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  • Frank DeArmas

Valdez, Alaska

Nature Recovers, but damage remains

View from our Campsite


I must admit that I was apprehensive as we made our way to Valdez Alaska. I remembered vividly watching the events of March 24, 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil. The ecologically sensitive location, and large scale of this spill resulted in one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history.


Remembering those graphic images on TV I thought to myself, was the area able to overcome the damage, or would we find evidence of those events 34 years ago.


 

Thompson Pass


As you drive towards Valdez, you must go through a stretch of road bracketed on both sides by canyon walls. This is the Thompson pass, and it was some of the prettiest scenery we had seen to date. As we stopped what seemed like every few feet to check out yet another waterfall it filled me with a renewed hope that when we made our way into Valdez, we would find nature had rebounded from the blow of that accident.


Click on pictures to see full image

Photos of some of the view coming into Valdez

 

Solomon Gulch Hatchery

We set up camp and quickly started to explore the area (ok, it was really the next day as Jan was on her last day of quarantine for Covid). We disconnected the Jeep (Jeep Jeep) and headed to the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. You see, we were told that bears come down to grab an easy lunch as the salmon make their way back to spawn. And you may have noticed Jan has this bear thing going on.


Well no bears, but we found these guys and they may not have been bears, but they were impressive and doing a number on the fish.


Click on pictures to see full image

 

Glacier Lake

After hanging out for a while, we headed for Glacier Lake. From what we could see, everything looked fine. There was wildlife everywhere, but sometimes you can’t always tell just by looking at the surface, as we learned later during our boat trip to Prince William Sound.

Click on pictures to see full image

On this trip we had the chance to see several glaciers, but here we got to go right up to a lake that was being fed by a glacier that terminated right in front of us. We had a chance to talk to some kayakers that were navigating the ice and learned that they must take a different route every day as the ice changes the open lake areas daily.

You can see one of the kayaks in Jan's pictures above.

 

Prince William Sound and Meares Glacier

We then got a chance to take a boat tour of Prince William Sound and the Meares Glacier. As we made our way to the glacier we past a rich variety of wildlife that included this whale.


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Seeing them never gets old!


In addition we saw these sea otters, and puffins in the wild. Jan did a great job on the pictures as always as you can see here.


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Unfortunately, as beautiful as it all was, and as normal as it seemed, we did learn that the accident had a bad effect on two pods of Orcas that swam through the oil. You may know that Orcas have a very tight family unit. One of the pods has not been able to reproduce and we learned that the last living member of that local pod, a 46 year old male, had not been seen this year (last seen and heard in 2019). If in fact he is gone, then we have lost what was once a vibrant family unit.


 

Jan's Fun Facts - Valdez

Let it snow?


My fun facts on Valdez, AK is going to be about snow. We didn’t get any while we were there (thank goodness) but it’s only a matter of time.


Did you know that Valdez gets the most snow in all the US? It gets on average 300 inches of snow annually. That’s in town, in nearby Thompson pass (which is a 2,600-foot-high gap in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez) it can get between 600 and 900 inches annually.


In town, three to four feet can easily fall in one evening. Almost every year a few boats sink in the harbor due to the heavy snow.

Valdez was one of the most stunning places we visited, I can only imagine what it might look like when transformed into a winter wonderland.


We’re almost at the end of our travels in Alaska and I have an interesting fact about the whole state.


The state pays every permanent citizen a share of the state’s oil wealth as part of the “Permanent Fund Dividend Division”.

It varies year by year depending on the state’s oil reserve.


There are only two conditions to receive this money, you must live in Alaska 180 days, and you haven’t been convicted of a crime in the last year. You pass those two conditions, you’re golden.

Our sea pilot Wes, that took us to Lake Clark National Park said when he moved to Alaska 20 years ago, he got around $400. This year he will get $3,200 for each of his family members. He’s a family of five, that’s $16,000 that will be deposited into his bank account this year.


The dividend was put into place to help the residents with the cost of living there. The ones who need it the most are the people in the remote villages. This money helps them get through the long winters.

 

Valdez Video


 

Our next blog will feature Skagway Ak, which means we have to drive over the White Pass, an 11 % grade that stretches' for over 11 miles, yikes As always we hope you enjoyed the blog and until next time, we will see you on the road!



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