Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Valdez (7.20.15 - 7.24.15)

Internet access has reached a new low.  We are in Haines today (more on that in a later post).  There is a ship in town and local internet access is HORRIBLE.  So we have purchased service through a commercial site.  Hope this works !!

The drive to Valdez is stunning. We'll describe that in the next post.


Valdez was originally a port of entry for gold seekers (1898). It is the northern most ice free port in the United States – that's why it was selected as the terminus for the oil pipeline. The population is about 4000.

We landed a beautiful waterfront campsite on the Valdez small boat harbor. Small boats include the commercial fishing boats, so we saw a parade of these all day, and night too – they fish quite late. A low background noise from the fish processing plants is heard 24 hours a day.

There are rabbits all over town. Apparently an old man, who kept lots of domestic rabbits died. Years ago, his daughter let them go and nature took its course. They have learned how to live in the harsh environment, and natural predators have not worked their way into town. We had 6-8 of them running around our camp site. Stinky thought they were great to watch and chase.

Valdez has suffered several terrible tragedies in 'modern' times'.

In 1964, the on Good Friday the largest earthquake to ever hit North America devastated Valdez. It was a measured 9.2 quake, and lasted a full 5 minutes. The town was originally built on a wash out area at the bottom of a Valdez Glacier. As it turns out, that was very unstable ground, really just a pile of rocks, undermined by glacial water. On the day of the earthquake, there was the first freight ship of the Spring in town. Many people, including many children, went down to greet the ship. The ship's cook made a practice of throwing candy out to the children on the dock. During the earthquake, the ground liquefied into quicksand, and there was a 'submarine slide' (massive underground landslide) at the dock. The dock and all the people on the dock we swallowed by the sea. Thirty three people died, and only a few bodies were recovered for burial. The ship washed ashore and then returned to water thanks to the ensuing tsunami. 

Old Valdez today

Following geological surveys, it was determined that the town should not be re-built on the same location, so it was relocated 4 miles away, on stable ground. Many homes were moved, the rest destroyed. 'New' Valdez was established in 1967.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred 20 years after the earthquake, on the same date within 2 minutes of the time of the earthquake. The response to the cleanup was slow and apparently uncoordinated (according to local historians), without advance planning and preparation for such an event. There are still areas in Prince William Sound where the oil has not yet been totally cleaned up. In many 'clean' areas', digging down just a foot into the sand, oil can be found.

We took a boat tour of Prince William Sound on the Lulu Belle – a beautifully crafted, elegant tour boat (the black and white boat in the foreground). Salon and Bridge pictures – we were allowed all over the boat, including the bridge.

Prince William Sound is very large – easily accommodating the oil tankers and many commercial fishing boats at the same time.


Pipeline terminus


 The commercial boats were salmon fishing by laying out nets, then pulling them in like a purse string. We heard a fisherman. that evening at a local restaurant, report that he had an 'OK' day, having caught 10,000 pounds. WOW!


The rocky cliffs that line the sound are loaded with wildlife, caves, and carved out mini-islands.

The captain deftly nosed the boat into a cave within inches of each side. There were puffins inside!  The rocks inside the caves are interesting - very jagged as they are protected and have not been worn down by the elements.


There are large colonies of sea lions – they feed on the salmon, therefore abhorred by the fisherman.

We saw eagles, a scrawny, hungry bear from afar, and a mountain goat.


We moved further into the sound, around glacier island, over to Columbia Glacier – the largest, by far, that we have seen so far. It is a tidewater glacier This one has receded quite a bit starting in the 1980's (over 10 miles), leaving many icebergs in the water approaching the face of the glacier. In 2001 it was receding at the rate of 30 meters per DAY!  It has lost on half of it's total thickness.  Rocks now revealed by the receding glacier.


The captain piloted through pretty large, and very beautiful,  icebergs to the face of the glacier.



 Some icebergs  were  teaming in wildlife (these are Kittiwake birds).


The 'face' of the glacier is a couple hundred feet tall. We sat in front of it for a hour, listening to the chunks of ice in the water 'popping', and listening to the glacier sounds – thunder (from calving), grinding popping, clicking, and groaning. The air was quite cool.


This glacier had the bluest densest glacier ice we had seen so far.



Sections of the glacier had caves, with rivers of water running out into the bay.

We are happy campers


We bid farewell to the glacier, and returned to the port area 8 hours after our noon departure.


Coming back into town, we strolled the harbor to see the recreational (tour) boat fishing catches. Valdez is a great fishing town for all parties.

They clean the fish right on the docks and the gulls have a great time with the scraps sent to sea.   

 Beautiful Valdez harbor:

 The next day we toured (on our own) 'Old Valdez', the local fish hatchery, and Kris caught a salmon (silver) in the bay. (some pictures from this day are Missing in Action).

Night Night Valdez (out our bedroom window).