It’s the little things (in unexpected Places…)

After leaving Ninilchik, we decided to stop in Palmer, just North of Anchorage.

But been there, done that. Reason enuf not to do it again!


Our SOLE REASON for selecting Palmer is it is on the way to Valdez, and it is not Anchorage. OK, that’s 2 reasons. Now, it is not that we didn’t care for Anchorage – we did, very much. But been there, done that. Reason enuf not to do it again! MANY of our travel choices are made this way! And, we wonder why some people vacation at the same place every year…makes no sense to us when there are so many OTHER places to see. But that is just OUR personal agenda…

What we found in Palmer was A TOTAL and PLEASANT surprise!

Matanuska River Park

At the most superficial level, Palmer had a GREAT State Campground and RV Park, right on the river, first come-first served with Electric Hookup. We were a little worried it would be full, but it was not. We were the ONLY ones in our section of the campground! And it was nice, level, and exceedingly pleasant! Not only that, the town was flat for biking, had a Brewery AND a DQ and a Fred Meyer. Pretty much ticks all the boxes!

Perfect Opportunity to help others…

Even had me thinking of a new career opportunity, where I could bring JOY to others!

So we went for a bike ride in Palmer, and learned about the history of the area through a film at the visitor center. That’s where the fascination at a deeper level begins – so much more interesting than even a Brewery and a DQ!!!

It seems the entire Matanuska Area north of Anchorage was settled during the Depression and the New Deal. Alaska DESPERATELY needed people to come up and settle; and plenty of folks in the lower 48 had nothing and no way to survive. It was someone’s idea in the Roosevelt Administration to start a “Colony” and solicit destitute folks from Wisconsin and Minnesota to come for a fresh start. The New Deal allowed 200 families to relocate, providing transportation and basic amenities, construction materials etc. In return, each colonist was to create a homestead, plant crops and become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. And, to repay their account with the government for this fresh start over 30 years.

So was born the Very Socialist Matanuska Colony! And Palmer was at the center of it!

TO hear and see the first-hand stories as told by the original Matanuska Colonists was quite enlightening and perhaps educational about some of our current political rancor. If you’ll forgive me a brief digression into the subject of “Socialism,” which is seemingly revered and abhored in degrees by approx. 50% each of the voting public. The Matanuska Colony WAS Socialism – the government picked the spot, sent the supplies, provided food, transport, etc. etc. Some expectation for eventual repayment was included, as was some notion of personal interests. But the colony was essentially run as a commune with the government as the benefactor that approved any plans of a personal nature that a Colonist might make. And, there were plenty of socialist-central-government planning errors – wrong stuff, too late, etc.

But, guess what? Some people stayed, worked hard and thrived. Government mistakes were overcome. And some people left. Few to none just sat back and let anyone provide FOR them. Just like would happen (in my opinion, of course) if Medicare for All were to be executed and fine-tuned over time. When people NEED something, sometimes Government can initiate, at least. What we have now is broken just as what the colonists’ lives were back in the depression. Even with all the missteps, it is clear the experiment succeeded in helping people.

POLITICS ALERT! If you cannot tolerate a couple of paragraphs of things I am thinking about of a political nature, you might want to skip the blue text down to “*****” below. If you CAN listen, consider and even comment – so much the better; EVEN IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME. Our fractured society can only be mended if people are willing to talk.

I am thinking that if the resolution of SOME of our nation’s problems involved government in some way, this won’t magically drive all initiative out of the population! It didn’t in Palmer, why would it elsewhere? Government programs, complete with inefficiency and planning and execution snafus that need to be corrected and tuned, are often the difference between life and death for average people. LIZ and I NEED OBAMACARE – this IS life and death potentially! There has been nothing privately available for us, plain and simple, and nothing being discussed offers us any hope. So don’t tell me how bad “Socialized Medicine” is until you can offer me an alternative that I can buy!

Put another way, Socialism in degrees does NOT turn into Venezuela automatically! It has in the past and CAN make a positive impact on people who need help. It has and can also run amok – we need to make sure it doesn’t; which is NOT a reason to not even make an effort to help people. “Simple” as that!

And, While we are at it, I am thinking about the latest Mass-Shootings, and all the gnashing of teeth online and on the air which we cannot escape even up in Alaska! Here’s the thing…Liz and I have STAYED AT THAT VERY WALMART IN EL PASO. And we have been to the Oregon Area of Dayton, Ohio. But for an accident of timing, we could have been involved in these incidents. Or dead. I am tired of our representatives doing nothing except shouting at each other (or letting the lobbyists shout for them), while they keep happening. Our xenophobia (none of the recent events have involved Muslims or immigrants – either illegal or legal – except as victims, or congresswomen of colour or socialists) and divisiveness simply have to stop – we are (or were, perhaps we are no longer?) better than that.

I floated an idea … JUST AN IDEA… on Facebook to prompt discussion. And, BOY, did I get an earful. I did not get any thoughtful counter-proposals. Just tirades about “NOT TAKING MY GUNS AWAY” (which I did not propose – in fact I specifically said I was probably the ONLY liberal-minded person who would NOT take people’s guns away!) and “Why do democrats want to “punish” law-abiding citizens who have a RIGHT to bear arms…” If you are interested in the Facebook Discussion in all its glory, here it is:

Sorry for the political rant – I do this VERY rarely here in these pages, but some stuff is just too close to home and too in need of discussion to entirely escape some here. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

SKIP TO HERE ********

After we left Palmer, our plan was to head down to Valdez for some Ocean Kayaking and other enjoyment. I was especially curious about the Prince William Sound after the Exxon-Valdez tragedy…it is not in the news anymore – does that mean it has been fully mitigated? Or is this just too long-term-sad to pique the interest of attention-span-and-factual-detail-challenged Americans? Inquiring minds (well, at least one!) want(s) to know!

If you look at a map or ask Google for advice, you will be told it is about 90 miles as the crow flies, but 257 miles and 4:25 hours for RV WHERE YET, which does not proceed Crow-like, to Valdez from Palmer. Even that is simply NOT the reality of the situation. The road, we were told, is full of frost heaves and pot holes. In a car, you’d do 40 for much of the 250 miles. In RV WHERE YET, we prefer the dishes to stay IN the cabinets so we chose to do mostly 35 mph. THAT had us planning to make at least one stop along the way; and that stop was Glennallen.

Glennallen Chili and a Bucket of Pain

Glennallen had a Lodge/Roadhouse that was recommended by fellow Bluebirdbrain Randy Dupree. Randy has made a few recommendations along the way, and these have turned out to be spot on, for the most part. The Lodge turned out to have, as promised, excellent sites, WiFI and FOOD in the restaurant. Though only an excellent Chili, because the proprietor, Andy, was singlehandedly building a new foundation for the lodge AND a new kitchen in Alaska’s VERY SHORT building season.  

One thing of note: Liz thinks I am turning into a Vampire…If the weather is clear, I am up every night until 2 or so, hoping to see another appearance of the Aurora. Tried that in Glennallen, where there are NO lights to interfere, but unfortunately also no Aurora visible.

Valdez Sunset

Valdez turned out to be a really fantastic place to visit, for a lot of reasons. People had warned us about the “bad Road” to Valdez. Well, it was simply NOT that bad. ALL of the road was a full two lanes, most had shoulders of some sort and every now and then a guardrail separating us from certain death down the abyss next to the road!  

An earlier blog post would have reported this road as rough at times, narrow and with steep, scary dropoffs at the shoulders. It’s all a matter of perspective…maybe we have been in Alaska long enuf that our road-standards have changed?

Mountains all around

And, the road to Valdez was among THE MOST SCENIC in all of our travels ANYWHERE, not just Alaska!!! Valdez, itself, on the Prince William Sound, is a FANTASTICALLY beautiful place – maybe the MOST beautiful in Alaska!!! There are essentially mountains and glaciers all around. Look in every direction to see snow-capped majesty. Then there is the sound, which is pretty calm (it is surrounded by mountains) and VERY DEEP (800 ft from about 30’ off shore). Our stay in Valdez was 100% sunny and “brutally warm” (i.e. 75ºF) each day.

So to say just “lovely” would be a gross misrepresentation.

Valdez Kayaking

While in Valdez, we booked a couple tours. One was a kayak “adventure” on the Sound. Geared up in layers and shoehorned into a Kayak, we had quite a leisurely paddle right off the Marina. There were longer trips available; the “3 hour cruise” seemed right for us.

Our guide spent more than a little time telling us about the Valdez Oil spill in 1989. For example, only 10% of the spilled oil was ever recovered, yet the wildlife in the area have almost fully recovered EXCEPT the local pod of Killer Whales. Apparently, the spill killed most of the Males, and the remaining were not enough for the Pod to recover. There are transient Orcas, but none that live here year around.

We also learned about the “Real” reason why the spill was so devastating: For three days after the ship went aground, the weather was FLAT CALM. Most if not ALL the Oil should have been recovered. BUT, two things happened:

  1. The various agencies argued about who was responsible. The Oil Companies? The State of Alaska? The Ship’s insurer? The US Government? No one did anything. But, even if they had NOT pissed away the three days…
  2. There weren’t any assets in the area sufficient to clean up the spill. No tugs, no sweepers, etc. etc. It wasn’t a requirement, and wasn’t anything anyone thought was required, or certainly economical.

After the third day, there was a storm (which is common in these parts, so should have been expected….), which scattered the oil around and made it basically unrecoverable. So, today, if you dig down on any beach, you will find a layer of oil still. Yet DESPITE this, the wildlife thrives and the beauty of the place astounds. In fact, there are salmon hatcheries and fisheries IN THE SOUND, where tankers load oil and unload polluted ballast water (which is 100% treated) almost every day. Nowhere else in the world is an Oil Tanker Port so pristine. Why?

Empty Barges in case of a spill

Today, Tankers are required to be escorted by 2 HUGE tugboats, to have a pilot on board the entire time they are in the sound AND all Tankers are required to be of the double-hulled variety. There are empty barges standing by, available to contain spilled oil. All Ballast water is required to be pumped out of the holds for treatment. If a Tanker arrives without Ballast Water, the port will fine them MILLIONS OF DOLLARS because they KNOW that there WAS ballast water, which must have been dumped just offshore and beyond visibility.

All of that adds several layers of cost to oil transport, making Alaskan Oil less competitive and which folks in Valdez almost universally lament as an intrusion of BIG GOVERNMENT. Yet, without these, another disaster would be almost inevitable. From my perspective, a contradiction…private industry did not and would not undertake such precautions without government regulation; something that to this day rankles Alaskans who mostly moved here to escape such intrusive government. There’s a lesson there for today, related to my above rant, methinks…

The second adventure was a Boat cruise on the “LuLu Belle with Captain Fred.” We had been hearing about this guy and this cruise for the past 500 miles…”You gotta do the LuLu Belle…” So we did. The cruise was basically “All Day” but not defined in hours. Depends on what there is to see, according to Captain Fred.

The shuttle was a little late picking us up at RV WHERE YET in the morning before the cruise, which had me wishing we had just walked the 3 blocks to the pier. But when he did finally arrive, the driver said, “I don’t suppose they’ll leave without us.” Because IT WAS CAPTAIN FRED that was picking us up!!!


Anyway, the cruise ultimately was from 11:00 to about 7:30PM. Along the way, we saw Otters, Seals, Sea Lions, Porpoises, Eagles, Puffins and Whales. On the latter, Capt’n Fred offered a “prize” for the first person to spot a whale, and IT WAS LIZ!!! Let me tell you, the little plastic replica of the LuLu Belle (which turns out to be a USB-Drive in disguise—HOW COOL IS THAT?!) will be one of our MOST cherished possessions from now on!!!!

Due to space limitations, we have a rule on RV WHERE YET…unless it is a sticker: “If something comes on board, something must leave. “ I just hope liz remembers that I USE THAT SCREWDRIVER (and the bottle of Scotch) FREQUENTLY!!!!

Columbia Glacier and Ice Field

The coolest part of the cruise, tho (LITERALLY), was a close approach to the Columbia Glacier. This is HUGE in comparison to the Glacier we sailed to from Seward. With a HUGE iceberg field guarding the approach. Capt’n Fred navigated gingerly through that field until the LuLu Belle was a mere ¼ mile from the monumental, actively calving glacier. And the katabatic Winds off the Glacier were COLD-COLD-COLD. “Katabatic” refers to to a weather phenomenon generated as the surface of the glacier melts, cooling the air above, which becomes heavier and flows off the glacier.

Columbia Up Close and COLD

Chicago may be the “Windy City” but this was impressive!!!! Suffice to say, though it was 75F in port, we had gloves and stocking caps on, as well as layers of thermal clothing, which Captain Fred made sure we knew were needed before we got onto the shuttle.

The rest of the time in Valdez, we just enjoyed Valdez. There was an Ice Cream-oriented Food Truck IN OUR RV PARK; a super nice amenity. There were a couple of excellent food trucks in town.  WE even went fishing in Valdez. And by that I mean we went to the fish processing plant and bought fish. Makes no sense for us to do otherwise.

So, we just BUY fish at a place where they come in fresh off the boat OR go to a fancy (or not so fancy) seafood Restaurant.

Follow me for a sec: We COULD pay $350 EACH to go on a fishing boat for the day. Then we’d catch a 100lb Halibut and 6 Salmon EACH (because pretty much everyone catches their limit in Alaska). Then the crew would filet all that, and we could pay to have it vacuum-packed. Then, we could put AT MOST 3 filets into our tiny freezer on RV WHERE YET! So, we would spend almost $1,000 for a couple pounds of fish we could keep!!!! The rest we could PAY to have FedExed home…except WAIT A MINUTE…no one is “home” to receive it!

Salmon at the Hatchery Entrance

One afternoon we drove out to the Fish Hatchery across the sound from Valdez Proper. WHAT AN INTERESTING PLACE. They harvest about 400,000,000 (yes, that is 400 MILLION) salmon eggs a year; 250,000,000 Pink Salmon and the rest pretty much all Silver (Coho). They raise these to fry, and then release the Pinks. The Coho lifecylce is different – they live a year in Fresh Water before returning to the ocean, so the hatchery raises them for this year before releasing them the next.

All of that is fascinating, but it is an UNBELIEVABLE SPECTACLE to go and watch the Salmon Run at the hatchery.

Salmon about to enter the Ladder

Basically, Salmon are imprinted on the stream in which they hatch, and they return there to lay their eggs. All 400,000,000 Salmon raised at the hatchery are imprinted on the hatchery, so all the ones that survive (which is a small fraction in raw terms, but still enuf fish to roil the water across the inlet — seemingly enuf to walk across on the backs of!) come back to the Hatchery. There is a fish ladder they climb, right up into the factory where their eggs and sperm are removed for the next “crop.” The carcasses are then sold to be made into dogfood.

SO this is a 100% natural cycle; the hatchery just gathers up the large number of Salmon trying to get to what they perceive as their own, personal “upstream” to spawn; and helps them out – thus increasing MANYFOLD the number of fry produced (most salmon arriving at a stream do NOT make it all the way up stream naturally). Since a Salmon dies after spawning, the dogfood-end just makes use of the carcasses.

Because there are literally hundreds of thousands of salmon in the run, the entrance to the hatchery’s fish ladder is almost solid fish, and is therefore usually a really good place to see Bears – both Grizzly and Black. This year, according to the locals, not so much – it is too hot for the bears (75ºF each day). And people fishing nearby get a few of the stragglers, along with the otters, seals, sealions, etc.

Finally, the other RV Park option in town (we selected ours randomly) contained….OUR BLUE BIRD STALKERS, the Duprees, Brangdons, Shawvers and Brookshires!!! Though technically, I suppose, since they arrived in Valdez first, WE were the stalkers. Regardless of who was committing the Federal Crime (Stalking is, or so I have been told), there was a spaghetti dinner at the Brangdons, which was delicious!!!

On the way out of Valdez, Randy said we MUST stop and see the Kennecott Copper Mine. We had passed the cutoff for that on the road into Valdez, so stopping on the way out would be easy, and something that had TOTALLY not been on our radar. But since the way out is an uphill grade for MANY miles – RV WHERE YET (and her occupants) will need a break after 3 hours of 15MPH in first gear, so WHY NOT STOP??!!!

Randy did say to leave the RV in a little park just off the highway and drive the Jeep to the mine. He had cautioned us similarly when we went to Eagle at the beginning of the summer, and we felt that was the right choice then, so we decided to do the same to Kennecott.

Meanwhile, Kathy and Steve are hanging back in Anchorage. They needed to be at a place with good FedEx and Notary services for a Real Estate Closing, which had already been delayed once. Steve didn’t feel comfortable about being “disconnected” or unavailable at a critical time, so they stayed in a “real” city with all those modern conveniences and conveyances. We decided they’d be able to catch up with us, probably in Tok – which is an intersection that everyone coming to or leaving Alaska goes through. We’re heading there after Kennecott, as we start to head back towards the lower 48, and, their closing “should” be complete in time for them to intersect with us there.

So that’s the “plan.” As always, our plans are more guidelines, so in coming posts you’ll see how it all worked out!

2 thoughts on “It’s the little things (in unexpected Places…)

  • our group has split up and theres just us and the Bragdons,we are in Whitehorse and leaving the 16th at the crack of noon heading to Montana.
    Things to do,coachs to see.
    Randy Dupree

    • Hi Randy!

      We ALMOST overlapped again…we just pulled in to Whitehorse (on the 16th). We are heading to Montana (slowly) beginning the 18th…maybe we’ll see you on the road (again)

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