The route from Valdez to Wasilla is 270 miles—about 20 miles less than that from Columbus Ohio to Champaign Illinois—and covers only a very small portion of Alaska. Although highways here are assigned numbers, you usually hear them called by name. So, we went 120 miles on the Richardson highway, turned left at Glennallen (population 483), and then drove the remaining 150 miles to Wasilla on the Glenn highway.
Google maps quotes driving time of 5 1/2 hours, but this is simply impossible for an artist. The spectacular scenery demands far too many stops, making it very likely you will arrive late for the event at your destination.
Leaving Valdez, we began a long ascent to Thompson Pass past several picturesque waterfalls, the delightful Blueberry Lake State Park, and the Worthington Glacier. And that got us only 30 miles out of town! What’s an artist to do??? Stop and hike to the edge of the glacier? Paint blueberry lake that you remember fondly from four years ago???
According to the The MILEPOST—a necessary travel guide to Alaska and Northwest Canada—the Richardson Highway offers magnificent views of the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range and some of the best glacier viewing in Alaska. We also enjoyed views of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve which, at 13.2 million acres, is bigger than the country of Switzerland, and stretches from the ocean’s edge to one of the tallest peaks in North America, Mount St. Elias at 18,008′. In fact, at Willow Lake overlook, we stopped on the way to Valdez so I could at least sketch the mountain range and stopped on the way North so I could do a quick field study.
Then we turned onto the Glenn Highway, which is a National Scenic Byway, only to be mesmerized by glorious views of the Chugach Range stretching for another couple of hours. Although only 28 miles from our destination, I had to stop and camp at the Grand View Cafe & RV Park so that I could paint the dramatic Lion’s Head mountain which graces the entry to the Mat Su valley.
As I write this, I wish that all of my plein air friends could be here. I could easily have spent a month—instead of just two travel days—exploring, painting and enjoying the delights of this one 270-mile stretch of Alaskan highway.
And I thought that nine months would be enough time for this journey? Who was I kidding!