We are back to work! In Alaska! When we were planning this trip, Dan and I had always talked about getting an end of season job while we were in Alaska. We have been full-time RVing for 9 years now, and this was the first summer that we were “taking off.” Around mid-July, we started discussing what we were going to do after visiting Fairbanks, our last stop in Alaska.
I contacted our friends Tom and Ellen that are working in Skagway, and they put us in contact with the general manager of the company that they are working for. (You may remember we did a quick side trip to Skagway to see them, the town and the stores they work at.) We spoke with the general manager of the five family owned stores about the possibility of finishing out the season, and she was thrilled to have us come and work for them, as they had high school and college students that would be leaving in August.
So we are now working full-time for the Corrington Ivory Company. They have five gift stores in Skagway. Every day up to three cruise ships come in to port in the morning, and depart early evening. Passenger totals for the three ships can be up to 9,000 people. So we are keeping busy!
I was hoping to have more time to get caught up on the blogs, but there is only one cell tower in town for Verizon, and it gets heavy use when the ships are in port. Some days it feels like we are back to “dial up” service! I will keep plugging away though.
We will go back to “tourist mode” after September 22, and travel back down through Canada. This winter we will again be in Yuma, Arizona, so we still have another 3,000 miles to travel when we leave Skagway.
If you are considering traveling to Alaska, but are concerned about the costs, getting an end of season job is a great way to offset the expense. And there are plenty of jobs. Everyone is looking for help, especially end of season when school starts back up. We saw plenty of openings in all the cities we traveled through.
We will be paid $13.00 an hour, with a $2.00 per hour end of season bonus. Plus, we receive a free campsite, with full hook-ups, including 50 amp service. It will be nice to have money coming in, instead of going out for a change! Alaska does not have a state income tax, so we will not need to file a state tax form in the spring.
Karen and Al came down to visit Skagway for the day, and then we said our good-byes. They are making their way back to Florida (another 5,000 miles!) with stops along the way. We had a wonderful summer traveling with them, as you will see in my future blog posts.
Quote of the day: “If you don’t want to work you have to work to earn enough money so that you won’t have to work.” – Ogden Nash
Back when we were still in Canada in mid-May, we were parked next to a couple from British Columbia at a campground that was on their way back from a month long trip to Alaska. They told us the highlight of their time in Alaska was a sightseeing trip on the LuLu Bell boat out of Valdez.
We had already scheduled a sightseeing boat trip out of Seward, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to do two of these trips (at $170/person they are not cheap!) but I am so glad we did. Karen and Al also decided to add this to our trip too. I knew it was going to be a good day when I walked Makena before we left, and saw two Eagles hanging out on the antennae in our campground.
The four of us walked down to the docks from our campground, and we departed around 10 am on a foggy morning.
Sea lions greeted our boat on the way out of the harbor towards Prince William Sound.
We saw several groups of sea otters throughout the day. I have never seen these before. They are a happy group and always seemed more curious than afraid of the boats.
You never know what you are going to see on a cruise, and we were hopeful for a whale sighting. There was a lot of shouting going on by some of the passengers, when they noticed this “water spout!” We continued to watch and finally the humpback whale surfaced and then went back down. They can stay underwater a long time before surfacing. The captain timed this one, and it would stay under the water 6 minutes before surfacing.
Later in the morning, the fog was lifting and the sun popped out for the day! We continued along the coast of Prince William Sound and came across a beautiful waterfall, Anderson Falls.
Being on a smaller style boat, the captain was able to navigate close to the rocky shoreline, and in and out of some tiny caves.
The captain was searching along the caves for birds, as that is where they like to hang out, especially the Puffin, which I really wanted to see. We did see dozens of them, but I was never able to get a clear photo. They like to hide in the nooks and crannies of the rocks, and then fly away fast. This photo is the best I could get! I call it my “butt” puffin! This is how they hang out.
This is a photo from the internet of the puffin. There are two types: horned and tufted.
We were fortunate to see a second whale, and watched it for a while.
We encountered a very large group of sea lions sunning and playing along the rocks. They can get up to 1500 pounds, and love eating salmon. The locals are not fans of the sea lions because they eat so much of “their” fish.
This is an untouched photo. The Chugach Mountain range is many miles away, but this beautiful blue piece of ice was just floating along the water. The captain estimated it calved from the glacier months ago, as it was several miles away from Columbia Glacier.
We came across another big iceberg, and there was an Eagle sitting on it, in the upper left side.
As we got closer, it flew away.
It was really an amazing cruise, and we still had another hour to get up close to the glacier. It was also starting to get pretty cold, even though it is bright and sunny out!
The captain did an excellent job navigating around all the icebergs and growlers, which are the smaller pieces of ice.
Closer to the glacier the number of growlers increased, and we started to see Harbor Seals.
Our first view of the Columbia Glacier with the Chugach Mountains in the background. The Columbia Glacier is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world. Since 1980 it has retreated 12 miles.
Zoomed in photo of the terminus of the glacier. The wall is 300 feet high.
The glacier is frequently calving, causing the water to be full of icebergs, making it difficult to get close to the glacier itself. The captain was able to get about 1/4 mile away.
The captain anchored the boat for a while, and the crew took photos for the guests. At this point, it was 37 degrees outside! I wish I would have brought my winter coat.
On our way back to the harbor in Valdez, we continued to pass amazing icebergs!
Saw some mountain goats on the cliffs.
And had a closer look at the terminal for the Alaska Pipeline.
By the time we returned to the dock, it was close to 9 pm (even though the pipeline photo looks like mid-afternoon!). It was a long, chilly day, but definitely worth it. A lifetime of memories from this cruise alone.
Quote of the day: “If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there is something wrong with you.” – Alex Trebek
Valdez, due to the large amount of snow they receive, is considered the Land of Waterfalls in the spring and summer, when the snow begins to melt. Driving south on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez is a beautiful drive. We had our first glacier sighting, right from the road. The Worthington Glacier is considered to be the most accessible glacier in Alaska, since it is visible right from the highway.
This is the photo I took as we were driving by in our motorhome.
Continuing down the highway into Valdez, you will pass through Keystone Canyon, which has many waterfalls.
When the Kennecott Mine started operating, several cities tried to build a railroad, including Valdez. Unfortunately there were too many companies in the area fighting for the rights. And in true “Wild West” fashion, a gunfight took place, and the route was never finished. We stopped to explore the tunnel that was partially finished.
After we were all settled in to Valdez, we drove back out to the Worthington Glacier to see it up close. But honestly, I thought the initial view of it driving in was the best view, as you could see the ice fields surrounding it. Below is a view from the overlook in the parking lot. Compare that to the one above on our drive in.
There is a walking path towards the glacier, and you can see the glacier lake that has formed from the melting over the years.
Zoomed in photos of the glacier. Notice the blue ice.
Quote of the day: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” – John Ruskin
Two Alaska Native Tribes resided in the area of Valdez. The Chugach people to the south, and Ahtna to the north. The area was used for trade. In 1779, Captain Cook sailed into the Sound, and named the inland waters, Sandwich Sound. It was later renamed Prince William Sound, after Prince William IV.
Gold seekers started coming into Prince William Sound, and a lighthouse was built about 88 miles from Valdez, to guide the mariners safe passage into the area. The museum has a Fresnel lens on display that used an incandescent oil vaper lamp as its light source. The beam could been seen for 22 miles.
The gold rush seekers formed a tent city, and Valdez was born. As time went on, the city continued developing. The first highway in Alaska, the Richardson Highway, started in Valdez all the way to Fairbanks.
Winters can make road traffic impossible, and the museum honors the bush pilots that will have flown supplies during extreme weather conditions. Below are the outfits that were used in the 1920’s to 1940’s.
Cities need fire protection, and Valdez purchased this 1886 Gleason and Bailey Hand Pumped Fire Engine in 1902, when the city was three years old. It could pump water from a well or creek, or its internal tank.
The beautiful engine seen below is the 1907 Continental model from Ahrens Fire Engine Company. It was a state of the art engine in 1907, and could shoot water further than any other model. The steamer was drawn by a two horse hitch. It was not used in the winter due to the large amount of snow. The city operated this steamer until 1935. Only 12 of these models remain in existence, and this is the only model in Alaska.
Former Valdez Fire Department Chief Tom McAllister has donated his personal memorabilia to the museum.
Amongst the display of fire extinguishers is the Red Comet, one of the first automatic sprinklers. When the fire was hot enough, it would melt the clasp, the globe would drop to the floor and break open, releasing liquid carbon tetrachloride (which was later found to be highly toxic!).
On the left below is a Native American parka made from bear intestines, and on the right is one from seal intestines. They are very waterproof.
In 1898 P. S. Hunt arrived in Valdez as a gold rush prospector, from Sacramento, California. He ended up staying in Valdez and set up a commercial photography studio. Mr. Hunt is credited for providing a visual historical account of the town, as he always dated and identified all the subjects in his photographs. He left Valdez in 1916 to work on the Alaska Railroad.
He did a lot of personal portraits, and people would sit in front of fake backgrounds, such as the one below. The museum was able to re-create his studio based on his own photographs. The tripod-mounted camera is a Century No. 5.
One of his photographs outside his studio, with a massive amount of snow on the sidewalk.
A 1915 hand-cranked Sears and Roebuck washing machine, model #223. This reminded me of the machine I would see at my grandmothers house.
Frank S. Lang, a gold prospector, built wood-burning stoves to keep the miners warm. In 1900 he moved to Nome, Alaska, and continued to design stoves at this hardware store. He eventually moved to Seattle and founded the Lang Manufacturing Company, making gas and electric stoves. The model on display, circa 1920, is the Lang Oil Flame Porcelain Stove.
The parlor of a Valdez home circa 1915. When I was first viewing this room, I thought the museum was just putting as much stuff in one display as they had. But according to the information about this display, during the Victorian period, a bare room was considered to be in poor taste. So the parlor was always crammed full for guests to view.
Miners and trappers would set up small cabins in the area with all the supplies they needed. Many of the artifacts on display were found in the Valdez area, and donated to the museum.
On March 27, 1964, the largest ever recorded earthquake in North America, at 9.2 on the Moment-Magnitude Scale, struck 45 miles west of Valdez. It lasted almost 5 minutes, and was followed by a tsunami. The town of 1200 people was badly damaged and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared the town uninhabitable since it was on unstable ground.
A new town, four miles away, was developed, and sixty-eight residences and businesses relocated to the new town of Valdez over the next three years. On October 1, 1967, the “old town” ceased to exist and the fire department burned down the remaining structures.
The earthquake was so strong, it affected many cities throughout Alaska. The one thing keeping the fatality rate low was the fact it occurred on Good Friday. Schools and many business were closed for the Easter holiday. The museum has many displays on the earthquake.
I had never heard of the earthquake in Alaska, and I was very confused when we were driving in to Valdez, because the mile markers were always off by 4 miles in the Milepost book that we have been using for our trip. The mileage markers were based off the “old town” of Valdez along the Richardson Highway. So if you visit Valdez, and your GPS says you have arrived, but your physical map indicates you have 4 more miles, now you will know why. For historical reasons, they have simply left things as “old town” and “new town”.
You can go to the “old town” area (it’s just a rocky beach area now). In 2004, a couple discovered this Standard Oil credit card still stuck in a credit card machine. Mary Jo Migliaccio was using her husband’s credit card to purchase gasoline at Dieringer’s Standard Station. She left without the card, and went back to get it when the earthquake struck. She fled to safety, and the gas station was damaged. The card remained buried in the rocks on the beach for 40 years.
The Pinzon Bar was a popular establishment from 1923, until the earthquake struck. The owner was not insured against an earthquake. The Alaska State Housing Authority purchased this, along with many of the other buildings. The bar was restored and donated to the museum.
In 1967 a large oil reserved was discovered in the Artic, and developers spent several years trying to figure out how to transport the oil. In 1970, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was founded from a group of oil companies that all held rights to the North Shore area. In 1975 construction began on the 800 mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline, at a cost of $7.7 billion dollars. At the time, it was the largest privately financed project undertaken. It took almost three years to build, and just one year for the oil companies to recover their $7.7 billion dollar investment and turn a profit.
The pipeline starts in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and ends in Valdez, the nearest ice-free port, 800 miles south. The first barrel of oil that was tapped is on display at the museum. At it’s peak, it pumped 2 million barrels of oil a day, but is now down to a few hundred thousand. The oil was only expected to last 20 years, but continues to exceed expectations.
EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL
On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Due to the remoteness of the area, it took several days for equipment to reach the tanker and begin containment of the oil. It is estimated that 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled out. The oil did not reach the marina in Valdez.
Estimates of 100,000 to 250,000 seabirds, 2800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and 22 orcas died as a result of the spill. Litigation went on for decades, and new regulations are now in place both from the state of Alaska and the U.S. Congress regarding the transportation of oil tankers. The state now requires two tugboats to escort the tankers for ten miles through Prince William Sound. They carry emergency containment equipment on board. Congress required all tankers to be double-hulled as of 2015.
Valdez has a very rich history. Make sure you take the time to visit the museums if you are able to visit this wonderful little city. The museum has various quotes on the walls from residents over the years. So I am using one of the Valdez residents quotes for today’s post.
Quote of the day: “I was home all alone. Do you know what I thought? It was Good Friday and I thought it was the end of the world…
Another month has gone by, and our vacation time in Alaska will soon be coming to an end. I am woefully behind on blogging, and I promise to catch up. But given the choice between playing tourist, and sitting at a computer with mediocre internet, guess what wins! And by the end of the day I just have little motivation. But I am always current on Instagram.
It’s easy to do posts like this, because I don’t have to sort through and add photos. So here is our monthly tally on expenses.
Since we had less driving and longer campground stays, gas was a reasonable $653.05 for the month, with prices ranging from $5.549/gallon down to $4.799/gallon. Prices continue to decline, and have dropped over $1/gallon since we arrived in Alaska.
Campground costs were a budget buster in July, because we were staying for longer days in popular fishing towns, during peak fishing season. For 31 nights, we spent $1,586.56, at a daily cost of $51.18/night. Are there cheaper options – yes. And there are many places to boondock (camping without hookups).
We spent $475.93 on museums, a sea life center and an excellent boat trip. As with last month, I am not including fishing costs in with entertainment. I will do that at the end.
As you can see from the posts below, there have been a lot of successful fishing trips!
Quote of the day: “A man’s one last cast is like a woman’s ‘I’ll be five minutes.’” – unknown