up to spawn. There were thousands and thousands of salmon trying to get up the river. At this river there was fish hatchery, the Salmon Gulch Fish Hatchery. On the other side of the river (bay side) it was littered with dead salmon. There were so many salmon that the kids could just reach in and pick one up and I saw one small girl, picking up fish on the bay side (where the fish would most likely die) and putting them into the mouth of the river, so that they could join their fish friends. There was also a waterfall that fed the river. If you drove a little further down the road, it ends at Anchor Point were you could camp and fish. Just beyond Anchor Point is the Pipeline terminal and there is no public access.

Back in town we found this huge wood sculpture of an Indian at the community college. It was magnificent and you gotta see it!

Food:

Ernesto’ Taqueria: Had lunch there, I had the soft tacos and husband had something we can’t remember, but we remember his meal was good as well. Not expensive and good service.

Mike Palace: We walked around the harbor area looking for a place to eat and decided upon Mikes Place based on reviews. We had a 20 minute wait, so we had a cocktail at their bar next door. The place was packed, and the food service a little slow, but the food was well worth the wait. I had scallops and shrimp in a cream/cheese sauce and my husband ordered the mussels. The meals came with salads, bread, and veggies. The food was fantastic. The mussels were in a wine sauce to die for and the scallop/shrimp dish was rich and very filling. Don’t miss this place!

Pipeline Club: Went there to have dinner but the restaurant has been closed for renovations for about 6 months. Had a drink and headed to Mikes Palace.

After dinner (10ish) we decided to walk the docks and look at the boats. The weather was chilly and we walked for about an hour or so. What a great day!

Last Day in Alaska:

We got up and headed out of Valdez about 8 and it was very foggy. The first 20 or so miles of the Richardson Highway are the reason I did the stopover in Valdez. But as we headed out of town away from the coast, it cleared and we were able to fully appreciate the beginning of our drive.

Keystone Canyon via the Richardson Highway was beautiful. Stopped for views along the way and saw the Alaskan Pipeline for the first time. Arrived into Anchorage at about 3 and stayed again at the Historic Alaska Hotel in a regular room was just as charming as our suite on our first night.

Walked around downtown and noticed an outdoor art festival one block from the hotel. It runs Saturdays and Sundays during the summer and it is a great place to meet up with local Alaskan artist and to get food. I wish we had found it a little earlier in the day, as we were only able to send about ½ hour before it closed.

Food:

Glacier Brewhouse: Had reservations this time and spent our last night in Alaska at this restaurant. Had calamari as appetizers (don’t miss) Salmon (dry) over crab cakes (very good) and husband had prime rib and crab legs. We had the bread pudding for dessert. To drink we polished the other bottle of wine we brought from home. The cost for the meal was about $90 without tip. Service was outstanding our waiter allowed us to enjoy our meal at our own pace.

Final thoughts:

We loved Alaska and would certainly return. If you are driving the state you must get the Milepost. I also used Moon Publications, Alaska, which I think are the best guide, books out there.

I would go back to Katmai, Cordova and Valdez as there is so much to see. While I really enjoyed Homer and Seward and thought the areas were beautiful, I enjoyed the more out of the way places the most.

MonicaH is offline  
Old Sep 21st, 2008, 10:13 PM
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Hi Monica,

Enjoyed your report. We were at Hallo Bay a few weeks after you, here's an update on the 'crew' which you may find interesting.

Got to Smokey Bay Air at 9 am and we are told to come back at noon. The weather was causing the delay ... we got a call from Hallo Bay at 11:30 telling us to high tail it back to the airport

At least you got out the same day When we arrived all flights had been cancelled for four straight days, with many people losing out on their entire trips (no refunds). Our first day was also cancelled but we got in the next day, with several people who had paid for 4 nights but ended up getting only one night.

We are taken to tent # 2.

Whoa, that's the same tent WE had four weeks later ...

Half way through our stay they hired a cook ...

This dude didn't last very long, he quit a few weeks later and flew out on the plane we flew in on with a glazed look in his eyes.

This caused many problems for my wife, who is highly allergic to wheat and other products with gluten. We had asked three times if this dietary restriction was a problem and been assured the highly skilled cook was aware of it and trained to work around it, but the replacement cook didn't know and my wife got very sick from the food after eating something she was told was safe because, we learned the next day, it didn't have wheat, just flour ... duh!

Let’s chat a moment about Phil, our guide ... Thanks Phil for an amazing experience!


Apparently Phil quit too because there was no Phil at camp and we were told all guides except the owners (Clint and Simyra) were there. The guide who did the day trips had also quit the week before so they ran the day trippers where we were as well, adding to the congestion. We had 16 people sitting on the bank at the Y one night watching two bears.

While we were there, a BBC crew of two was starting 30 days of filming

These chaps were finishing up as we arrived, leaving on the plane we flew in on (with the shell-shocked cook). They filmed 30 days for five minutes of film to be used in the feature movie. Wow.

I had read that there was some tension at the camp and that the guides were turning over but that did not deter me from going and it shouldn’t you either.

The guides we had were fine but losing the cook meant my wife became very ill and had to leave two days early, so the constant turn-over was not without consequences for us. I would return because I had a couple of really close encounters with the bears, but my wife wouldn't return to this place under any circumstances.

Bill
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Old Sep 22nd, 2008, 08:10 AM
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Thanks for an excellent report. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Bookmarking so maybe I can get to all these places someday.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2008, 08:11 AM
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Monica, thanks for the great report. I was especially interested in the "off the beaten track" places you went in Cordova and Valdez. It sounds wonderful.
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Old Sep 24th, 2008, 07:29 PM
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Hi Bill-

I am bummed that your Hallo Bay trip was marginal. It is amazing to me that the owners haven't figured out how to run the business after all these years. Perhaps they should take a trip to the camps in Africa and take a few notes on how it should be done!

Looking forward to your full trip report.

Monica
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Old Sep 24th, 2008, 08:18 PM
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I read the same report from some one last year (about the problems keeping help). While it sounds like your experience was still pleasant. Sorry about your poor wife Bill. That was NOT a pleasant thing at all. I made the decision to go with Emerald Air(day trip) next year. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. I know it was a bad Aug/Sept for the flight trips.
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Old Sep 24th, 2008, 09:28 PM
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Looking forward to your full trip report

Not going to do a report but I did post a few pics, mostly from Denali but the first two are from Katmai, where two young male bears play-fought a few yards from us. This was at the Y, we were watching the creek and these boys came up behind us and stood on the log. The 2nd photo is not cropped, they were doing this just a few feet from where we crouched … that is why I’d consider going back (without my wife though) ... http://www.hiltonphotography.net/trips/alaska-2008/

I made the decision to go with Emerald Air(day trip) next year.

Owinsmom, you made a wise decision. My friend Janet did a day trip with Em Air in August and had a great time, with many excellent photos (much better than mine). Chris Day is a trained naturalist, you are going with the owners, and they go to different areas at different times of the summer so are always ‘on’ bears. Wise choice

I had booked a custom 4 night camping/bear watching trip with them in Katmai in 2004 at Moraine Creek but someone killed 5-7 bears there shortly before we were to fly in so we had to cancel. I heard the same thing happened again this summer! After experiencing 2 days of horizontal rains and 48 mph winds at Hallo Bay recently I'm not sure I'd want to be in a small tent for four nights though!

Bill
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Old Sep 25th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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Bill, those pix are FANTASTIC! We are amateur photographers, and we took almost 900 pictures in Alaska this July, and got some that I consider "blow-up" worthy, but yours are amazing. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 08:28 AM
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"but someone killed 5-7 bears there shortly before we were to fly in"

Oh how SAD!! Is that legal there? I didn't think so. That must be really hard on them. After talking with Chris on the phone, she seems to have such a passion for the bears. I would think she would get kind of attached to them, seeing them day in and day out. But maybe not, it's a different lifestyle up there. I DO NOT like hunting but won't get on my soap box.

I'm glad to hear still more positive comments. Cruise Critic is the only place I have read 1 negative comment and he was very pro Hallo Bay. (which was who I originally was going to go with.) Here all I thought I had to worry about was weather.
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 09:26 AM
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Bill, those pictures are fantastic! I'm especially in love with your pictures of the lynx jumping through the water...that's just amazing.

how long a lens do you use?
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 09:27 AM
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owinsmom, the bear killings were illegal. They cut off some of the pads on the paws and, I heard, the gall bladders from a couple of bears but basically left them to rot.

I just checked on this for a link to post and it turns out two young men from a local native village were convicted in 2006 for four of the killings (I think there were seven total). Here's the link:
http://www.nationalparksgallery.com/park_news/4561

Monday, Nov 6, 2006

"On November 2nd (2006), Steven Nowatak, 27, and Travis Kernak, 21, both residents of Kokhanok, were each sentenced in federal court in Anchorage to 30 days imprisonment and a year’s probation, including 40 hours of community service, upon their conviction for killing brown bears in the park"


You asked Is that legal there? I didn't think so .. I DO NOT like hunting but won't get on my soap box.

It's complicated ... in Katmai National Park there is no hunting. Ditto in the adjacent McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. In Katmai National PRESERVE there is limited bear hunting, I think one year in the spring, the next year in the fall.

So these bear viewing guides will have six or seven different areas they fly to and generally all are in the National Park (Brooks River, Hallo Bay, Geographic Harbor etc) except for a few weeks in August when some go to Moraine Creek area in the Preserve (but many weeks from when hunting takes place, so they are seeing different bears).

So one problem is that some bears in McNeil and the Preserve become "habituated" or used to people and don't flee, then are easily killed if they wander into hunting zones. It's a big issue in Alaska right now.

Also, they are opening a new area, the Kamishak Special Use Area, to bear hunting in 2007. This is Alaska State Land but much of it is in Katmai National Park, so there is much wailing about whether this is even legal or not.

You can read about this issue (with a nice map) here:
http://ga1.org/npca/alert-descriptio...ert_id=3755212 Probably Chris Day will send you a notice asking you to write your congressman about this, there's an active group opposing it.

There are a relatively small number of hunters willing to pay $1,000 - $2,000 per day to hunt these bears and a relatively large number of bear watchers willing to pay $500 - $600 per day just to watch and photograph them so you'd think it makes economic sense to keep the area closed, but there are strong forces in Alaska supporting the hunting lobby.

Bill
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 01:31 PM
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OH Bill...That just makes me sick to my stomach!! ALL OF IT. First off the guys did NOT get sentenced enough. They should be, well I won't go there. And the fact that those poor bears are sitting ducks if they allow that additional hunting. I'm sorry, I can deal with the fact that some need to hunt to eat, but I would be willing to bet that the majority of this is not for that reason. Do I send a letter to my congressman or an Alaskan one? So sad.
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 01:50 PM
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Wonderful pictures of bears, moose and Denali! Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to go there someday.
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Old Sep 26th, 2008, 04:19 PM
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"My friend Janet did a day trip with Em Air in August and had a great time, with many excellent photos (much better than mine)."

Sorry, I kind of got off on a tangent. I can't imagine there would be any better photos than yours.
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