Prince William Sound, a Sound you won’t forget – Valdez pt. 2

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Prince William Sound is ringed by the coastal mountains of the Chugach Range, and situated in the midst of the Chugach National Forest.  Within its 2,700 miles of coastline lies Valdez at the north shore edge.  When hearing reference to Prince William Sound, the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster most likely comes to mind.  Today the port waters have recovered and wildlife flourishes.


That’s Val DEEZ

Prince William Sound

Shimmering beauty

The Sound is a premier fishing destination for Salmon and Halibut, and in fact the Women’s Silver Salmon Derby was underway during our visit.  The winner was a tourist from Anderson, California, and she took home $1,000 for her 15.22-pound Silver Salmon!

One way to enjoy and be amazed by the Sound’s shimmering beauty is to take a guided tour.  We can’t seem to get enough of glaciers, so we booked the Meares Glacier excursion. It wasn’t so much the destination we were seeking, but rather being able to smell the sea air and get another vantage point for viewing mountains, glaciers and wildlife.

Valdez, Alaska

Leaving Valdez

Otters in Alaska

A group of otters is called a “raft”. This is probably the largest raft of otters we have seen, and it’s a good sign that the otter population is doing well after almost being wiped out by hunters years ago

Since we had been on a similar cruise at Kenai Fjords National Park, we can’t help but compare the calving activity of the glaciers.  We were fortunate to see plenty of calving of the Aialik Glacier during our Kenai Fjords tour.  However, the wildlife that make Prince William Sound their home are abundant and the scenery is without equal.  It was quite a challenge going through hundreds of pictures to pick the right ones – they were all beautiful!

Sealed with a kiss

Talk about a wet kiss!

Humpback Whale

A rare “fluke shot” of a Humpback Whale’s tail as it does a “deep dive”, which means it will be submerged for at least several minutes.

Seal near Meares Glacier

You talking’ to me?

Meares Glacier

We were interested to learn that fairly large icebergs completely melt in only a day or two. With that in mind you get an idea of how fast the glacier is dropping all of this ice into the ocean

Female Harbor Seals resting on ice

Female Harbor Seals resting on ice

A closer look at the Kittiwakes

A closer look at the Kittiwakes

Steller Sea Lions

Steller Sea Lions

Columbia Glacie

Columbia Glacier is the second-largest tidewater glacier in America. It has been retreating since 1980 and in 2002 it had retreated 7.5 miles

Meares glacier

The Meares glacier is about 6 miles long and 1 mile wide where it meets the water. The face is approximately 250 feet high

Black -Legged Kittiwakes hanging out on ice

Black -Legged Kittiwakes hanging out on ice

For those who are fans of the documentary/Real TV series “Deadliest Catch“, two of the fishing vessels featured there – the Kodiak and the Cornelia Marie – were docked at the Sound for the summer.  It’s off-season for the Alaskan crab fishermen, and during this time they are contracted to buy fish from small operations and take them to commercial plants for processing.

Valdez, Alaska

Cornelia Marie, one of the fishing vessels featured on “Deadliest Catch”

In our opinion, a visit to Alaska just isn’t complete without a trip to Valdez to enjoy the gorgeous calm waters and wildlife of Prince William Sound!


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!


Whittier – A nice surprise at the end of the tunnel

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Portage Glacier

After setting up at the really nice Williwaw Campground in Portage that we learned about from our friends Joe and Judy, we decided to drive our car to Whittier, which can only be reached via The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  The tunnel  is the longest combo vehicle-railroad  tunnel in North America.  It is open to vehicle traffic to travel directly over the railroad track once per hour from each direction, subject to interruptions by train passages.  The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and takes about 7 minutes to get through.  The cost was $12.00 round-trip for the car, but a  large RV would cost over $125.

Whittier, Alaska

Lane designations and staging area

Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Train has priority

Entrance to Tunnel at Whittier

Then other vehicles

Whittier is a very cool small fishing town that you might want to check.  It is the gateway to Prince William Sound.  The drive through the tunnel is a fun experience, and once you arrive and get parked there are several things you can do and see.

Harbor at Whittier Alaska


The town of Whittier

The small town of Whittier from a hiking trail

Fishing at Whittier

Boats of all sizes come to town to fish

We walked and hiked almost all day, since it was nice out and we wanted some exercise.  There is a great view of yet another glacier from the Shotgun Cove Hiking Trail, which is on the west end of town.  You have to go through a pedestrian tunnel, which passes under all of the train tracks, to get downtown and on to this hiking trail.  We stopped at a cove and saw some salmon trying to run upstream to spawn, as well as dead Salmon.

Whittier AK

Pedestrian Tunnel

Billings Glacier

Billings Glacier viewed from Shotgun Cove Trail

Pink Salmon running

Pink Salmon running

Dead after spawning

Dead after spawning

Shotgun Cove

Awesome view at Shotgun Cove

Whittier Alaska

Taking a quick break

This is an easy walk on a new road that takes you past the abandoned Buckner Building, which was built in the 1950’s and was once the largest building in Alaska.

Begich Towers

Begich Towers, a condominium with great views of glaciers, waterfalls and the Passage Canal.

We had lunch at the Swiftwater Seafood Cafe at the harbor, and can’t recommend it enough!   The food is very fresh, and the beer is served cold in frosty glasses.  After walking several miles it got a “gold star” from us.  It’s a tiny place, but you get just the right feeling about the atmosphere and service there.

Halibut fish and chips

We thought we’d had enough of Halibut fish and chips but this was highly recommended by the locals.  Folks in Palmer pay the $12.00 to drive through the tunnel just for this lunch!

After lunch, we walked all the way back to the tunnel to hike the Portage Glacier Pass Trail.   The hike is a moderate one – a steady ascent for a mile, finishing at a promontory (elevation 750ft) that offers views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal to the east.  It took us about 45 minutes to hike up the trail, after the 30 minute walk from town.  We were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Portage Glacier and surrounding mountains.  This hike was a “WOW!”

Portage Pass

Checking the details of the trail

Portage Pass

Enjoying surrounding mountains

Passage Canal

Passage Canal and gravel airstrip viewed from the top

Portage Glacier

Almost there…

Portage Glacier

Taking a moment to enjoy Portage Glacier

When the sun is out, it brings a whole new perspective of the surroundings. It was a beautiful day at Whittier and everyone we saw were all enjoying the break in good weather.