Turnagain Arm and the Portage Valley

turn again arm 1turn again arm 4We 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.turn again arm 3

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.

turn again arm 6Since 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.

turn again arm 8As 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.

turn again arm 7A few months earlier when we compared notes on our Alaska plans we decided that we were not going to be anywhere near each other. And yet here they were. Serendipity.

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.

turn again arm 12turn again arm 13After 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.turn again arm 10

turn again arm 64On 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.turn again arm 22

Surfers headed out with the tide

Surfers headed out with the tide

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.

Anticipation

Anticipation

turn again arm 21Surfers 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!  turn again arm 25

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.

They keep on riding until you can barely see them

They keep on riding until you can barely see them

 

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turn again arm 30Later that evening we moved to the quiet little spot we discovered earlier. There was virtually no traffic by the parking lot, it had a distant view of Portage Lake and was surrounded by mountains.

Almost no one parked there because it was not by a trail or any other specific tourist area. Yay!turn again arm 35

turn again arm 32turn again arm 34The 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.turn again arm 33

They have very cool interactive displays and show an excellent movie about glaciers.

turn again arm 45Although 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.

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An innovative idea that saved many millions of dollars. They switch directions each half hour so you have to make sure to go at the right time in order to not have a wait.turn again arm 43

turn again arm 40Whittier, 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.  turn again arm 44

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.

The birds concentrate along the leading edge of the bore

The birds concentrate along the leading edge of the bore

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.

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turn again arm 58turn again arm 65On the 4th of July, our last day in the area, we woke up to rain. No kayaking again. We drove out to Bird Point at high tide to look for beluga whales but saw none.turn again arm 72

turn again arm 86turn again arm 66Afterwards, 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.turn again arm 69

turn again arm 78turn again arm 79What 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.  turn again arm 77

turn again arm 76They are sort of prehistoric looking with odd horns. Their thick fur is made up of a fine under coat of qiviut, one of nature’s best insulation materials, with an outer coat of guard hairs.

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.turn again arm 75

So interns at the center now bottle feed the calves until they are one year old with a mineral rich milk formula. Then they reintroduce them to their mothers and the herd.turn again arm 92

turn again arm 87Just 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.

turn again arm 73turn again arm 84turn again arm 81There was a large and very natural looking bear enclosure with an elevated boardwalk overlooking separate areas for black and brown bears.

The brown bear enclosure was next to the musk ox area, and one of the bears was dreaming about mush ox for dinner.

turn again arm 85turn again arm 61We 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.

~ Brendaturn again arm 60

20 thoughts on “Turnagain Arm and the Portage Valley

  1. So nice to be able to travel with great flexibility and still enjoy every day! Always something new to see! Loved the bore and also never heard of a one way reversible tunnel. You guys know how to live!

    • This is our most flexible year, we only reserved campgrounds in three places. We are loving Alaska, although it is pouring rain right now 🙂

  2. Lovely and cool on the tidal bores. Thank you for the work you put in keeping us “with” you three! Godspeed. xo

    • Yes the tidal bore is really interesting. We are really trying to keep up with the blog, so far so good.

  3. What a coincidence in that huge country to stop in the same place as Technomadia! Glad you were able to spend some time together:) The tidal bore is very cool!! We saw one in Nova Scotia. So very strange!! I loved your visit to the AWCC. The legs on those young moose are way too funny!! I’ve never seen a musk ox. It does look like a prehistoric creature. The babies are adorable. Sorry you didn’t get to kayak but you certainly found lots to keep you busy:)

    • We saw it in Nova Scotia as well and at Vancouver Island. The AWCC does good work, but it is sad to see these displaced animals.

  4. What a coincidence in that huge country to stop in the same place as Technomadia! Glad you were able to spend some time together:) The tidal bore is very cool!! We saw one in Nova Scotia. So very strange!! I loved your visit to the AWCC. The legs on those young moose are way too funny!! I’ve never seen a musk ox. It does look like a prehistoric creature. The babies are adorable. Sorry you didn’t get to kayak but you certainly found lots to keep you busy:)

  5. It’s been about 6 years since we were in the same area, we also went to Whittier for the day, had lunch at a wonderful little shop! We also had rain the whole time we were there. We loved a little town called “Hope” on the penninsula. We are hopefully heading back next year! Thanks for all the great info.

  6. There are only a few roads in Alaska, and its possible you are bound to meet people you have seen at the beginning of the trip.
    Im so glad that you made it to Whittier, for I remembered you were unsure of visiting it when you were planning.
    Portage Valley is where the Williwaw Campground is just before the tunnel.
    I love all of Hectors photos especially the wildlife, we did not see much when we passed by there. And the action at the tidal bore which we did not witness either 🙂

  7. How wonderful to spot you guys in the wild while in our little rental RV, and we so enjoyed connecting with you both in that little pull out! And what wonderful captures you got of the tidal bore! Oh, so much to experience in Alaska.. and so little time!

    • It seems that no matter how long you stay, it still feels short! So glad we got together! Your cruise sounds great too.

  8. I had recently read about tidal bores. How interesting to see one and see surfers and paddle boarders using it. It’s a shame you didn’t get to kayak but Mother Nature rules, doesn’t she? The AWCC looks wonderful, although it is never fun to see animals in captivity. At least it is nice to know that they are rehabilitating them.

    • Yes, we are fair weather kayakers, so we are ok with that. I am glad there are good people to save some of the animals too.

  9. I had recently read about tidal bores. How interesting to see one and see surfers and paddle boarders using it. It’s a shame you didn’t get to kayak but Mother Nature rules, doesn’t she? The AWCC looks wonderful, although it is never fun to see animals in captivity. At least it is nice to know that they are rehabilitating them.

  10. Will have to make a point of timing a drive out to Turnagain Arm to see the tidal bore the next time we are in Alaska. The only time we saw it was from the air when we did a DC3 nostalgic flightseeing trip in 2001 … even from high up, it was impressive. The AWCC is one of our favorite places to stop and visit when we go to Alaska. You saw many more babies than we have on our visits. We were lucky enough to see musk oxen in the wild when we did a trip up the Dalton Highway in Alaska, and also in Greenland. Always an amazing encounter when you see animals in the wild.

    • If you can plan to come near the full moon or new moon and during a negative tide there is a chance it will be even higher. How great that you have seen musk oxen in the wild! Not sure we will go up the Dalton Highway at all but if we do we will be on the lookout.

      • I wouldn’t have risked driving it in 2001, but from what Dahkota wrote the road is in much better shape now, with parts even paved … something that didn’t exist at all in 2001. I’d still be leery about taking the coach up the Dalton (we have a 40-footer), but would now consider going with the toad and staying overnight in the Coldfoot motel (where we stayed with the Princess tour we went on in 2001).

        • We are not sure we are going up the Dalton at all, but if we do it would definitely be in the toad. We shall see…

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