We have reservations in Anchorage at the end of the week so once our car was ready we headed out of the city. On Wednesday afternoon, we drove out to Turnagain Arm and the Portage Valley just outside of Anchorage to look for a scenic spot to boondock. Turnagain Arm is a narrow branch of the Cook Inlet that extends from the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska.
Turnagain Arn got its name from William Bligh (later of HMS Bounty fame) when he was the navigator on a James Cook expedition seeking a Northwest Passage. When they discovered it dead ended, they had to “turn again”. Cute.
Since this was a short little side trip outside of Anchorage, I am not going to count it as a driving day. After a little driving back and forth we found a nice spot by the highway that had room for Island Girl with sweeping views. It was a bit late because we had run a few errands earlier that day in Anchorage so we settled in and Hector began to cook dinner.
As I walked Angel I noticed a Class C had just parked on the opposite end of the rest stop, so I made sure to steer clear and give them their space. A few minutes after Angel and I returned to Island Girl there was a knock on our door. Chris (@chris_technomadia) and Cherie (@cherie_Technomadia) were the people who had just parked on the other side of the rest stop.
The four of us had drinks at our Tiki Bar that evening and breakfast together the next morning. It was great to get to know them a little better, since we had only spent a short time with them last winter in Anza Borrego, California.
After they left, Hector and I drove over to scout Portage Lake, where Portage Glacier is located. We really wanted to kayak to the glacier, and after checking it out decided it was doable and we would check weather the next few days to find a good day for a paddle.
On the way to the lake, we spotted a very quiet spot in a small overflow parking area where we could boondock. When we returned to our original spot we noticed that the holiday traffic along Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward was getting crazy and very noisy.
That evening we drove over to see the tidal bore. Turnagain Arm is shaped in a way that creates this relatively rare phenomena. A boretide is where the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travels up against the direction of the current. They are biggest after a negative low tide.
Surfers and stand up paddle boarders can ride these waves for miles. A unique opportunity. The surfers put in miles away and let the outgoing tide bring them up the arm. Then they catch the wave and ride it back to their cars!
The bore first appears as a little line on the water in the distance and grows as it continues up to the narrower part of the arm.
The next morning was really windy and we opted not to kayak on the lake. But we did visit the beautiful Beggich-Boggs Visitor Center, just around the corner from us. The Visitor Center focuses on the Chugach National Forest, America’s second largest single national forest.
They have very cool interactive displays and show an excellent movie about glaciers.
Although it was windy it was a pretty sunny day, so afterwards we crossed the 2.5 mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to Whittier. The tunnel was originally a rail tunnel and in the late 1990s it was paved and is now shared by cars and trains traveling on the one lane in both directions.
Whittier, on the northeast shore of the Kenai Peninsula, is located on the West side of Prince William Sound. It was originally constructed as a military facility (as was the tunnel), and is now a harbor and deepwater port and Alaska Rail’s connection to Canada and the lower 48.
There really is not much to see in Whittier but it is in a scenic setting and is one of the departure points for excursions to Prince William Sound.
That evening, we once again drove over to see the tidal bore. Quite a crowd showed up for this one as it was a beautiful day on a holiday weekend.
Afterwards, we visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). The center focuses on conservation, education and quality animal care. It takes in wild animals that have been hurt or babies that have been abandoned, rehabilitates them if possible and provides permanent housing for them. The center houses black and brown bears, moose, elk, black-tailed deer, owl, porcupine, eagles, lynx, and fox.
What I was most looking forward to seeing were the musk ox. I don’t know that I will ever be somewhere where I will see them in the wild since they inhabit the arctic tundra far north of where we plan to go, so this was my chance.
The most wonderful surprise were the baby musk ox. There were two calves about 6 weeks old. They breed the musk ox because there are so few in the wild. But the infants in captivity here had a low survival rate due to low mineral content in the local soil and thus in the mother’s milk. This does not seem to affect the adults, but had an adverse effect on the calves during their first year.
Just as cute were two moose calves that had been orphaned by their mothers. These two were so gangly with their long legs. They are both about 2 months old and also hand fed by interns and will later be introduced to the existing adult moose in the center. Sad that they cannot go back to the wild, but they will be taken care of.
The brown bear enclosure was next to the musk ox area, and one of the bears was dreaming about mush ox for dinner.
We really enjoyed our visit to the AWCC although it was raining while we were there. But at one point it began to rain really hard, so we returned to our quiet and tranquil campsite for the rest of the day.
Even though we never got to kayak, we still had a great few days in this beautiful area so close to Anchorage, our next stop.