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.
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.
Our drive continued over Lowe River (Steve smiled), four beautiful waterfalls and through Keystone Canyon where we saw some gorgeous 5,000 ft. peaks.
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.
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.
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.
We visited two museums while here. Both the Valdez Historical Museum and the Old Town Valdez Museum were excellent and a great learning experience.