One Tok Over the Line
Alaska Adventure, Days 9 & 10: Glennallen to Valdez to Tok
On Tuesday morning, we set out to drive south on the Richardson Highway (AK-4) to the coastal city of Valdez (val-deez). Our first stop, just a few miles south of Glennallen, was Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Even in a state famous for its size, this park stands out. Encompassing almost 10 million acres of wilderness, it is by far the largest of our national parks—larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite, plus the country of Switzerland combined. Its landscape is vast—mountains beyond mountains, glaciers after glaciers, rivers upon rivers, and lakes over lakes.
|Copper on the sign references the Copper River basin where this main visitor center is located.|
The operation of Wrangell-St. Elias is quite different from national parks in the lower 48. Native groups and certain other Alaskans are permitted to conduct subsistence hunting within its boundaries. Roads in the park are extremely limited, meaning many travelers view the major peaks of the park from nearby highways. Despite its size, Wrangell-St. Elias doesn’t get many visitors. Only about 65,000 people come to the park every year. So it was no surprise to find the parking lot completely empty when we arrived.
|The varied appearance of the Boreal Forest-Valdez Loop Trail|
|The famous pipeline|
Bumpy expansion joint repairs and mild frost heaves produced a constant thump every few yards, but the spectacular fall scenery more than made up for the uneven highway. Birches, aspens, cottonwoods, poplars, and willows still sported brilliant leaves in every shade of yellow, contrasting with the dark green of the white spruce climbing up the mountainsides.
|No trains going through here|
|See the horse tail?|
Almost to Valdez, we turned east on Dayville Road for another letterbox at a salmon hatchery. A guy we had met along the way had tipped us off that sea lions had been hanging out at the hatchery, finishing off the last of the year's crop of salmon. We found the letterbox and the well-fattened sea lions. These 700-pounders were looking sated and very happy.
|Sea lion fishing at the salmon hatchery|
|Whispering Giant #40|
|They say there's a glacier out there somewhere.|
|Move along. Nothing to see here at Old Valdez Town Site.|
Having seen many references to the Old Valdez Town Site as a place one shouldn't miss, we made sure to stop by there on our way north. All that remains is a collection of interpretive signs and markers indicating what structures stood on various lots amid wide swaths of empty space.
Though it's not particularly high at 2,678 feet, we wondered whether we'd see snow at Thompson Pass, the highest point on the southern section of the Richardson. After all, the pass holds Alaska snowfall records for a season (81.2 feet), for a month (24.8 feet), and for a 24-hour period (5.2 feet). In fact, snow pack on the pass has been known to last through the summer because it was so deep.
The temp when we left Valdez was in the low 40s, so we thought there might be a chance, but we were pleasantly surprised when we reached the summit at 37° with no snow. Nor was the highway crew we saw yesterday working on culvert replacement this morning. Just too much steady rainfall.
|Our picnic spot at Squirrel Creek SRS|
|Hold on, big guy! We just wanted to say hello.|
Past Glennallen, we turned onto AK-1, the Tok Cutoff Highway, headed north to Tok. Though we could have stayed on the Richardson all the way to Fairbanks, we decided to go by way of Tok because the route was said to be more scenic and we liked the lodging options better than what was offered along the Richardson.
|We rang the doorbell, but no one answered.|
|Our Caribou Cabin home for the night|
We finally arrived at the cozy Caribou Cabins in Tok just before 6 p.m. After preparing dinner, we did some planning for tomorrow and the next two days in Fairbanks.
TUESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER & WEDNESDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER, 2016
|Mount Drum in Wrangell St Elias National Park|
|Mount Billy Mitchell just north of Valdez|
|A Copper River fish wheel. Salmon swim into the baskets and are deposited in a holding tank.|
|"City Hall" for the little village of Copper Center|
|What's it all mean?|
|Interpretive signage at one of the turn-offs to the pipeline|
|Tiekel River near Copper Center|
|Valdez City Harbor|
|Arctic Oven tent at Worthington Glacier SRS|
|Autumn at Squirrel Creek SRS|
|Look what I found behind Fast Eddy's in Tok!|
|Lots of abandoned businesses along the Tok Cutoff|