From peaks to port – Valdez pt. 1

Leaving Glennallen, our adventure to Valdez (pronounced Val-DEEZ) began on the Richardson Highway.  We crawled along at a slow pace, negotiating 17 pavement breaks (yes I counted them) with abrupt edges, dips and frost heaves.  That meant Steve had to slow way down for every encounter so we wouldn’t empty our cabinets of their contents as Betsy displayed some serious hip action.

Richardson Highway

One of the 17 pavement breaks on our route

We climbed to the 2,800 ft. summit of Thompson Pass, where we encountered rain and fog. Visibility was so bad that we decided to pull off and take a break for lunch at the top. Thompson Pass received 26 feet of snow during January 2012, and there was still plenty on the mountain during our August visit.

Thompson Pass

Snow still on the mountaintops in August

Thompson Pass

Valdez is the snowiest place in Alaska.  Notice how tall the snow markers are here – they look like streetlights!

Our drive continued over Lowe River (Steve smiled), four beautiful waterfalls and through Keystone Canyon where we saw some gorgeous 5,000 ft. peaks.

Lowe River

This sign put a smile on Steve’s face

Keystone Canyon, Alaska

There were waterfalls all along the road at Keystone Canyon

As we entered the town of Valdez, the lush Chugach mountains and shimmering clear water were just breathtaking.  The sun was shining during our four-day stay here, allowing us to hike, bike and take a walk around the quaint town to learn a why it is called the “Switzerland of Alaska.”

It was also here that we enjoyed the amazing sight of salmon running at Solomon Gulch.  I’ll give more details about that fascinating experience in my next blog.

Town of Valdez

Valdez is surrounded by the lush snowcapped Chugach Mountains

Port of Valdez

Yet another place to go fishing

Lowe Street,Valdez

Steve also has a street named after him!

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Hiking Goat Trail at Keystone Canyon – the trailhead was at Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Looking down at Lowe River from a trail along the gulch

Biking at Valdez

Valdez is also a great town to bike around

Valdez Glacier

Valdez Glacier in the background

Chugach mountains

The towering Chugach Mountains surround the area

Valdez is rich in history that helped shaped this community.  In 1898, it was all about the gold stampede and railroad industry.  Then on March 27, 1964 a 4-minute, 9.2 earthquake triggered an underwater landslide which created a tsunami.  The tremendous waves washed away the entire Valdez waterfront.  Due to the fact that the town had been built on unstable soil, it was abandoned and a whole new town was built 4 miles to the east.

Gold Rush Days Story

Gold Rush Days Story

The 800-mile long Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was completed between Prudhoe Bay in the north and Valdez to the south in 1977.  And the town became a household name in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker ship ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.  Although the town was not direcly impacted by the oil spill, thousands of people arrived in response to the crisis.

Terminus of Trans-Alaska pipeline

Terminus of the Trans-Alaska pipeline at the base of the mountains

We visited two museums while here.  Both the Valdez Historical Museum and the Old Town Valdez Museum were excellent and a great learning experience.

Old Valdez now

Old Valdez now

Tsunami warning loudspeaker

A strange looking loudspeaker used for Tsunami warnings

The new Port of Valdez

The new Port of Valdez

Valdez Historical Museum

Valdez Historical Museum

We loved this town and the surrounding area so much that I couldn’t capture it all in a single blog.  To read about the rest of our adventure here, check out Valdez pt. 2!