June 25 – Portage Glacier & Whittier – Part 1

So far this has been my favorite part of the trip (as of the 27th).

We were going to try for the gondola at Alyeska again, but the smoke had gotten thicker and there would be absolutely no views, so we continued south. Our only reservation was at the Russian River in Cooper Landing, which was only 80 miles away, and not for another 2 days. Luckily, Whittier was on the way! A perfect side trip for two nights!! And so perfect…

Whittier is yet another town that lives at the end of a single access road that involves a single lane 2.5 mile long tunnel. I will get to the tunnel later.

I don’t think that I have mentioned that most of the time after leaving Anchorage we have been in the Chugach National Forest. The Chugach is so amazing – trees, plants, animals, mountains… and now glaciers! The 14 mile drive along Portage Glacier Road is absolutely amazing!

We pulled over at a spot to look at the mountains, and then we looked through a little gap in the trees and found an arm of the Portage Creek fed from the Explorer Glacier! We were surrounded by at least 7 glacers!

After a couple other stops, we moved on to the Begich, Roggs Visitor Center for some maps and views. Sometimes, with a view like this… you need to pull up a chair and just chill for a bit.

After that stop, we drove up to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel that would lead us into Whittier.

Some faKts:
– The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and takes about 6.5 minutes to drive through at 25 miles / hour.
– It is a dual use single lane tunnel. That means that the railroad and auto traffic use the same lane in and out of Whittier. (Yes – you drive on the rail road tracks)
– There are holding lanes at each end of the tunnel and traffic is released from one side or the other every half hour. Trains take precidence, so the cars may have to wait.
– It is the second longest longest highway tunnel and the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.
– It was the first in the world that was designed to withstand temperatures as low as -40F and winds as high as 150 mph!
– The tunnel has several safe houses in case of earthquakes, car fires or other emergencies.
– There is a system of jet fans to keep air flowing through the tunnel for air quality.
– Pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles are not allowed through the tunnel.

The trip looks like this….

Granted, it is hyper lapse and the windows are dirty, but you get the idea. Also, notice the weather difference from the beginning to the end? Whittier is on the Prince William Sound and has its own weather pattern!

We ended up camping on the beach with an awesome view of the Prince William Sound, and Whittier in the background!

After we parked, we biked to town. Granted, the town of Whittier has a population of 220 people and is smaller than the tunnel. We went to the Lazy Otter for some coffee. The guy serving was from Minnesota of all places! Sheesh! These people are everywhere!!! Sarah claims they are just out evangelizing the good word of MN. I have my doubts. Anyway, great conversation and great coffee! Then we biked the mile back to the RV for a snack and bed.

A float plane gave us a little show on our way home.

We liked it so much we stayed a 2nd night.

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