Valdez. We visited Valdez briefly about a month or so ago, but this time we spent a little more time here and got to see Prince William Sound. This really is a spectacular place. Even the drive in to Valdez is spectacular.
We sprung and stayed at the Bayside RV park, which is in a fabulous location – walk to everywhere downtown. It is basically a parking lot, but still – it works. And the staff there are terrific and very helpful.
Much of what supports this town (this state) is oil; the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) supplies oil primarily to Washington and California, as well as retaining some for Alaska. The oil flows into Valdez as the closest ice-free port to Prudhoe Bay, where its’ 800+ mile journey begins. There was much controversy in the construction of the 48 inch diameter pipeline, largely from native Alaskans and conservationists, but the 1973 OPEC oil embargo helped grease the skids for approval.
The personal tax rate in Alaska before the pipeline was 14.5% (the highest personal tax rate in the country), and 30 years after the pipeline began the personal tax rate had been eliminated (the lowest personal tax rate in the country), as a result of oil company revenues to the state.
As oil volume continues to decrease (due to depleted oil reserves), a reassessment will be needed in Alaska to reflect those changes, and conceivably (if no new reserves are found), the pipeline will need to be removed, and a new economy created.
Valdez has a very cool vibe; I would come back here in a second. If you are a fisherman, this is where you want to be (even though I am not). If you are a kayaker there are several kayak tour groups to join, or you can head out on your own.
Either way the sights are spectacular whether it is the mountains, the wildlife or the glaciers.
We took part in a day-long boat trip on the Lu Lu Belle, a tour boat that takes you out into Prince William Sound and the Columbia Glacier, and what a fabulous trip! Mind you, it is an all-day event, departing at 11 am and returning (in our case) about 9-930 pm.
Fishing is another staple of Valdez, whether it is sport or commercial.
Commercial fishing is a pretty interesting process, unless of course you are a salmon. The fishing boats have a process to set nets, using their primary boat as well as a smaller boat to help spread the net.
As the net is being set, someone uses a “clapper” (best term I can think of) that makes a noise in the water that helps steer the fish into the net.
Once the net is full, the boat radios to one of the fish trawlers who pull up along side to off load (vacuum) the fish from the net into the hold of the trawler, which then goes back to a fish processing plant in the harbor.
Like any fishing town, there can always be a sordid element that seems to be attracted.
And not everyone who fishes needs a net…
But perhaps the most amazing part of our trip was to see the glaciers – and in particular the Columbia Glacier! This was just amazing, and we were within a quarter mile. When you are that close and looking up at 500 feet of pure ice cliff, you cannot even see the mountains behind. We watched as chunks of glacier broke off and fell into the sound.
The pieces of glacier that had already calved off had such distinctive colors and textures – just really interesting – and beautiful! Oh, and freaking huge.
As our boat turned from the glacier to head home, the accumulation of ice had dramatically moved or increased from the time we had arrived, and as we turned to head back we could see nothing but a sea of ice. We made it back (duh), but it was a very slow navigational process and I was hoping we were not going to need to send for a Coast Guard cutter to clear a path!
Stay tuned – not sure where exactly we are off to next. But if you get a chance to visit Valdez, I would highly recommend it!