Monday, August 9, 2010

Valdez is a pretty cool town. Situated on the shores of Prince William Sound, it’s surrounded by young mountains covered in glaciers. The original town (Old Valdez) was destroyed by the 1964 earthquake and a new town was built 10 miles down the road (New Valdez.) The town gets 300 inches of snow every winter and the surrounding mountains get 900 inches! Snow was a major factor in designing town. Most of the snow can be pushed into the sea; the rest is piled up in the center of town where there is a large green belt. Fishing is a big deal here; just yesterday a guy caught a Halibut weighing 363 pounds! This weekend was Gold Rush Days; we attended the town’s pancake breakfast and then went to the parade. Love these small town parades! Valdez is also where the 800+ mile Alaska Pipe line ends. Oil from the north slope gets shipped out by HUGE oil tankers to the lower 48 for refining. We watched a film on the earthquake yesterday; many towns were completely destroyed by the earthquake or the tsunami that followed. You can’t imagine the damage a 9.2 earthquake that lasted 5 MINUTES can do! In Anchorage whole sections of the city dropped 30 feet! And as if the earthquake wasn’t enough trouble for Valdez, there was the Exxon Valdez accident here in Prince William Sound. The more I talk to Alaskans, the more impressed I am with their toughness and resilience.

Valdez has several really nice museums. One of them is the world class Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum. The Museum contains one of the largest collections of Native Alaskan art and artifacts in the world. The Whitney’s came to Alaska in 1947 for a temporary job and never left. Maxine traveled to Native villages throughout the area, buying items directly from the artists to sell in her gift shop. The collection also includes some of the best animal mounts I’ve ever seen.

We went kayaking in Valdez Glacier Lake yesterday and had a wonderful time. The tour company was Anadyr Adventures, our guide was Laura. We used inflatable kayaks that were REALLY stable and roomy. They provide you with rain gear, boots, life jacket and dry bags for your stuff. After a quick lesson in paddling and steering the kayak we loaded up. Loading up is a bit tricky for the beginner who has two layers of clothing on and a life jacket and has to step into a buoyant, moving, narrow, never been in one before thingie (if you get my drift.) So off we go, and I instantly loving the kayak experience. Sound of the paddle dipping into the water, the sound of water lapping at the kayak, sun shining down, so relaxing! We paddle around a few icebergs and then get a chance to paddle under one. This is where the rain gear comes in handy, the ice is melting and it’s raining under the iceberg. One at a time we all screw up the nerve to go in there for a photo. Then we paddle to a large iceberg where we get out to see a big beautiful blue ice cave. Getting out is somewhat trickier than getting in since we have to worry about missing the edge of the iceberg and stepping into the lake by mistake. But we all make it safely to “land.” The ice cave is really cool; we take lots of photos and then get back into the kayaks. In our little group are two women from Spain (Leire and Zaloa,) as they climb back into their kayak one of them misses the edge of the iceberg and steps into the lake. And down she goes, throwing her arms over the kayaks bumper before she plunges all the way in. Since the lake is 400' deep her friend and our guide quickly pull her out of the water. She’s fine, and only her feet are wet, boy is that good rain gear! Her friend is laughing, saying this kind of thing happens all the time. Now everyone is really careful getting in their kayaks. We paddle around some more checking out several icebergs. We land on a BIG iceberg that has a hole in it and a small lake. This iceberg is amazing, sculpted by the sun, wind and rain. The icy wind howls through the hole and sweeps across the face of the iceberg where we are standing. After more photos we have lunch. Our guide brought yummy hot chocolate to warm us up so life is perfect. Back in the kayaks we paddle around some more icebergs, we go under another one and down a channel between two big icebergs.

Leire and Zaloa

The salmon have been running here, all the streams with outlets to the sea are PACKED with salmon. So many salmon, the water is TEAMING with them. The salmon draw hungry predators, like sea gulls, eagles, otters, Steller Sea Lions and of course black and brown bears. The sea gulls are here by the thousands; they squabble and make so much noise it’s hard to hear yourself think. The eagles are cool, they zoom in, scaring all the other birds half to death, then tuck into a dead salmon dinner. The sea otters are so cute, they roll over and scoop up a salmon and then roll back over with a salmon hugged tight to their tummy. In between eating salmon the Steller Sea Lions are busy harassing the gulls floating on the water. They’ll find a group of gulls floating together and just bust up through the middle of them. The bears are the most interesting of all. They eat a little, sleep a little, and eat a little sleep a little. They’ll eat 3 or 4 fish and then go take a nap. Your timing has to be perfect to catch a glimpse of bear fishing. When a bear is fishing the road will be lined with people taking photos. Sometimes the pressure becomes too much and the bear will amble off to the safety of the woods until the crowd clears. Frankly, I don’t know how the bears can eat; they’re surrounded by squabbling sea gulls that keep trying to steal salmon.

There are tons of Bald Eagles here. Today we saw a young Bald Eagle trying to catch a salmon for dinner. Boy was it entertaining, he kept trying the - stick out a leg and step on the fish technique and it just wasn’t working for him (works for bears.) These fish were all beat up and dying, swimming in a small pool of really shallow water and he still couldn’t catch one. There were hundreds of salmon swimming around his legs, some of them beached themselves right under his nose (beak) and he still couldn’t get lucky! He even caught one and couldn’t hang onto it. Good thing there are 10’s of thousands of salmon dying all around him so he won’t starve to death.

We leave for Haines tomorrow. Alaska doesn’t have many roads so getting around can be complicated. To get to Haines which is south on the Inland Passage we will head north 260 miles to Tok. We will reconnect with the Alaska Highway and go south 300 miles to Haines.

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