Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I am currently sitting in Whitehorse in the Yukon and attempting to catch up on at least some of the recent travels.  Nan and I spent four nights in Valdez  and I have to agree with Mitch, it was one of the best parts of your Alaska travels. Beth is a number one hostess!

One of the best parts of the Valdez experience is the trip out on the Lu-Lu Belle.  I didn't take a bunch of animal pictures though we did see some critters out there on the water and Nan got some good whale tail shots.  It was rainy and chilly outside and I did head out to the deck from time to time to check out the possibilities but most of the trip (except for the delicious clam chowder part) was spent sitting up in the wheel house watching out the windows and listening to Captain Fred weave his stories about the history of Valdez, the gold rush, the 1964 earthquake and the animals and people of Alaska..... 

Fred built the Lu-Lu Belle himself after buying the basic hull back in the late 1970's.  His background was in auto body and the attention to detail is apparent in all the fixings.  The inside is full of beautiful teak wood and kept meticulously clean.  He and his wife live on the boat in the winter usually down the coast in Washington state.  Beth's "galley" for the tours is their kitchen in the off season or as Beth puts it we take over their home for a few months while they live next to the Lu-Lu Belle office.  

The boat is 75 feet long and though it can carry over 60 passengers for a tour but because of the rainy weather we were lucky to have only 14 and got to spend a lot more time to personalize the trip.  Sitting up right behind Fred I also could watch all the instruments and electronic gadgets.  Beth later stated that Fred could probably drive the boat with a blindfold he knows the waters so well but Those screens do give a lot of information.

Fred has been taking tours out of Valdez since 1979 and his personal expertise shows along with the history and research of the area that he has undertaken to include in his "tour."

When Nan and I headed down to the table area to get some of the clam chowder I noticed a group of women sitting at one of the other tables and several of them were either sleeping or working a cross word puzzle. Later when I asked Beth about the group she said that they were nice enough but several of the women asked "Does he talk like that the whole trip..."  There are speakers down in the galley and table area but Beth had warned us that people are often talking down there and if we really wanted to hear everything the best place was up in the pilot house.   I couldn't figure why these ladies even bothered to spend the money to come out on the water if they were not interested in the animals and the water and the lands around them.

After our day out on the water the sun came out and gave us beautiful weather to do a walking tour around town with Beth. Nothing like timing out visit to take advantage of Beth's days off and gain a personal tour guide. We did the museums around town and put pictures and additional stories together with the information that Fred had given us.   We also watch the original "home movie" film of the Good Friday earthquake and the shots of the aftermath around town.  Our next day was a little grayer weather wise but we were busy washing clothes and visiting Safeway to resupply.  Nan and I then headed out to boondock out by the Fish Hatchery and see if we could catch a glimpse of the momma bear and the four cubs.   Beth drove out to visit us later in the afternoon and by then it was raining and turning chilly.  The tide was out but no momma bear to be seen.  By the time Beth and Peaches had walked for awhile as we watched the stellar seals go after the salmon I think that Beth was wet enough that she is probably just now drying out.....

Beth trying to spot the wild critters for us tourists...

Beth get to drive while Fred takes a break...

Fred takes the Lu-Lu Belle into a small cave so that we can hunt for puffins...or at least so we can marvel at his ability to take the boat into tight spaces...there is very little clearance here folks but it is his boat...

This picture was taken after he had already started to back out.

Then he pulled into another cave. 

...and he say back to wait an see how long it took for passengers to realize that to the left of the cave entrance was the day beach for the seals....

Fred then headed on towards the Columbia glacier.  Beth said that form day to day she never knows how close they will get because the ice flows change so quickly with the temperature, wind and tides...

Fred pointed out this large sea monster...

The stop for Lu-Lu Belle pictures.  And yes it looks a little chilly out there. the temperature was in the low 30's.... Glaciers and icebergs will do that.

Here is a better view of the berg Fred was using as a back drop. Notice the old water line that was before the berg tilted over.  Look at how much of the ice was below water level at that time.

Another reason I enjoyed Fred's trip and his tour.  He wasn't trying to "upsell" pictures of the tour.  The young girl that was helping Beth on board that day was standing up on the front and all we had to do was pass our cameras to her.    And the food menu prices were very reasonable as much as to be cheap.   Again, the Lu-Lu Belle was all about history and animals and not how to squeeze extra bucks from the passengers.  

Approaching the Columbia Glacier very carefully...    On the way Fred pointed out where the glacier had been back in 1979 when he first started his tour business.   There is a lot more water these days. He pointed out a line of "stalled" icebergs that stretch most of the way across the bay. He said that the water was only about 60 feet deep there because that is were the gravel moraine had been deposited for so many years before the glacier started shrinking back.    The larger icebergs can't move past that point until they melt more.

This was as close as we were going to get that day.   Captain Fred was gently bumping the ice flows but even for him there were limits for safety.  Coming back there was a stretch of water that had complete closed up with ice and he took his time getting back through.  Nan pointed out that as soon as the boat moved forward the ice closed up behind her.

I got to watch our very own Bethers pilot the 75 foot Lu-Lu Belle back into the small boat harbor.  It was very impressive watching her make all the turns and angles and back it into the slip......If you think backing an RV is tricky this is a whole other level.

On our walking tour, Beth pointed out some of the remaining snow piles still holding out in one of the parking lots in town.

From one of the museums.....

There was so much information and exhibits and pictures to move through.  Given the recent rains we had had, I thought the information on native rain wear interesting.

Out be the Fish Hatchery the seals were enjoying the bountiful feast.

The waves in the water are caused by the number of salmon moving just below the surface of the water.  The individuals fishing along the side of the road were not really fishing so much as throwing their lines in and hooking fish and hauling them in.  It wasn't as if the fish were biting on anything but the fish were so thick that the hooks would catch on fins or gills or tails and the fish got catch just the same......

Again the white water is not because the water is going over rocks but that the water is full of moving fish.

Well, I am sitting in McDonalds with free WIFI and I think my time here is done.  Something about dogs wanting their supper.   Nan and I are probably heading on to Haines and back into Alaska tomorrow...unless our "jello plans" become something else entirely by then......


  1. Great post. I've never seen anything about the "rain" gear before. Very interesting. Wouldn't have liked to see that ice flow moving back in behind me though.

  2. Your views from the LuLuBelle are so inviting! It's becoming part of my travel bucket list.

  3. Great post! I'm looking forward to your pics from the Top of the World highway.