July 13, 2015

The Scenic Route to Anchorage

When our time in Valdez was over, we made our way north on the Richardson Highway.  There is only road in and out of Valdez, but it’s a beautiful one.  We drove through Keystone Canyon, up over Thompson Pass where it started to rain and past Worthington Glacier.  The weather was mostly good, but I’m grateful that we had an even prettier day on our way to Valdez.

Clouds on the Richardson Highway

After 120 miles, we turned west on the Glenn Highway on our way towards Anchorage.  Not long after stopping for a tasty refreshment in Glennallen, we passed an accident that had involved an Alaskan State Trooper and another car.  For some reason that was an unsettling sight to me.  I’m used to accidents in the Lower 48, but this is the first one we’ve seen in Alaska.

There was a lot of traffic on the Glenn Highway, much of it in a hurry, with many cars passing one another on the two-land road.  It was Friday afternoon, and we were beginning to encounter folks from Anchorage who were heading towards fishing spots on the Copper River.  On top of everything, it was also raining a bit.  All of this added up to less-than-desirable conditions for driving.

Tim did not seem to be bothered by the traffic, but I suggested that we might consider stopping for the evening sooner rather than later.  We had previously decided to find a boondock site for the night since we were not planning to drive all the way to Anchorage.  Since this would just be an overnight stop, we didn’t feel like looking for a special boondock site.  Instead, we pulled over at one of the many roadside turnouts and called it a night.  It was nice to be off the highway. 

Roadside turnouts are a popular place for RVers to spend the night.  If you drive later in the evening, it is common to see RVs lined up in pullouts along the highways.  Unless there is a sign prohibiting overnight parking, it is perfectly legal to camp this way.  Although we don’t intend to make a habit of this type of boondocking, it is certainly a convenient option.  Yes, there was road noise, but the traffic died down later in the evening and we slept soundly.

Serendipity must have played a part in our decision to overnight where we did.  In the morning we were able to witness a part of the Fireweed, The Race Across Alaska.  This is the longest and largest bicycle race in Alaska, and it travels across the Glenn and Richardson Highways.  There are also shorter versions of this 400-mile race, and we enjoyed passing many of these bikers and cheering them on.  Tim was able to talk with several of the racers as they took a break near our RV.

Riding through Early Morning Showers

Time for a Break

The Bicyclists Added an Interesting Element to the Scenic Views

The Glenn Highway is another gorgeous drive, and it has been designated as a National Scenic Byway.  We are finding that each scenic drive in Alaska is more stunning than the next.  Soon after we hit the road, the early morning rain had stopped, and we were able to get a clear view of the mountains and glaciers.  The Glenn Highway parallels the Chugach Mountains along a path that was carved by glaciers.  We caught glimpses of the Tazlina, Nelchina and Matanuska glaciers and then followed the Matanuska River as it made its way towards the sea.  

The Nelchina Glacier at the Summit of the Glenn Highway

Because of its proximity to Anchorage, the Glenn Highway is a well-traveled route, and we encountered more traffic than we had seen since arriving in Alaska.  The traffic, however, did not take away from the spectacular scenery.  At one of the turnouts where we stopped to admire the view, a woman from Homer was also in awe of what she was seeing.  She mentioned to me that she had driven the road on many occasions but found this day to be one of the best.  We also felt very fortunate to travel the highway on such a beautiful day.

Mountain Lakes along the Chugach Mountains

Hills of Fireweed

It Takes a Long Time to Get to Anchorage When You Stop at Every Viewpoint

Dramatic Mountain Views

Following the Matanuska River

Our destination for the weekend was Wasilla, just north of Anchorage, to restock the RV, get a haircut and take care of errands.  We found a Walgreens to fill prescriptions, as well as the first Target since leaving the Lower 48.  I must say it was very odd to be back in a suburban area with lots of chain stores.  It took a bit of getting used to.  Oh, right, there are these things called traffic lights.  The stores certainly came in handy, however, and we took advantage of their proximity.

Our plan was to stay at a nearby private campground for the weekend, but it was full on Saturday night.  Therefore, we decided to look for a public campground or boondock spot and wait until Sunday to check into the campground.

We drove through the nearby Lake Lucille Park, but it was not maintained, and I felt a bit uneasy there.  We then found a perfect spot just a few miles down the road right on Knik Lake.  Thanks to the book Traveler’s Guide to Alaskan Camping by Mike and Terri Church, we discovered that the Knik Bar allows overnight camping.  When we traveled in the Lower 48, we typically used various iPad apps to locate campgrounds.  Before we left for Alaska, we had taken the advice that RVers should purchase the Church book since it is so comprehensive.  We would have to agree, plus it is handy when our apps are not working.  The book also includes many sites, like the Knik Bar, that are included in no other guide, so we’ve been very happy to have this resource.

There was no charge for camping at the Knik Bar – it was just suggested that we purchase food or drinks.  We ordered a pizza, which was surprisingly good.  We had a nice time chatting with the owner’s family members who were having a cookout.  When we retired to the RV, we congratulated ourselves for scoring another lakefront site.

Nice Site along the Knik Lake

Knik Lake was beautiful, and I opened our sliding door to photograph the lake on several occasions throughout the evening.  What I didn’t realize was that Kitty used one of those opportunities to sneak outside.  When I finally discovered that she was not in the RV, more than an hour had elapsed.  Panic struck, and I was frantic.  Kitty only goes outside on a leash, and I had no idea where she might have wandered off to. 

I Never Imagined that this Innocent Kitty Would Become an Escaped Felon

Maybe Kitty Just Wanted to Go Outside to Admire this View of Knik Lake

By this time it was 11:00 pm, but luckily it was still light outside.  I ran over to the grassy area where we had walked her earlier, but I couldn’t find her.  Tim went in the opposite direction and happened to spot her in the distance.  He called to her, and she slowly came to us.  What a relief! I had been so scared that I had lost the cat!  I guess I won’t be taking photographs through the open door anytime soon.

The next day we checked into the Big Bear RV Park and Campground on the recommendation of fellow Alaska travelers.  It was a good choice.  The rates were much more reasonable than many we had looked at, and the facilities were very nice.  This was a perfect place to catch up on laundry, defrost the refrigerator and take care of other chores that go hand-in-hand with living – in an RV or not.

Tomorrow, we head down to the Kenai Peninsula.  We are really looking forward to exploring this part of the state.


  1. Nice to know about boondocking in the pullouts. Wouldn't be my first choice, but sometimes for an overnight spot they would do nicely. I may be too late to suggest stopping in Eklutna to see the spirit houses. It's about 1/2 hour north of Anchorage, and if the website is to be believed, they are once again offering tours. (If you haven't heard of the Spirit Houses, you're welcome to check out my blog post ... http://2totravel.blogspot.com/2010/08/spirit-houses-of-eklutna.html.

    1. Thank you for the tip about Eklutna. I was not familiar with this site. Your blog post and photos definitely make me want to visit. On our way south from Anchorage, I thought I caught a glimpse of spirit houses near the highway, but we didn't stop to check them out. Luckily, we will be heading that way again, so I will put that on our list of places to visit. Eklutna should tie in nicely with the Russian Orthodox history we learned about in Sitka.

  2. Wow. I'm glad you found kitty. It must have been a frantic search for a while. Cats are entirely too independent. :) I didn't get the Church's Book but it would have come in handy to know about the Knik Bar! Beautiful sunset - I am missing them terribly.

    1. I was a wreck when I discovered that Kitty was missing. I kept blaming myself and don't know what I would have done if Tim had not spotted her. That's not the kind of excitement I wanted this summer! Knik Bar was a find, but your recommendation for Black Bear really helped us. I'm surprised how few sunsets we've seen. I guess when the sun doesn't want to set, it's hard to find one.


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