The Great Alaskan Adventure: Part One

17 07 2011

The loudspeaker blared, “Attention.  This is a tsunami warning.  Please tune to your local radio station for further instructions.”  Having spent the day on a scenic cruise of the bay, we were now parked in a row of  RVs overlooking Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska, which our tour guide had laughingly described as Seward’s Tsunami Barrier.  He had pointed out remnants of docks that had been destroyed by the last major tsunami that struck the area after the 1964 earthquake that registered 9.2 on the Richter scale.  As a matter of fact, we were parked directly in front of one of those docks.

This was Day Three in our Great Alaskan Adventure.  Brian, Annalise, and my sister Marie had flown in from Columbia, SC on Tuesday, June 21.  After a two hour flight to Chicago and another six and a half hour flight to Anchorage, we did some grocery shopping and then headed down the Seward Highway.  Pulling our RV off at a scenic overlook of Turnagain Bay, we camped overnight, heading out in the morning to the Kenai Peninsula.  The trip down was truly scenic, with numerous overlooks of raging rivers, glaciers, lakes, and drop-dead mountain views.  We drove into Seward by mid-morning and toured the Alaska Sea Life Center, a great introduction to the birds, fish, and sea mammals of the area.    After lunch in the RV, we drove down to Exit Glacier, where Brian, Annalise, and I went on a guided walk up to the foot of the glacier.  Late in the afternoon, we finally made our way to Miller’s Landing Campground, following a gravel road that hugged the side of the mountain beside the bay.  We were eager to take showers, not having had one since Monday evening.  The RV did have a shower, but it was comfortable only for slender teenagers.  Unfortunately, the campground showers also had a drawback:  $1 only bought 2 minutes of water, and we only had a few dollar bills between us.  Annalise and I doubled up, each sharing the water for a total of four minutes and taking care not to look at each other, rinsing off just in time before the water gave out.

Day Three dawned beautifully.  No, wait, there was no dawn.  This was the time of the “Summer Dim,” where it never really gets dark, only dim between 2:00-4:00 AM.  Regardless, the morning was a rare beautiful one.  “Severe cloud misfunction” our cruise announcer called it (a cloudless day, in other words.)    The cruise was glorious, leaving at 11:30 and returning around 5:30, we checked the following animals off our list: cormorants (three types), puffins (horned and crested), orca and humpback whales, Dall porpoises, salmon, mountain goats, otters, sea lions, harbor seals, common murres, kittywakes, and other sea birds.  We saw numerous glaciers, Bear Glacier being the biggest and the first.  We pulled in close to Holgate Glacier, listening and looking at the near-constant calving.  One of the crew used a pole net to go ice-fishing, scoring a huge chuck of glacier ice which he pulled in for use in making Glacier Margharitas (ours were virgin, of course).  What a rush, to eat ice from a glacier that had fallen as snow hundreds of years earlier!  We returned to the campground, our souls nourished with the beauty of our surroundings, making plans for the next day’s adventure.

It was at this point that the warning came.  After hearing the loudspeaker repeat its warning, we looked at each other in confusion.  I stepped outside to find other RVers doing the same.  The campground host had taken off, knocking on doors of nearby RVs to give them the warning.  We didn’t need any more convincing.  We drove off, following the tsunami evacuation signs that we had jokingly commented on earlier.  We reached high ground in minutes, one advantage to Alaska’s mountainous terrain.  We pulled over just in time to hear the message that it had been a false alarm.  Instead of destruction, all we had to show for the evening’s excitement was a “could have” story…what could have happened if there really had been a tsunami.  We returned sheepishly to the campground, glad of the falseness of the alarm.  (The next day we found out that a 7.2 earthquake had hit the Aleutian Islands, leading to the tsunami warning.)

Alaska gets about 50-100 earthquakes a day as the Pacific plate subducts under the North American plate.  As a matter of fact, the Earthquake of 1964 was 7.9 on the Richter Scale, two-tenths stronger than this year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  The ’64 Quake had changed the topography of Resurrection Bay, causing the land to sink about four inches.  Uncommon beauty amidst dangerous surrounding:  it was to become the theme of our time in Alaska.

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3 responses

17 07 2011
Kathryn Fenner

Sounds awesome….I’m envious!

8 10 2012
Greg Smither

love your Kayaking description, sounds trully magnificent, bravo

10 10 2012
eberteach

It was an amazing trip. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

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