Today we travelled from Tok to Valdez. When we arrived in Tok the day before yesterday, we immediately went to the Tok “Mainstreet Alaska” Visitor Center. This place has more information than anyone can possibly want about the state, plus some very interesting displays.
Tok is the point where people must decide if they are going straight to continue to the official end of the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction, and then on to Fairbanks, or if they are going to make a left or head southwest on the Tok Cutoff to Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Valdez. We chose to make a left.
Interestingly, most everyone that we have spoken with on the way here has chosen to go straight, or North. So it seems we will be swimming against the tide.
When we made that left, our plan was to go directly to the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, stay there a few days and then continue to Valdez. But in our long conversation with the nice lady at the Visitor Center about our planned route, she mentioned that if we saw a forecast of a good weather window in Valdez we should immediately head there. It seems Valdez is famous for having long periods of rainy weather. That is when we made our first change in plans.
We looked up weather and saw that there were several sunny and partly cloudy days coming up in Valdez, but no rain until about about five days later. And so we opted to head to Valdez first and then stop at Wrangell St. Elias afterwards, which we had to pass back through anyway on our way to Anchorage. This was not a change in route but rather a change in the order of our stops.
And so, yesterday, we handled a few chores, visited the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, and headed to Valdez, 240 miles away.
Road Name: Tok Cutoff
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Some very good stretches and pretty bad ones. A lot more frost heaves than the Alaska Highway, the road is literally in waves at points. Some gravel breaks and construction. Very careful attention required.
Road Name: Richardson Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Generally in better condition, with gentler frost heaves. Easier cruising.
Miles Today: 260
Driving Time: 5:45
Total Miles in Alaska: 352
Total Miles since entering Canada: 2346
We had construction delays while waiting for pilot cars. One of those construction areas had freshly laid asphalt on the right lane, and as we followed the pilot car on the left lane, we saw a big tanker truck coming right by the asphalt and partially in our lane. There was a gravel mound lining the edge of the road to our left, and so we had little room to maneuver. Our mirror cleared the tanker’s mirror by about one inch. Too scared to take photographs. The RV behind us freaked out so much that he went up on the gravel mound before passing the truck. Ay, ay, ay!
Happily, there was still some beautiful scenery along the way; lots of lovely ponds and other wetlands, mountains, and wildflowers.
We saw some trumpeter swans, eagles flying and Hector saw two bears quicly crossing the road ahead of us. I did not see them, but accidentally captured one in a photo I was taking of the nasty road.
As we turned into the Richardson Highway from the Tok Cutoff, the scenery became more spectacular. Views of the astounding Wrangell Mountains, peaks rising to over 18,000 feet appeared, though several were shrouded in clouds. And more beautiful wetlands.
We turned into a road to take photos of Mount Drum, the most visible of the mountains. But we had to drive into a general aviation airport tarmac to turn around. Hector did look up at the sky before driving there to make sure there were no aircraft landing 🙂
We made a quick stop at the Wrangell St. Elias National Park visitor center to load up on info for our visit after our Valdez stop. This is the largest U.S. National Park, the size of six Yellowstones. We’ll be back!
We arrived at one of the waterfalls as a rainbow was reflected on it. Absolutely stunning.
Pictures really don’t capture it.