Hanging out in Valdez
(all images can be enlarged by clicking on them)
We are pretty sure the road to Valdez is a beautiful drive. When we first approached the mountains, we were awed by the view.
But clouds were moving in.
By the time we hit Thompson Pass, this was our view.
I’m pretty sure those are drop offs on the side, but I can’t really tell. We creeped down the road at about 30 MPH. We didn’t know where the road went and our only guide was the GPS which at least showed where the twists and turns were.
We missed Worthington Glacier. We missed Blueberry Lake Campground (where we intended to stay) so we continued down into Valdez. The further down we went, the more we could see until, finally, in Keystone Canyon, we could see the sides of the road and the beautiful cliffs of the canyon.
We had no idea where we were going so stopped at the first RV Park we got to when we came into town. It happened to be Bayside RV Park where, for $44 per night, one gets full hook-ups, cable, wifi, and an in town location from where one can walk to restaurants, bars, and the small boat harbor. What we didn’t know about the place was that every evening around 5PM, the owner feeds the local eagles.
If you have ever wanted to see or photograph eagles up close, this is the place to be. We got to see three nights of eagles feasting and honestly, it is a once in a lifetime experience to have them that close in those numbers. The owner stands in the parking lot, waving fish, while the eagles start to gather. Once a few have come in, he starts throwing fish, one at a time. The eagles come and swoop down, grabbing the fish and carrying it off. At any moment, there can be four or five eagles flying over your head, some coming as close as five feet flying at about 20 MPH. The sound is, at first, disconcerting as it is sudden and loud. A note of caution: do not walk small dogs during the feeding! The eagles see small things moving and…well…do what eagles do.
In my head, I keep referring to Valdez as Haines (yes, I talk in my head a lot – it’s safer that way). The towns are somewhat similar: water/fishing centered towns in beautiful locations. But Valdez is somewhat busier, a little grittier, and a little less tourist oriented, which is just fine with us. The downfall of Valdez is the rain. And there is a lot of it – about 10 inches a month with an average of 25 feet of snow in the winter. That’s a lot of water. And while I love looking at snow in the far off mountains, I hate living in it. And so Valdez is off our list of places to potentially one day live.
That isn’t to say Valdez isn’t a great place to visit. There is quite a bit to do here and, when the weather cooperates, there are boat and plane excursions to visit some amazing places. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t do either; one day it was the fog, the next it was the winds (gale force winds out on the sound) and everyday it was the rain.
While here, we ate out three times. The Fat Mermaid serves pizza which looked pretty good, and fish sandwiches. I’ll be perfectly honest here – the fish at McDonald’s is better. Do not order the fish! It was small, over-priced, and extremely over cooked. I could swear my Salmon was freeze dried and then reconstituted. But the Alaskan Amber was good. Yada, yada, yada. We also had burgers at Old Town Burgers. The burgers were really good and rumor has it their fish and chips are way better than what you find at Fat Mermaid. And the prices are better, too. The Stir Fry special was okay at Off the Hook Grill. It was more Peruvian than Chinese except for the abundant use of soy sauce. Extremely abundant use. The stir fry was served over angel hair pasta so it is kind of like Chinese meets Peruvian meets Italian. Kinda. Again, it was okay, we were really hungry; but we would probably never do it again.
Valdez also has a Safeway grocery store (good and varied selection) two gas stations ($3.85G today), a post office, a museum, hardware store – pretty much anything you might need. What it is wonderfully devoid of is Walmarts, chain stores, and fast food restaurants. One thing to be aware of over this summer is the town is expanding the harbor. Right now, there is a huge mountain of dirt in their way, probably the dirt dug out to make the current harbor. Every day, four or five large trucks move dirt from the soon to be harbor to the construction dump site on Glacier Haul Dump Road. They each make one trip back and forth every half hour or so beginning at 6AM and stopping around 7PM. So there is ‘city’ noise throughout the town. If you don’t like noise, stay closer to Keystone Canyon or out at Allison Point. The public campground at Allison Point isn’t the greatest but it will be much quieter. From what we hear, Allison Point gets crowded when the Salmon run but right now, no one is there.
Up Glacier Haul Dump Road or Airport Road (which is paved) is Glacier View Park. Unfortunately, the glacier is no longer viewable from the park as it has retreated too far. But, it is a very pretty location, a good place to kayak and a potential boondock site. There were half a dozen campers there on various roads/trails between the lake and the river and a couple in the parking lot which is very large. The only problem might be the potential for blasting – there is an open gravel mine right across the small lake. But, the people there didn’t seem to mind and, while we were there, we heard no blasting.
In the same area is Glacier View Campground, a military campground that is now open to the public. They have electric sites and dry camping sites. The dry camping sites are set up much like a state park in that there is space and privacy between sites. It is in a very pretty location and even has a picnic area in front of a waterfall. The roads are a little rough around the campground but the prices are better than staying in town, though the amenities are less.
An interesting place to visit (and potentially boondock) is Old Valdez, the town site destroyed by the 1964 earthquake and resulting tsunamis. It is an eerie place, especially in the fog, but quiet and beautiful in the same way cemeteries can be. (Actual video of the quake) We visited the Old Valdez Museum (about the earthquake and aftermath) and the New Valdez Museum. Both were really interesting, giving an idea of what Valdez was like through its history. Especially interesting were the panels on the Wrangell Mountain Sky Boys, the first pilots of the Alaskan Outback.
We spent three full days and four nights in Valdez. It was cold, rainy, and foggy the entire time. It wasn’t until late in the second day that we finally saw that Valdez is indeed surrounded by snowcapped mountains but that view quickly disappeared as another cloud rolled in. But strangely enough, I actually wound up liking Valdez. It isn’t for everyone but, if it weren’t for all the snow, I could see myself settling comfortably here.