Friday, 27 May 2016

Alaskan Journal Part 10

Today's jaunt took us south of Anchorage on a 60 mile drive to Whittier. Our route took us to the top of the Turnagain Arm (spectacular coastal scenery all the way) and then up through Portage Pass, passed Portage Lake and then through a 2.6 mile tunnel to emerge about half a mile from Whittier. The interesting think about Whittier is that it really didn't exist until 1941 when the US army decided to build an extensive military base there. As part of this, they built the tunnel for the railway to get things to and from the port they built. The tunnel was exclusively for train use until relatively recently and now it allows both trains and cars etc through. Obviously not at the same time as it is single track. There is a tight time tabling system allowing access by one or the other. Driving through the tunnel is an interesting experience as I've never driven a car in such a straight line for so long. Whittier is an interesting one-off place and well worth visiting. We enjoyed it.
The entrance to the tunnel. It is tall and narrow, not that much wider than a single track road. It is dead straight, which makes holding a line more difficult than you might imagine.
Once through the tunnel, almost immediately you are in Whittier harbour. It's the base for lots of fishing trips in the Prince William Sound and is a terminal for the Alaska Marine Highway, which is a ferry that links a string of towns/villages in the Sound, some of which are inaccessible by road.
Now here's the most unusual thing about Whittier. When the army moved out in around 1960, it knocked down a lot of its buildings but a few remain. Some are used as municipal facilities, one is a hotel/museum but the old troop accommodation block now houses most of the residents of Whittier (population 217 in 2014). Imagine that, a whole village under one roof. The mind boggles. No room for disputes between neighbours, eh? The school is attached to the building via a tunnel which means that students don't have to brave the Alaska winter to get to school.
Just liked the directness of this - Mutt Mitt. It does what it says on the holder.
The tunnel giving pedestrian access from the ex-army zone to the harbour. We used it to go to the Whittier Museum which dealt mainly with WW2 and the campaign against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. An episode that we knew very little about but we know a little bit more now.
Luckily no tsunamis when we visited. We didn't realise how often Alaskans feel the ground move.
This snow moving machine makes our road salters in Cornwall look rather weak by comparison. This is a serious toy for the boys.
The view across Portage Lake to Portage Glacier.
On the way back we hiked the mile or so to the Byron Glacier, alongside Byron Creek all the way. Not a very spectacular glacier but it was interesting to get up close to one.

Looking further up the Byron Valley. Look closely and you can see the sun glistening on the melting ice.
Looking down the valley and a feeble attempt to capture clouds passing over the snow fields. What was I saying about the inability of the camera to capture what is really going on in front of you.

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