Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Valdez, Alaska

Once again, we decided that "since we were in the area" we ought to go check out Valdez. It was only 111 miles out of our
way (one way!), to get to Valdez from the Tok Cutoff, our turnoff towards Anchorage. From Homer it would be about a 12 hour drive. We spent 1 1/2 days in Valdez, and it is high on my list of places to return to. Since my camera was back in operation, I shall return to the photo journal format!

The Worthington Glacier barely gets mention in my Mileposts, but it was very neat because 1-it was deserted! The day was so yucky no one was around and 2-we could hike right up to and on it! The picture on the upper right is the big picture (that we took 2 days later on our return trip; it was covered by clouds the day we visited it). The picture on the left of the kids at it was down the lefthand arm near the terminus. I've seen so many glaciers lately, and I see them everywhere I go in Alaska, but this was our first time so close to one. I was struck by the sheer immensity of it. We felt like we were close to it, but it was still quite a hike up, then down over the moraine, and then you're standing right next to it and the ice just soars off way above your head into the clouds. Wow. It is on the drive from Glennallen to Valdez, just before Thompson Pass.

After Thompson Pass, about 12 miles out of Valdez, the sheer cliffs of Keystone Canyon rise above the road and river. Two incredible falls drop down from the mountains above it: Bridal Veil Falls (shown here) and Horsetail Falls (Seems to me there was another one, but it is not on the map. Could have just been rain runoff.). This area has a lot of history as it was the first glacier-free route from Valdez to the interior.

The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline roughly follows the Richardson Highway, so every so often we caught glimpses of it. In some places it goes underground, but where the oil would warm and melt the ice in the tundra it is above ground. The Alyeska Marine Terminal in Valdez (pictured here) is where the tankers fill up with oil after the 800 mile journey across Alaska from Prudhoe Bay. This is pristine Prince William Sound, and as we traveled around viewing wildlife on the cruise the following day I could picture the horrific mess of oil covering the animals, water and shoreline. Now the supertankers have tugboat escorts through the Sound to help stop them quickly if there is risk of colliding with an iceberg. The glaciers are calving often, so there are many icebergs scattered about that make this a very real threat. It takes the tankers over a mile to turn, and more than that to stop.

My sense of Valdez was remoteness: the town itself got 500 inches of snow one year recently, and the nearest town of any size is Palmer (near Anchorage), nearly 6 or more hours away via a mountain pass where they get even more snow (100-200 feet in some places in the mountains). One can also get there by boat, dodging all the fishing boats and glaciers. I could see making Valdez a destination vacation, and judging by the number of RV parks in town (they were all packed, despite high gas prices), many other people do too. There were hiking trails and other glaciers to explore, museums to visit and restaurants to try. Each town has its own "feel" or atmosphere, and I something about Valdez struck a chord with me. We often ask ourselves "Would we want to live here?" as we travel around Alaska. This is one of the places I think I might say yes! I'm a bit leery of all that snow, though!!

No comments: