2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali AKA Mt. McKinley

 

   
 
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   SCENIC DRIVE FROM HAINES TO VALDEZ, p. 2

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17

 
 

Continued from the previous page.

WEDNESDAY:  ALASKA HWY. MP 1269 TO VALDEZ, AK

Route:  west on the Alaska Hwy. to Tok, southwest on the Tok Cut-Off, south on the Richardson Hwy., west on Airport Rd. to the campground

Here are the relevant map sections from The Milepost website. Read these from the top down:

This segment took us less than eight hours with five or six stops. They included:

1) fuel at first station on east side of Tok ($3.59/gallon, which looks great compared to the prices we later saw in Valdez);

2) Public Lands Center and adjacent Tok Visitor Center for more promotional literature:

 

3) 8-minute stop for road work about halfway through the Tok Cut-Off;

4) Wrangell-St. Elias NP visitor center and viewpoint (lunch, short walk through the boreal forest, interpretive displays in the complex, etc.):


Part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park visitor center complex

Interpretive display (above) and fish wheel (below) at the Ahtna Cultural Center
in the Wrangell-St. Elias visitor center complex

5) stopped by side of Richardson Hwy. to take picture of a glacier while Jim let air out of one of the air bags;

6) another stop for photos of the camper with Worthington Glacier in background (Jim let air out of the other air bag there because it helped with the rough road surface):

 

Traffic and road conditions:  Pretty light traffic until close to Tok, light on Tok Cut-Off, then a little more on Richardson Hwy. to Valdez.

Roads were relatively smooth; I thought the Alaska Hwy. to Tok was in better condition than three years ago:


Midway Lake along the Alaska Hwy. east of Tok

Most of the Tok Cut-Off was in better condition, too.

We followed a pilot truck a few miles about midway through the cut-off. The gravel was smoother than some of the pavement we had today.

As in that area in 2012, the road crew uses lots of white paper or foam dinner plates along the side of the road to make various notations: 

It looks chintzy but I bet resident taxpayers appreciate the cost savings!

Terrain:  It was a roller-coaster ride all day, as most of this trip has been since we got on the Alaska Hwy. in northeastern British Columbia two weeks ago. We rode at lower elevations today than yesterday.

The high point was Thompson Pass at 2,678 feet, just south of Worthington Glacier:

 
This land was under several feet of snow in mid-June, 2012 when we drove through here.


View of interesting mountain peaks and glaciers to the west of Thompson Pass

The longest grade was downhill from there to Valdez within a few miles, including the drive along the Lowe River through Keystone Canyon:


Blueberry Lake State Rec. Site lies just below Thompson Pass.


Descent from Thompson Pass


The Lowe River enters the upper (north) end of Keystone Canyon.


The Lowe River is barely below the level of the Richardson Hwy. through Keystone Canyon.


Bridal Veil Falls (L) and another smaller falls in Keystone Canyon


Horsetail Falls in Keystone Canyon

We loved all the gorgeous mountains that we couldn't see three years ago in the rain and clouds -- it was almost like we haven't been here before. It was awesome to see all the peaks and glaciers clearly.


View of the eastern end of the Alaska Range from the Tok Cut-Off

Above and below:  These two photos from the Tok Cut-Off looking east
toward the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain Range are among my favorites from this trip.

I think the drive from Glenallen to Valdez on the Richardson Hwy. is even prettier than going south on the Haines Hwy. Both are stunning, though.

Here are a couple pictures along the Richardson Hwy. between Glennallen and Worthington Glacier:

 

The next photo is approaching Worthington Glacier from the north, which is simply stunning from this direction:

I included some more photos of the glacier farther down this page. There will also be a separate entry from a day trip we took to the glacier during our stay in Valdez.

I loved all the blue lupines, vetch, pink fireweed, and other wildflowers along the roadside from Tok to Valdez:


Lupines and other wildflowers at a rest area along the Richardson Hwy.

We saw 12,010-foot Mt. Drum from a viewpoint near visitor center at Wrangell-St. Elias NP but it was hazy, reportedly from a fire inside the park that has been left to burn in a wilderness area with no structures or people:


This is Mt. Drum.  14,163-foot Mt. Wrangell, farther to the right (south), was lost in the haze today.

Valdez was also very hazy this evening when we drove into town. Someone said it was because of the fire in Willow, but that's pretty far away and over lots of mountains and ice fields. Perhaps it's from the Wrangell-St. Elias fire or three fires now burning on the Kenai Peninsula.

That's the downside of an unseasonably warm winter and spring.

Weather:  warm and sunny all day -- 60s to upper 70s F., which is above average. Fairly windy in Valdez in the afternoon, calm in the evening.

JUST HOW WARM IS ALASKA?

This article re: the record heat in Alaska was on the Wall Street Journal Market Watch site today (degrees are Fahrenheit)

This is how hot it is in Anchorage:  hotter than in Los Angeles. Temperatures in Alaskaís biggest city hit 83 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, records for both calendar days and just two degrees shy of the June record set in 1969. Temperatures could again hit 80 on Wednesday. In Los Angeles, temperatures on Monday and Tuesday didnít crack 80.

Just how out of whack is that? A normal high for Anchorage was just 63 degrees, as measured between 1981 and 2010, according to the National Weather Service.


Approaching Worthington Glacier from the north; the Lowe River flows next to the highway.

A giant high pressure system over western Alaska isnít going away anytime soon, meaning the stateís unusually hot temperatures could stick around through the end of the month, said Richard Thoman, the Fairbanks-based climate science and services manager for the National Weather Serviceís Alaska region.

Hereís something else Alaska has in common with California these days: a dry winter and resulting wildfires. The heat is fueling Alaskaís fires, which have been amplified by an unusually low amount of snow during the winter, which led to drier forests and grasses. While this yearís fires arenít large by Alaska standards, they have unusually destructive because of the number of homes that have burned.

Despite this heat wave, cooler-than-normal temperatures in the first 10 days of the month means it probably wonít go down as one of the hottest Junes on record for much of the state, Thoman said.

Above and below:  more photos of Worthington Glacier; it looked much different under lots of snow in 2012.

Alaska may be getting used to warmer temperatures. Last month was the warmest May for the state since records began in 1925, with a temperature 7.1 degrees above normal. Since 2000, April and May in many years have been among the warmest on record.

Contributing to the warmer weather in recent years have been sea surface temperatures far above normal as well as earlier melting of winter ice, he said.

VALDEZ GLACIER CAMPGROUND

We arrived at this campground about mid-afternoon, which gave us plenty of daylight to get set up and begin re-exploring the area. We stayed only three nights in 2012, when it was colder and more rainy. The weather was pleasant enough to stay five nights this time.

I'll write more about the campground in the next entry. Here's a sneak peak at our site:

Sunrise this morning in Valdez was 4:03 AM. Sunset tonight is 11:30 PM. Twilight extends those hours even further, and it's not even the summer solstice yet.

How are we supposed to sleep from 10 PM to 7 AM?? 

(We do fairly well with that after spending so many nights at well-lit Walmart and Sam's Club parking lots the last twelve years. Dark fabric over our bedroom blinds helps a lot.)

Next entriesphotos from Valdez Glacier Campground and nearby lakes, glaciers, and mountains

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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