Around Turnagain Arm Near Anchorage

I took this photo yesterday. The rides are out so these are the mudflats.

I took this photo yesterday. The tides are out so these are the mudflats. The valley with the tiny town of Hope, Alaska is at the far right of the mountains. Several of these shots were taken from there looking back.

The main place most tourists want to go when they come to Alaska is of course Denali National Park. But a very close second is the Kenai Peninsula which is just a few miles south of Anchorage. There are a number of reasons why the Peninsula is so popular, but I’ll cover those in my next post. In today’s post I want to include some photos of the Cook Inlet which was named after Captain James Cook, the first European to explore this part of Alaska. Specifically we are going to talk about Turnagain Arm which is the part of the Cook Inlet Anchorage is on and separates it from the Kenai Peninsula. The story goes that it got its name when Cook tried to sail down it and had to turn again to get out. Here’s a map to see help visualize where things are:

Turn-Arm-Map-001

The State has done a great job of putting in pull-outs to give you superb views of the Arm. this one is at Beluga Point, named after the whales that make Cook Inlet their home. The tides in, in  this photo form 2006.

The State has done a great job of putting in pull-outs to give you superb views of the Arm. this one is at Beluga Point, named after the whales that make Cook Inlet their home. In this photo from 2006, the tide is in. 

While the Kenai Peninsula is only a few miles south of Anchorage as the crow flies, you have to drive around the Turnagain Arm to get there. There’s good news and bad news about that; the good news is it is an incredibly beautiful drive, one of the prettiest you’ll ever take! The bad news is the traffic can be bad and drive you crazy! The key is to try to relax and just enjoy the view!

I took this picture as Judy and I drove away from our camp near Hope. It's looking north toward Anchorage which is hidden just around the corner of the furthest left point.

I took this picture as Judy and I drove away from our camp in the mountains above Hope. It’s looking north toward Anchorage which is hidden just around the corner of the furthest left point. You can see if they put in a bridge it would save over 30 miles of driving around the Turnagain Arm. Alas, that will never happen!

For as long as I’ve lived in Alaska there has been talk about building a bridge across it but the geology makes it so difficult that it would be tremendously expensive so it will never happen:

  1. Mudflats: Nearly all the water that flows into the Cook Inlet is glacial and has a very high content of sand and silt created by the glaciers grinding their way through the mountains. All that silt and sand collects in the Inlet and then the extreme tides hold it in place and it becomes an incredible gloppy mess. More about that later
  2. Extreme Tides: Anchorage has some of the highest tides in the world—as much as 34 feet. Building a bridge in those circumstances takes some very special engineering.
  3. Ice: Turnagain Arm freezes every winter and forms an ice pack. It isn’t vey solid so the big freight ships make it in and out with no problem, but when you combine that with the extreme tides it makes building a bridge extremely difficult.
I took this shot from Hope looking back to where you curve around the Arm. This was 2 weeks ago when it was raining non-stop.

I took this shot from Hope looking back to where you curve around the Arm. The Inlet is barely visible at the bottom of the mountains. This was 2 weeks ago when it was raining non-stop.

For now at least, if you want to visit the Kenai Peninsula you have to drive around Cook Inlet. But believe me, no trip to Alaska is complete without it; it’s that beautiful! It would be worth devoting a day or two just driving around it and exploring all the pull-outs along the road. You want to be sure and take the road back to Girdwood and see the Alyeska Ski Lodge and Crow Creek. I also highly recommend taking the road back to Portage Glacier. Both are very beautiful and worth exploring at length.

I took this photo 2 days ago. It's looking back toward Portage glacier. You can't see it in this shot.

I took this photo 2 days ago. It’s looking back toward Portage glacier. You can’t see it in this shot.

In this shor from 2006 you can see portage Creek looking back toward Portage Glacier. That isn't it either. It's retreated so much you can only see it by taking a tour boat out on Portage Lake.

In this shot from 2006 you can see Portage Creek looking back toward Portage Glacier. That isn’t it either. It’s retreated so much you can only see it by taking a tour boat out on Portage Lake.

A word of warning though. When the tide is out it looks like you are safe to walk out on the mudflats, but looks are deceiving!! The mudflats are extremely dangerous and the tides move in and out at an extreme speed. At their fastest, the tides can come in and rise at 6 inches a minute! To make matters much worse and sometimes fatal, the mudflats can work very much like quicksand and trap your feet and legs like a vise you can’t escape from. Nearly every year Search and Rescue has to go out and pull someone out of the mudflats before the tide kills them. Some years they’re too late and people drown after being trapped in the mud. Stay off the mudlfats! For more info, check out this link: http://www.girdwoodfire.com/Mud.html

I took this close-up of the mudflats last week. If you look closely at the bottom right corner, you can see footprints where somebody just had to risk their lives on the mudflats.

I took this close-up of the mudflats last week. If you look closely at the bottom right corner, you can see footprints where somebody just had to risk their lives out on the mudflats.

We’ve had such poor weather I haven’t spent enough time in Anchorage to get many good shots this trip so I’m including some from before I left the state, mainly from 2006. I hope you enjoy them!

In this shot from 2006 the tide is mostly in and the fireweed is in bloom. I's just now starting to bloom on this trip.

In this shot from 2006 the tide is mostly in and the fireweed is in bloom. I’s just now starting to bloom on this trip.

In this shot from 2006 that's my truck at the bottom of a random glacier on the road to Portage.

In this shot from 2006 that’s my truck at the bottom of a random glacier on the road to Portage.

Launching their boats to go 20-Mile River.I know I said to never do this, but they have been doing it all their lives and they are in a group.

Launching their boats on the mudflats to go up-river. I know I said to never do this, but they have been doing it all their lives and they are in a group. Totally different situation. 

Bob
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I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

12 comments on “Around Turnagain Arm Near Anchorage
  1. white trash says:

    Thnx for the awesome pics & natural history-related info!
    Do you notice any long-distance bicycle-tourers out there?
    It appears (some of) those roads up there may be suitable for a touring bicycle!
    Am I wrong?

    • Bob Bob says:

      white trash, lots and lots of bicycle touring here in Alaska! In fact I saw numerous guys on bikes doing the Alcan highway! I even saw guys walking the Alcan Highway!

      As a civilization we’re so hungry for risk and adventure that we do some pretty outlandish things.
      Bob

  2. Desert Rat says:

    My sister lived in Anchorage for a few years. When she first moved there from Hawaii she thought the mudflats were like Hawaiian beaches, so drove her car out there and promptly got stuck. The tide started coming in, and by the time she got someone to pull her out the water was up to her bumper – all in a few minutes. Scared her to death and she never went out there again.

  3. Peggy says:

    Sorry to hear you’re getting lousy weather on this trip but the photographs you’re posting from your last trip are great as usual!

    I remember the time I got stuck on a mud flat around where I live. Nobody had warned me about it and while my friends were gathering oysters I wandered off and started walking on the flats. I was wear gumboots and I started sinking in very deep. It was like glue! I’ve never been in quicksand but I imagine it’s pretty much the same thing. I managed to get myself out without any help but it was a very frightening experience.

    Anyway, happy trails, you two!
    Peggy recently posted…Happy Canada Day!My Profile

  4. Calvin R says:

    Nice pictures! There is much to keep in mind about Alaska, but if I get there I’ll take your word (and your pictures) that the Kenai Peninsula is worth seeing.

  5. Canine says:

    Is gold mined out of there?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Yes, down at Girdwood and Crow Creek there was a lot of gold found. In fact they are still doing small-scale mining. I cover that a little more in my next post.
      Bob

  6. Elyse says:

    Hi there

    Your friend Ken – space man?- directed me to your site. I am leaving tomorrow as a leader of a delegation of 44 kids from Wi and Penn. We will be in Alaska for 11 days. I wish I would have seen this site a month ago. I shared it with my kids – but it was very short notice. There is a lot of great information that you are sharing on this blog. I look forward to reading future posts – especially after having gotten a taste of Alaska.
    Elyse

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