Boondock– Saturday was our last night boondocking at Robe Lake, Valdez. Friday night there were two other RV’s boondocking here but last night we had the place to ourselves. This has been a good boondocking site. It’s just a few miles into the main part of town and it’s beautiful and very quite.
Travel Plan– We’ll dump our waste tanks in the free dump site in Valdez this morning, get fresh water and gas and head out to Worthington Glacier on our way out of this area. Looking forward to driving once again on the Richardson Highway. Will be heading toward Tok but along the way is another dirt road into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park so we will give it another go at seeing more of this beautiful, huge National Park. Then we will begin working our way down the Cassier Highway on our way to Stewart/Hyder where, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to see more brown bears in the wild fishing for salmon.
Brown bear watching– Thursday evening we went out to see the brown bear sow and her four cubs fishing near the fish hatchery on Prince William Sound in Valdez. We did get to see her as she tried bringing her cubs out of the woods, out from behind a chain link fence, across the street and down to the water where she likes to fish. She led her cubs out from behind the chain link fence but only one cub followed her lead. The other three got stuck behind the fence and started calling to the mother as she started to cross the street. Back the mother went and this time all four cubs followed her lead as she took them to her fishing area. At this point, we left the area but were gratified that there were some public safety officials there to maintain some crowd control and protect both the onlookers and the bear. It’s very unusual to see a mama with four cubs. Usually they are born 1-3 to a litter so to see four cubs was quite a thrill for us. In all the time we spent in Yellowstone National Park, we had heard of four cubs but never actually saw this many. Think this is truely a once in a lifetime experience and we could stay there all day and watch these bears. The locals of Valdez tell us this sow had a litter of three cubs two years ago and she managed to raise them all to maturity without loosing any. Usually one or sometimes two cubs are lost to predators so we’re hoping that in this case she can raise all four of these cubs to maturity. She seems to be a patient, attentive mother and responds immediately when any of the cubs give a distress call to her. There seems to be one runt in this litter. It is noticably smaller than the other cubs and has some light colored fur around it’s neck and on it’s chest. Friday morning we were up at 5:00 am and drove over to the bear fishing area to watch her fish and see her cubs. As you can imagine, there were very few folks around at this hour so the sow and her cubs moved about unencumbered by human presence. Still find it amazing how proficient these bear are at catching fish. We watched her catch at least a dozen fish and the cubs pitched right in and helped her eat them. This is a memory we’ll enjoy for the rest of our lives. Met a couple from Ohio this morning. They also saw the bear and agreed it was a wonderful experience to see them in the wild, not in a zoo. Something they never dreamed of seeing.
Spent another quite night at Robe Lake, Valdez. Two vehicles came into the area, drove around in a circle and left. Not sure what they were looking for but there’s plenty of room for others to boondock here. Except for the occasional splash from a fish jumping or a bird landing on the water and some bird calls, it is silent. Because we leave this boondock site very early every morning and don’t return again until late at night, don’t know what goes on at the lake during the day but it is alway quiet when we return. For those RVers who like to sit in front of their RV, whiling away the day looking at beautiful scenery, this place may be perfect.
Yesterday we walked all around Valdez, quickly learning all the streets because the town is so small. It didn’t rain and it was rather pleasant weather with a temp, of about 60 degrees F so nice walking around weather. Early in the morning we saw many eagles and enjoyed observing them perch watchfully, then flying off hunting something they’d spotted from their perch. We’re early risers, a habit I never have really been able to break after working in Nursing for so long. So we are up, dressed and off exploring before most folks have started their coffee in the morning. Spotted a bakery yesterday and asked for a good brown bread…no, they’re out so I say I’ll come back on Saturday. (Follow up: The bakery folks happily agreed I should come back to the bakery on Saturday for some good bread. What they omitted to mention is that they don’t make bread again until Tuesday! Arrrgh!!!) The bakery does a “land office” business so their lack of PR has not hurt their good eats at all.
Spent a good part of the day in the Valdez Museum annex talking with some locals about how they cope with so much snow (they had 38 feet of snow last year!). There are still huge piles of snow in empty lots around town. We were invited to take home as much snow as we wanted as they are expecting more in a few months. Talked to a fellow who has a “boat snow shoveling” business. He gets a monthly amount from boat owners to see that snow is removed from the many boats who’s owners leave the boat and head south for the winter. He says he usually makes a good living, except for last year due to the huge year for snow. A good thing for Valdez is that Prince William Sound does not freeze so when they’re done plowing snow off the streets, they can shovel some of it into the harbor to get rid of it.
The portion of the Valdez museum we visited yesterday is mostly about the 1964 Valdez earthquake that was 9.2 on the Richter scale. The earthquake opened a huge crevasse near the shore of Prince William Sound and swallowed the town dock and everything on it (including people), never to be seen again. The tsunami that followed mostly missed the town but so much destruction was done by the earthquake and the town site was considered by the Army Corps of Engineers to be very unsafe, the whole town moved four miles away in short order to a safer location. It’s an amazing story of tragedy, near misses and the rebirth of a town.
Continuing our exploration of Valdez took us to the local library (they have a very strong, free wifi signal that can be picked up even out in your RV). Also toured the small boat harbor, walked to the post office, into some of the residential areas and along Prince William Sound. In our wanderings we met some lovely couples from Iowa, Holland, Belgium, Australia and a happy fisherman who was thrilled to show off his success fishing off the banks of Prince William Sound. It’s alway fun to meet fellow travelers and hear some of their experiences. Seems Alaska is high on the list of places to see and once you’re here you understand why.
Valdez is a hard working little town and most everyone seems to know each other. The town has a wide green way up the middle leading to the school and numerous walking/biking paths. It is said the town originally was built so that children would not have to cross a busy street and in many cases would not have to cross any street to get to school. We asked about school and “snow days”. Both Jerry and I were school kids on the East coast and we loved “snow days”! We’re told they do not cancel school in Valdez ever if it can be avoided. They did have to cancel one day last school year as there was a “white out” so bad “you couldn’t see your hand or a couple of feet in front of you”.
Last night, we went to see the Mama Brown Bear and her four cubs. Though we saw them for a few minutes, the area had so many people there we left rather than add to the congestion. We made plans to come back early in the morning when there would be fewer people around so there should be more bear pictures tomorrow.
We boondocked last night again at Robe Lake with just beautiful views of the water, the woods and surrounding Chugach Mountains. Woke to a temp. of 45 degrees F. and a light rain. Actually, we heard it rain at a moderate rate all night. We’re planning on going out on a cruise on Prince William Sound today so we’re hoping this place will act like Camelot and only rain at night for a day or two. We shall see but we’re going out on the cruise, rain or shine. Heard a lot of bird calls at the lake and saw a bald eagle fly over in addition to an armada of ducks in the water. Though I know there are large animal wildlife somewhere out in the distant woods, we haven’t seen any around the lake.
We got a tip that the area of Prince William Sound near the Fish Hatchery was a good place to go and watch for seals. Then someone else told us that in the same area, we might see Brown Bear fishing in the evening, sometime around 8:00 pm. So we headed for the fish hatchery area at 7:30 pm and found a crowd of people standing on the walk way, cameras up, looking at the beach. Saw a few young men fishing off the side of the road and they had clearly caught a few fish. Looking further up along the shore, there was a Mama Brown Bear with her four cubs!
We were told by a ranger that the difference between a Grizzly and a Brown Bear is habitat. Grizzlies live in the interior where food is tough to find and the bear frequently have a lower protein diet making each grizzly need a very large area to range to look for food so they are quite intolerant of other bear and people. Brown Bear usually live within ten miles of the coast and their diet contains much more protein making them more tolerant of other bear and people. Both are still quite dangerous and the most dangerous is the mama bear with cubs.
Rarely do bear have so many cubs. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in any species! The mortality for bear cubs is high so this mama we were watching has her work cut out for her.
We stayed in this location for about an hour watching the mama catch fish, bring the fish up on the shore and begin to eat it. The cubs join in eating some of the fish and the mama tolerates them sharing in her catch. She does not feed them however and they must come to her and take some of the fish for themselves. At one point the mama crossed the road to the woods with a fish in her mouth and the four cubs following, She ate the fish in the woods, likely sharing it with them and nursed the cubs while in the bushes. Then she crossed the road to go fishing again but one of the cubs had trouble getting down the hill and she returned to get him then they all crossed the road together and she resumed fishing. Wow! Can she fish. Catching the fish with her mouth or claws, she was quick! Oh, what a great opportunity to watch a brown bear in the wild! Never thought we would get to see one so close especially a sow with cubs!
The crowd watching the bears with us last night was composed of folks from around the world (Belgium, Germany, Japan, etc.) and Americans from various states. We’ve listened to and read a lot about bear safety and while no experts we do know a few safer behaviors. This was clearly not the case for everyone in the crowd last night watching the mama bear fish. No one was crazy enough to go down on the beach with the mama and cubs but a few did other risky things. When the mama bear crossed the street some people ran away. One man ran right by the bear like he was a gazelle, which is a very dangerous thing to do. Running can get the bear’s “chase” instint going, they focus on the runner and chase the runner down. Luckily she was focused on her cubs and fishing and did not give chase. Another thing a few people did was approach the cubs to get a better picture of them crossing the road (either they are brave or suicidal). There were other human behaviors that amazed us such as letting a few little kids run free making lots of “little kid noises”. Turned out, this mama bear was unusually tolerant so all there remained safe and folks have lots of great stories and pictures to take home.
Cruise on Prince William Sound–
We will be going out on a cruise today and may return very late tonight so will likely post about it tomorrow. Here’s hoping we get to see some whales out there.
A couple of nice readers of our blog wrote to us to come and see Robe Lake three miles north of Valdez, Alaska. We went there very late last night. It’s a good paved road about a quarter of a mile back to the lake area with a fair size gravel turnaround right at the lake. Saw a couple of small pull offs along this road and saw someone with an SUV camped in one of them using a tent. We went to the end of the road (it ends at the small lake) and we boondocked there. Quiet, beautiful and you can actually see fish jumping in the water though we didn’t see anyone succeed in catching any of them. What a great place to boondock!!! GPS location is N 61.08466 degrees / W 146.17484 degrees. Thank you Linda and Bob!
Don’t know who owns this property, but there’s a very small dock for planes that land on the lake (no planes here today), a dumpster in the parking area that gets emptied regularly, and someone comes out most days to cut the grasses that are encroaching on the lake. Linda and Bob said there was trash everywhere on the gravel turnaround when they arrived so they cleaned it up, throwing the trash in the dumpster located there. They were here for ten days and were just leaving today for more travel. We’ll come back and boondock here tonight.
We called around to check campground prices in Valdez. Hook-ups were $30 to $35/night. To dry camp (no hook-ups) in a campground in Valdez, the least expensive we found was $26.00/night. We try to boondock most everywhere we go and sometimes the places we stay are not lovely so having a boondock site this beautiful was a treat.
Day to day fulltiming–
One of the things about traveling through great places for fairly long periods of time in an RV as a full timer is that the more mundane chores and life habits cannot be put on hold too long. So watching your weight/diet, cleaning the motor home, laundry, getting fresh water/dumping waste tanks, etc. must go on. Finding places to get fresh water/dumping waste tanks while traveling (without using a campground) can be handled by asking locals, getting on the computer (or maybe there is an “app” for that?) and finding some place in your area that provides that service (preferably for free!). Today we decided we must do laundry, so after finding a Valdez Laundromat we got our laundry done today. When we are traveling and having so much fun, we hate to stop to do laundry so I frequently hand wash a few items at a time usually at night. Today we found that our laundry was getting ahead of my willingness to hand wash so much. It was worth the $6.00 to get everything washed and dried at once. Unless we are on a “fancy” trip, we wear easy care clothes which allows us to not separate by color, throw it all in together, separate lights and darks for drying only to avoid lint on dark items, fold everything as it comes our of the dryer and never iron anything!
Chugach National Forest Visitor Center, Crooked Creek–
Entering Valdez today, we stopped at the Chugach National Forest Visitor Center. We were told Robe Lake is city and/or state owned and not private property so we feel comfortable boondocking there. There are no “No Camping” signs and those signs are everywhere you look in Valdez so we should be fine there.
Got some recommendations from the visitor center of places to see in Valdez so we have a plan for the next few days. It is not raining today!!! It turns out the whole Valdez area is in an Arctic Rain Forest which accounts for all their rain. When it is cold, the rain becomes snow. They average about 25 feet of snow per year! OK, pretty as Valdez is, if you put six months of darkness around the clock in winter and add 25 feet of snow you have an explanation for a population of only 5000 year round residents.
Tomorrow we will be going out on a Glacier/Wildlife Viewing Cruise on Prince William Sound and are looking forward to it. We’re told this cruise is mostly about seeing wildlife and it will stay out on the water as long as they can find wildlife to watch. That kind of trip is right up our alley.
Bought senior tickets to see two of the museums in town. The senior tickets are $6.00 each and are good for one year so we’ll be going in and out of the museums many times during our stay in Valdez. The one we spent a lot of time in focused on the Gold Rush and the Oil Spill (Exxon Valdez). The Gold Rush pictures and documents were amazing. The struggle just to get to the area where gold had been found was horrendous and more than most folks would be willing to suffer. Many who tried the Gold Rush life died or quit and went back home. As for the Oil Spill, what is there to say? It was devastating and destructive to the environment, the wildlife and to all of the people dependant on fishing the Prince William Sound for a living. There are far better protections for Prince William Sound now than there ever were.