the Boyds' Northern Adventure

Trip Map


Tok to Anchorage

From Tok to Anchorage. Scroll down to read our Journal.

Tok to Matanuska Glacier photos, click here.

Matanuska Glacier to Anchorage photos, click here.











Saturday, July 24 - Tok to Matanuska Glacier Whatever complaints one might have about the Alaska Highway, he need only consider that when the highway first opened, the average speed on it was 12-15 miles per hour. With the regularity of frost heaves, we can’t figure on averaging more than 50mph.

We heard a poem about the Alaska Highway that was humorous (notwithstanding its mispronunciation of the key word):
The Alaska Highway, winding in and out
Makes me wonder without doubt
Whether the lout that built this route
Was going to Hell
Or coming out!

One of the more interesting features that we’ve noticed along various sections of the highway is the traffic signs. The speed limit signs have been used for target practice! Many signs have bullet holes either right through them, or dents if a smaller caliber bullet was used. Some signs have been such popular attractions that they are illegible, or at least partly so, with the 5 completely obliterated on a 50 mph speed limit sign, for example.

If you’re looking for a different kind of summer vacation, we noticed an ad for a person looking for a housesitter for August and September. The house was actually an upscale cabin, with solar power, telephone, and Internet access, located in Slana, Alaska, which is partway between Tok and Anchorage. The housekeeping duties were light, but included feeding 25 “friendly and quiet” sled dogs!

Wildlife hasn’t been a big part of our trip so far, and it’s been a bit of a disappointment. Today, however, we saw a female moose in a distant field. And the campground we’re staying at is at the foot of a mountain where we’ve spotted 19 Dall sheep.

The photos you see here have all been taken by Christopher. He has now taken over 1100 photos; you've seen just a fraction of them. Some of them have been taken while we're driving, some of these right through the windshield. He's doing a great job of it, wouldn't you say?

Tok to Matanuska Glacier photos, click here.

Sunday, July 25 - Matanuska Glacier to AnchorageImagine walking on a glacier! That’s just what we did today. Unlike the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper, where you ride a special bus right onto the icefield, you have to approach the Matanuska Glacier on foot. Before you can start walking, however, you have to drive over a very rough gravel road and two one-lane bridges over swollen creeks.

It’s about a 15-minute walk from the parking area and trailhead to the furthest safe point on the glacier. To even get to the parking lot, we had to sign a release indemnifying the outfitting company that controls access to the glacier. The gist of it is that the glacier is beautiful, but underlying that beauty is constant danger, for which the guest is totally responsible. There are traffic cones marking a rough trail to the safe point, where a sign indicated in no uncertain terms that proceeding further was a high risk. We went ahead anyway and fell into a crevasse and had to be rescued with a helicopter. Just kidding ;-)

Most people have an idea of glaciers as being white and are kind of disappointed when they see how dirty they are. The dirt is the moraine that the glacier pushes ahead and to the sides of itself as it flows down the valley or mountain that it’s on. At the Matanuska Glacier, we could really see the gravel at the front of the glacier for maybe a half a mile. It was surprising though, to see how thin the gravel layer was on top. You could just kick the dirt to get to the ice.

Another thing that we soon became aware of is that it’s cold on the glacier. Not from the glacier underfoot, but from the winds blowing across it. Yet another thing we noticed was the constant noise from the water on and under the glacier, ranging from a roar like a river to noise more like that of a creek. And the water is cold! We learned that a glacier recedes if the rate of meltwater at the foot of the glacier is greater than the ice formation at the head of the glacier.

The Matanuska Glacier is an active glacier, advancing about one foot per day. It takes about 250 years for the ice to form at the head of the glacier and advance to the terminus. It’s 24 miles long and averages two miles in width, four miles in width at the foot, and descends 12,000 feet in elevation. It is a valley glacier, existing on the valley floor; most glaciers are smaller alpine glaciers hanging off mountain slopes.

Why is glacier ice blue? The ice in a glacier is so densely compacted that it absorbs the whole spectrum of light with the exception of blue light which is reflected, and therefore visible to your eye.

Our next stop was in Palmer, Alaska at a farm with the only herd of domesticated musk oxen in the world. The basis for the farm is the underwool from the musk ox, called qiviut in Eskimo. It’s pronounced kiv’-ee-ute. Qiviut is one of the rarest, finest, and warmest fibers on earth. Softer than cashmere, it’s 8 times warmer than wool, and it won’t felt or shrink.

In winter, the qiviut protects the musk ox in temperatures as low as -100 degrees. In spring, they shed the qiviut, as much as 8 garbage bags full from each musk ox. The qiviut is cleaned and spun into fine yarn, which is then sent to native knitters.

OOMINGMAK (the Eskimo word for musk ox, which means “the bearded one”), is a successful crafts cooperative of more than 200 Eskimo knitters who work in their isolated tundra and coastal villages. The knitters handknit the fine qiviut yarn into caps and scarves. Each village has a signature knitting pattern derived from traditional Eskimo art. The income earned from knitting provides cash to supplement the mostly subsistence lifestyle of the Eskimo knitters, some of whom might only supply a few items per year. Each item is unique, exquisitely beautiful, and very expensive. A scarf sells for $245-330 US. The co-op is currently sponsoring a raffle, with the main prize being a queen size qiviut blanket. They have turned down offers of $10,000 US for it.

When we juggled our itinerary going to Skagway to make the Haines ferry, our schedule advanced one day. We realized last night that we’d miss Mass today, but when we stopped in Palmer, I looked at the phone book to see if there were churches on the way. As it turned out, there was a church close by that had a 7pm Mass, so that became our last stop of the day before getting to Anchorage.

Matanuska Glacier to Anchorage photos, click here.