Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Alaska and the Yukon - Anchorage

July 19
Anchorage, AK

Today we are going to the Spencer Glacier for a rafting trip.  After a quick breakfast, we were on our way to the train station by 9:00 AM.  We would be taking the train south and for the first half of our trip we would follow  the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  

Everyone was thinking this was Denali, but it turned out to be
another peak, which I don't remember the name of.
We were happily surprised and excited to see these dall sheep from the train. 
These pictures were shot through the train window as we were speeding
by so they aren't very sharp, but I wanted to include them.

The tides make the water level change dramatically
in a short amount of time.  Here it is very low.
One of the more interesting and surprising things to see was a couple
of people surfing.  When the tide is flowing in and meets the river flowing
out it creates a wave which is, as you can see, surfable.

We made a side trip to Whittier where we dropped off a large group of people who were getting on a Princess Cruise Ship.  

The train stop in Whittier.
Val and the conductor.
The Princess cruise ship waiting for the train to deliver it's passengers.

After Whittier we turned south away from the Turnagain arm  It was a beautiful train ride with amazing scenery.  The train trip was about four hours long, but it passed quickly and before we knew it we were nearing the Spencer Lake stop.  

A little ways before we got to the Spencer stop, a guide came by and asked if we were going on the rafting trip and got our shoe sizes and issued us rubber boots to wear.  We got into our boots on the train and we were soon at Spencer Glacier.  There was nothing at the stop except a couple of out buildings, but we were met there by a small bus, which would take us on the short drive to Spencer Lake where our rafting trip would begin.
One of several glaciers we saw high in the mountains. Notice the blue color.
According to scientists, "Glaciers are blue because the dense ice of the glacier
absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue."

We spotted an eagle from the train watching us go by.
Our first sight of Spencer Lake was amazing. Across the lake was the Spencer Glacier and the lake was filled with icebergs with an amazing blue coloring.  We were assigned to one of four rafts, and then we were on our way. 

The weather was overcast with patches of blue sky, which really enhanced the blue coloring of the glacier and icebergs.  We floated around the lake for a while and got close enough to some of the icebergs to touch them. We had to keep our distance from some of the unstable ones as it would not be good if we were close by when a large chunk broke off. They didn't look very big when we were looking across the lake at them, but as we got closer both the icebergs and the glacier became very huge.

Our guide.
One of the icebergs. The dirt on the icebergs and the glacier itself was ground
into the ice as it slowly moved along its path down the mountain.

Our group of six in the raft.

A chunk of ice from an iceberg, it was clearer than I thought it would be.

After floating around the lake for a while the guide maneuvered us over to the mouth of the Placer River and we started down the river.  By this time the skies had cleared leaving puffy white clouds and plenty of sun, but there were some ominous clouds ahead.  It was beautiful going down the river with the mountains in the background and the scenery along the river.  Unfortunately the dark clouds were coming our way and soon it started to rain.  We were wearing our rainsuits so it wasn't much of a problem, but we did need to get our cameras under cover.

It rained for the last half hour of our nine mile trip down the river, but stopped by the time we got to the spot where we would meet the train.  Catching the train to go back to Anchorage was interesting. The guide just pulled over to the side of the river and we got off the raft and stood beside the train tracks until the train pulled up.  They called it a "whistle stop" but it was more like a wilderness stop.

Unloading the rafts.
The train will be coming from this direction.

And this is the way we'll be going.
Here comes the train.

We had a short twenty minute train ride to the town of Portage where we caught a bus back to Anchorage.  The bus ride is a couple hours shorter than by train, but not nearly as interesting.  Things did not go well when we got back to Anchorage as the bus dropped us off at the train depot, but there was no one there to pick us up so we ended up having to call a cab to get back to the hotel.  We were tired after a long day so this was a frustrating way to end the day, but all in all it was a wonderful day, and the best tour we've done on the trip.

We were very hungry when we got back to the hotel and after our mediocre dinner last night, we didn't want to eat at the hotel again so we walked across the street and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called Orso.  After that we called it a day, tomorrow we head for the ship.  One very disappointing thing that happened today was that after the rain on the rafting trip Val’s camera stopped working.  She kept it under cover, but evidently some water got in, hopefully it will dry out and work again.  This is the last night of our land tour and tomorrow we catch the train and head south again. We will go all the way to Seward and board the Statendam for the cruise portion of the trip.

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