A Town with a Shaky Past

Sunday, June 27, took us from Tok to Valdez, Alaska.  We are beginning to remember what the weather does to asphalt highways in the winter, and it is not good.  We don't think the roads have improved a bit since we were here in 1981.  And we still prefer a well-maintained gravel road to a paved one, at least Alaska Style. 

The weather for the drive was very smoky, until we neared the coast, and then we had a mix of sunshine and fog, a la San Francisco.  While little or no wind is good for the firefighters, the smoke has been settling over much of the state and will not clear out until the wind picks up, which could interfere with our trip to Denali.  Otherwise, the smoke has been more of a nuisance than a problem.

Valdez, like Skagway, is nestled into a fjord carved out by a glacier, but the town was literally wiped out during the 1964 earthquake.  The town site has been moved further out toward the ocean on more solid ground and is quite picturesque.  While the town depends heavily on tourism, it is not a regular port of call for the cruise ships, so it has been spared the tackiness of Skagway.  Commercial fishing and, of course, the pipeline terminal are the other mainstays of the town.

The weather when we arrived was quite pleasant, with the coastal fog lifting by early afternoon.  The mountains ringing the town are literally covered with glaciers as well as a lot of waterfalls created by the runoff.   Sunday evening, we took a drive around town and Sue got a picture of a Black Bear that had just climbed out of a trash dumpster!

Monday evening the campground owner, who used to be a commercial fisherman, treated us to a Salmon Potluck dinner.  We brought the side dishes and he and his family fried up what must have been a couple hundred pounds of fresh Salmon.  That was a real treat!  He also occasionally feeds the local Bald Eagle population some of the leftover Salmon fish heads, which made for some interesting photographs.

On Tuesday we went on a ten-hour boat trip to  Columbia and Mears glaciers that proved to be very interesting.   The boat actually went into the floating ice fields.  We were able to get very close to the face of the Mears glacier and during the hour or so that we were near the face we saw probably 20 to 30 large chunks of ice "calve" off.  No good photos, though.  The face of the glacier is at least a quarter mile wide, and by the time you hear a section fall, the odds of getting a camera on it before it hits the water is pretty slim.

Wednesday, we drive about 260 miles to Palmer, Alaska, which is a suburb of Anchorage.

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Worthington Glacier

This distinctive "split" glacier greeted us on our drive into Valdez.

Salmon Fry. . .

. . .for about 150 people. All it takes is a little margerine and some Paul Prudhomme seasoning.


A baldy sweeps in for the catch-strictly on the fly.

On the Wing

A truly imposing bird.


This baldy was perched on a dead limb right outside our coach.

Sue's Bear

Sue spotted this guy/gal making a hasty exit from the trash dumpster.

Reluctant to Leave

This guy really didn't want to leave his meal behind. Both photos from a safe distance, in the car.

Valdez Harbor

As we are headed out for our glacier cruise.

Morning Vapors

Coastal fog and very light wind made for this interesting view.

Valdez Oil Terminal

About as close as we could get. Two tankers, one empty on the left, one loaded on the right.

Checking the Charts

Sue gets a chance to visit our boat's "wheelhouse."

Columbia Icefield

This glacier calves a tremendous amount of ice, some of which makes it into the Valdez shipping channel.

Sea Otters

When they are not diving for dinner, they spend their time relaxing and floating on their backs.

Sue and Jim

The Mears Glacier is in the background.

Blue Ice

Typical of the ice that breaks off the Mears Glacier.