Posts Tagged ‘Glennallen


Road Trippin’ 2015: Valdez or Not Valdez

After departing the restaurant in Glennallen, we got back on Richardson Highway and set off for Thompson Pass where we planned to stop and see Worthington Glacier. From there we had hoped to head south to Valdez but since getting back to Anchorage from Valdez involves either turning around and going back through Glennallen or taking a ferry across Prince William Sound and catching the highway back from Whittier, we decided to turn back at Thompson Pass so as to avoid wasting time—and, more importantly, daylight.

Since we had the option of using our phones—thanks to an unexpected yet welcome increase in connectivity—we decided to check in with LaVon, who assured us that all the sights to be seen between Thompson Pass and Valdez were not to be missed, even if it meant delaying our return to Anchorage until the next day. Having no reason to doubt her—other than our fruitless excursion to locate Arctic Circle, that is—we decided to take her advice and set a course for Valdez.

The views on this leg of the journey were the most spectacular we’d see so far. I know I’ve said it before—and will no doubt again—but everywhere we went—every mile we drove—there were amazing things to be seen, and every last one of them seemed even more beautiful than the last.





Worthington Glacier was definitely worth the trip. Like so many of its peers, the glacier is retreating—although, fortunately, not as swiftly as some—at least according to the experts.

Unlike many of its peers, this glacier is approachable on foot. In fact, you can drive almost to the base of it by car, park in the lot of a relatively plain but well-maintained visitor center, and then hike up the front and even poke around in the hollowed out area behind the wall of ice.

Note the words “you can” near the beginning of that last sentence. I draw your attention to this phrase not to highlight the fact that these options exist. Although they—and several others—do exist, the aim here is to emphasize not the auxiliary verb (can) but the subject pronoun (you.) And to be clear, I do not mean YOU specifically—as in you, the individual who happens to be reading this right now; but YOU collectively—as in everyone. In short, anyone but ME.

For a change, I’m not steering clear of an activity due to fear, phobia, or paranoia. Rather, I’m simply adhering to the concept of knowing one’s limitations, which I’ve had to adopt ever since being fitted with my new knees a year or so ago.


Although I probably could have made it up the glacier without much difficulty, the going down bit may have given me some trouble since the trail was unimproved and there were no railings to hold onto, nor any trees, bushes, or small, sturdy children to break my fall. Had I thought to bring along a set of hiking poles or even a walking stick, you would be reading the words of an accomplished glacier spelunker as opposed to the envious and grateful SPOUSE of an accomplished glacier spelunker who was kind enough to offer his photos for use in this post.

AT WG 13 ICE 1


Our next stop was at a scenic overlook near Blueberry Lake. Blueberry Lake is what’s called an Alpine Lake, as it sits up high in a large switchback between Worthington Glacier and Hogback Glacier. The views here, like everywhere else, are awesome, and the wild blueberries are both abundant and delicious!





From the Blueberry Lake area we continued down the highway–which eventually meets up with and follows the Lowe River–past Snowslide Gulch, and down through Keystone Canyon. Along the way, we saw several of Nature’s most gorgeous displays, including Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls.BVF 3BVF 2BVF 1BVF 4 TO VALDEZ 2 TO VALDEZ 6

Although the views were amazing, my enjoyment of the scenery was dampened somewhat by the hairpin curves and steep grade of the road, and the realization that we had put our trust in a rented vehicle whose brakes and maintenance history we knew nothing about. Happily, the Jarhead has been around the block with me a time or two, knows how to keep me from going completely bonkers, and has learned to ignore the sharp intakes of breath that punctuate my comments on Nature’s wonder and his driving.

Upon reaching Valdez, the first thing I noticed—after regaining the ability to breathe normally, that is—was the number of rabbits dotting the ground. We have rabbits in Wisconsin, but you generally see one or two here and there, and they’re typically tawny in color in order to blend in with the scenery.

The rabbits in Valdez, on the other hand, are literally all over the place and they’re downright ostentatious when it comes to color and diversity. White rabbits, black rabbits, and gray rabbits nibble at the local greenery alongside speckled rabbits, spotted rabbits, and mottled rabbits of more colors and combinations than one could count.

Apparently it’s a problem for the locals, many of who view the bunnies as feral pests to be managed if not eradicated. Nevertheless, it reminded me of a riff by the late standup comedian, Mitch Hedberg, in which he claimed his apartment was infested with koalas.

“It’s the cutest infestation ever. Much better than cockroaches. I turn the lights on and a bunch of koala bears scatter. I’m like “hey, hold on fellas! Lemme hold one of you, and feed you a leaf”…they’re so cute…they should ship a few over, and I will apprehend one… And hold him… And pet him on the back of his head.”

I guess it loses something in the retelling. But google it if you get the chance, because it’s awesome.

Anyway, after admiring the multitude of resplendent rabbits, we had a look around town to see what there was to do. Our options included fishing, whale watching, shopping, and more—all of which would have kept us busy for several hours and possibly into the next day. Having neither the time nor the energy to devote to such occupations, we opted instead to head over to Mike’s Palace, where we enjoyed a seafood lunch and Caprese salad made with real imported Italian buffalo mozzarella. Yum!

From there it was back to the highway for another hair-raising ride up the canyon, to be followed by a trip through the mountains to Anchorage. Since we had already been through the first part before, and since the Jarhead was about to fall into a carb-induced coma, it was my turn to drive. I had misgivings about this, but since it was either that or let the zombie take the wheel, I climbed into the driver’s seat and and headed for home, as it were.


Road Trippin’ 2015: Up Around the Bend

Having survived the night at our less than luxurious lodgings, the Jarhead and I staggered out of bed Tuesday morning and prepared to face the day.

The first item on our agenda—after showering up, packing up, and settling up—was to procure a hot breakfast. With this in mind, we loaded the car and wandered back to the restaurant that had closed early the previous evening. This time we found the place both unlocked AND open for business, but completely empty except for the woman standing behind the counter and a young man—presumably the cook—whom we could see through the window to the kitchen behind her.

Hoping the lack of customers had to do with the limited number of people living or passing through the area—as opposed to, say, a recent outbreak of salmonella or listeria—we chose a table and sat down. Sometime later, we were approached by the woman who looked about our age and seemed several degrees less than thrilled to see us. I don’t know if it was the dead eyes or the mumbled greeting that gave it away, but this gal clearly was not pleased by our arrival, nor was she willing to make an effort to conceal that fact.

Perhaps she wasn’t as unhappy to have us there as much as she was unhappy to be there herself. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well, I allowed, and there had been no one available to cover her shift. Or maybe she was just a miserable person who enjoyed making other people uncomfortable. Either way, it was obvious she wouldn’t be going out of her way to make our visit a pleasant one.

To be fair, I hadn’t expected anyone to throw confetti or fire a cannon when we arrived. Nor would I expect her—or anyone, for that matter—to be overjoyed at having to wait tables at 7am on a dreary day in the sticks of Alaska. But I also didn’t think it was asking too much for her to smile and say hello when she grudgingly handed over the menus.

I wasn’t about to point this out to her—although, believe me, I was tempted—in part because I didn’t want to make a scene that ended with our walking out and going hungry, but mostly because I didn’t want my food to arrive with a complimentary side of saliva. Instead, I graciously accepted both the menu and her half-hearted offer of coffee, and hoped the quality of the eggs, hash browns, and deer sausage they served would make up for the inhospitable atmosphere.

As we sipped our coffee and waited for the food to arrive, the Jarhead and I flipped through the various booklets, brochures, and other materials we had picked up over the last few days to check out what there was to see and do between Glennallen and Valdez. Our options included a hike up Worthington Glacier, a visit to Blueberry Lake, hiking, biking, whale watching, fishing, ferry rides, boat rides, train rides, and helicopter rides.

Holy cow, I thought as I reached the last page of our largest booklet. There was so much to do I was exhausted just thinking about the possibilities. Expressing roughly the same sentiment, the Jarhead swapped his booklet for mine, and we continued to read.

While we were reading, three more parties arrived at the restaurant. These included two older but not old ladies in tourist clothes, two thirty-something men in work clothes, and an elderly gent who I’m sure was wearing clothes but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to remember what kind.

My lack of recall on that topic may or may not have had something to do with the arrival of our food, which to my delight and relief, was both delicious and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It looked and tasted so good, in fact, that I momentarily forgot about the server and her attitude. Of course, by then we were so desperate for a hot meal, she could have brought us each a plate of toasted construction paper wrapped in foil and drizzled with Elmer’s glue and we probably would have gobbled it up like cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

With my hands, eyes, and mouth now too busy eating to read travel guides, my mind was free again to contemplate what was going on around me. The two young men had been the first two arrive, and were being treated about as warmly as we had been. Although I’m ashamed to admit it, this made me feel better about how we’d been received since I no longer had reason to suspect it was personal.

The older fellow had arrived next, and unlike the other two men, had been greeted both warmly and by name. He was also treated to friendly conversation about the news and weather. This irked me somewhat, since you shouldn’t have to KNOW someone in order to be pleasant toward them, but I tried not to let my indignation get the better of me.

The two ladies, meanwhile, had arrived last and were now getting the full court press, which about set my hair on fire. Because I knew from their clothing and southern accents that they were not locals, but tourists just like us.

So what gives? I wondered as the server stood beside their table several feet from ours gesturing with the coffee pot like she was at home with her two best friends.

And then it hit me: She, too, had a southern accent. And while it was clear from their conversation that they had never met before—because, YES, by then I had abandoned my good manners and started to eavesdrop—they were carrying on about this and that as if they’d known each other for decades.

It wasn’t fair. I may be a tourist and a damn Yankee but I have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, and I can do a southern accent with my eyes closed and both arms tied behind my back. And I definitely would have used one if I had known that was all it would have taken to avoid feeling unwanted and unwelcome. If I’d known which state she was from, I probably could have approximated her specific dialect and the two of us could have carried on like it was old home week, too.

I realized then that I’d gone around the bend. And at that point, I wondered if the Jarhead could sense it too. For although ALL of the aforementioned thoughts had—somehow—gone unspoken, I had gone WAY too long unspeaking. Which, in the Jarhead’s experience, is not always a good sign.

“Whatcha thinking about?” he asked, having finished his own food and scavenging what remained of mine.

“Just pondering what we should do with our day,” I lied without hesitation.

Sometimes it’s best not to tell anyone what you’re really thinking.

At least, not until the moment has passed.


June 2019
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