Monday, August 11, 2008

The Road to Valdez

After breakfast we continued our way toward Valdez. The road started climbing to Thompson Pass, a high mountain pass connecting the Valdez fjord with the main land.

Roy enjoying the scenery

This area has high snow falls as it catches all the storm clouds as they move from the open ocean. Thus, all the mountains are covered by glaciers. Two miles before the pass we encounter the Worthington glacier, a large glacier flowing down the mountain side toward the road.

Worthington glacer

There is a watch platform from which we can see the glacier, and there is a big sign "Proceed at your own risk", and a trail where visitors make their way to the glacier face. The area is a mess of glacial debris, which includes huge boulders of granite, smaller rocks, and a lot of fine gravel. The ground looks like what I would expect a lunar crater to look like.

The path to the Worthington glacier

We slowly made our way up this debris until we made it to the glacier side. Although it is cold we are sweating and taking off the fleeces we brought over. The glacier itself is dripping with small streams leaving off the side of the ice. We have access to few large crevices that allow to walk "inside" the glacier and see the ice inside.

Inner glacier ice

There are several group of climbers with ice shoes who walk freely up the glacier. The top of glacier at the edge is covered with stones of various sides and Roy and I try to walk it. Roy slips and fall, cutting his hand on one of the sharp stones. The cut is not so bad, but we decide this is a sign to stay off the ice...

Views from the glacier

We make our way slowly down to the parking lot.

Lior and Yael



After reorganizing, we proceeded to drive to the pass. The pass is windy and cloudy.

Thompson Pass

There is a deep canyon running next to the road with small patches of clouds moving slowly through it. We go down to watch the view. Roy and I decided to take a quick hike to see the pass.

Views from Thompson Pass

We don't make it as far as we plan, but we do get a sense of the views and the large expanse of mountains and clouds around us. The mountains in this area are steep, and covered with patches of snow and glaciers on the their top, and lush green vegitation on the lower slopes. Streams run along the steep mountain sides with many thin water falls and cascades.

We return to the RV and start riding down the winding road toward a deep canyon below. The canyons' bottom is very steep and originally was impassable until a road was blasted in the granite rock. We stop to look at some of the impressive waterfalls that go down the canyon walls. We decide to have a quick lunch there with a view on the waterfall outside our window.

Bride Vail Fall

We continue down the canyon that opens up to a beautiful fjord where Valdez is located. The city used to be in on the mouth of the river at the top of the fjord, but the 1964 earthquake that hit Alaska caused a hugh tsunami wave, which washed the town. The new town location is on a bit of higher ground on the side of the fjord. The whole area has signs for tsunami evacuation routes (I guess once bitten, twice shy).

We get into Valdez and look for an RV parking. The city is a fishing Mecca, and there are many more RV spots in town the local residents. We avoid the crowded RV parks next to the boat harbor, and instead head for an island that forms the outer barrier of the harbor. Here there is a fish processing plant, a an emergency response base of the coast guard, and a big RV park (Otter Point RV) that sits on the water edge. We manage to secure the last spot on the water.


Happy with our success we proceed to the next task, and that is finding whether we can take a ferry from Valdez to our next destination at Whittier (the beginning of the Kenjai peninsula). We
drive to the ferry building and send the kids to take pictures on the dock while we check the options.

Lior on the dock

Flight of the seagull

Turns out that we can either leave the next day (Monday) at 7am or two days later (Wednesday) at 7am. This means either skipping most of Valdez activities or staying for two whole days. At the recommendation of the nice person there, we are listed for the waiting list for the Monday ferry and reserve a place for the Wednesday ferry. This gives us maximum flexibility.

We now had to decide whether to stay in town for two more days or not. We drive to the "center" of town next to the small boat harbor. There are few places that take kayak tours to nearby glaciers, and few that do boat trips to the glaciers. The city however does not strike us as vibrant. To make something of the afternoon we decide to go to a local museum. The guidebook puts it outside the town next to the airport (a short air strip). We drive there and don't find any signs for the museum... After two rounds (try that with a big RV) we give up and drive back.

We stop at a local stream where there is a sign of "salmon spawning". The stream is a fairly small one and there is a viewing platform above it. From here we can see the backs of the salmons as they move around and thrush in the stream (the water height is 10-15cm at best here and
the water is running fairly fast). Later we learn that by thrashing on her side the female fish digs a hole in the gravel to lay eggs in it and the male fish fight for the right to get to fertilize the eggs.
From above it looks like a mess... around the area we see dead fish and few ones that are dying. Seagulls are waiting around for the feast. It seems that they are mainly interested in getting eggs rather than eating the fish. Roy uses this opportunity to photograph the

Seagulls fighting over territory (salmon spawning area)

When driving back into town we notice a sign for the Whitney museum. It changed its location, and we find it at last. We have 40 minutes before they close, but that seems like enough. The museum is the collection of stuffed animals and local artifacts that were collected by a woman who run an artifact store next to Fairbanks (I didn't understand the connection to Valdez). She and her husband used to fly out to remote native villages to buy native art work. They also had memorabilia from hunting parties and other events. The place is interesting and some of the native art is worth seeing.

When the museum closes we decide to try the local food. The guidebook recommends a place for "authentic" chips & fish. We find the place after going by twice. It looks like a fast food joint from the 60s. We order fried fish and the kids eat burger. The fried local halibut is okish, and the fried rockfish is tastier. After dinner we return to the campground.

Indian statute in Valdez

The weather is beautiful, and so we build a camp fire and sit next to
it to watch the water and the sky.

Enjoying the views

Our campfire

Roy goes around on a photographic mission.

Evening sky


Another seagull

I follow suite after he returns. This slow sunset is one of the nicest views I remember for a long while.

Sunset sky

Post-sunset sky

Seagull caught in action

Late evening seagull


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