Saturday, May 18, 2013

Whittier, Alaska - Winter Wonderland and Portage Tunnel

It was early morning (5AM) when the ship docked at Whittier, Alaska.  I was very excited to take a look at the land.  Light was already peeking in through the bottom of the curtain.  The days had been getting longer and longer as we sailed north through the Aleutian Islands.  I jumped up to open the curtains.  What a surprise!  All that I could say was OMG! OMG! OMG!  The snow was blowing sideways and there was a total whiteout.  So beautiful. I opened the sliding door and stepped outside.  Yes, it was a little chilly.

This is the view as I looked right.

 Ferries and boats were covered with snow.
 This is the view to the left.  I later learned that Whittier is a very small town.  A 2006 count listed 177 people and the 2011 population was 223.  Boom!
 This port area looks inviting (minus all of the snow).
 We enjoyed a quick breakfast, went through the Immigration process on the ship and then went to the Wheelhouse to gather for our land tour in to Anchorage.  We walked across a floating barge bridge to get to the tour bus.  The guide said that the floating barge was purchased by Princess to be able to accommodate the ship docking.  This is the "Farewell" to the ship that we had called home for the past 16 days.

 The boats in Whittier Harbor were dressed in "winter whites".
 We drove a short distance to the entrance of a two mile tunnel that was to take us to Anchorage. The tunnel is called the "Whittier Tunnel" or the "Portage Tunnel" by locals, but the official name is Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  It is a single lane tunnel through Maynard Mountain and links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage to Whittier.  It is the ONLY land link to Whittier.

The first photo shows the red light.  Vehicles were queued in a staging area able to hold up to 450 vehicles waiting to go through the tunnel.  Our time to pass through the tunnel was 9:00 AM.  Trains, trucks, cars, motorcycles all use the tunnel taking turns passing through.
 The light turns green and we are ready to go.
 View as we get closer.  The entrance portal is designed as an A-frame with a large train-sized garage door and are designed to handle avalanches.
 Inside the tunnel were six Safe Houses.  The railroad tracks are sunk slightly beneath the road and the walls are exposed rock.  The Safe Houses are small buildings that are used in case of severe earthquakes, vehicle fires or other emergencies. The guide also mentioned that the tunnel uses portable fans and reversible jet engines to make sure that the air quality is maintained.

Our journey through the tunnel was uneventful and we exited to see the same snowy wonderland as on the Whittier side of the mountain.

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