Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On to Valdez

Continued from previous post: Missing Valdez

After leaving Keystone Canyon it's a short distance to Valdez. The oil pipeline terminal is located at the end of Dayville Road, before entering the town.  The road follows Valdez Harbor and is a great spot for fishing.  There's another waterfall and Solomon Gulch trail to climb if you aren't scared of the bears. Black bears and coastal brown bears love to fish, too.  The trees are usually filled with bald eagles and the air is pierced by their calls.
One of two dozen bald eagles
spotted at one time at Allison Point.
I am finally seeing wildlife recovery in this area after animals disappeared from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.  I was a small child when it happened, but I understood the gravity of the situation. Several years after the oil cleanup is when my family started spending time in Valdez. Compared to then, I see a lot more wildlife now. The water is full of steller sea lions and sea otters. Brown bears are starting to show up and bring their cubs.  When the fish are running, you can expect to see any or all of these animals together at once.
Solomon Gulch 
A hydroelectric dam is located along Allison Point. A bridge crosses Solomon Gulch, the freshwater destination for spawning salmon. There is a weir located here along with the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, where you can learn about the salmon and watch as they climb a fish ladder.  Fishing is prohibited near the hatchery and weir.  Posted signs and marked posts show where the fishing boundaries lie. You can buy fishing licenses in Valdez at bait shops or the grocery store. There are also services for fish packing and shipping. 
My husband's catch of pink
salmon for the day at Allison Point.
Valdez was originally in a slightly different location before the 1964 earthquake. When the 9.2 momentum magnitude quake hit 45 miles west of Valdez, tons of land slid into the harbor.  Thirty-one people died, most of them being children. Streets and docks were destroyed along with many buildings. The army corps of engineers decided it was necessary to relocate the town to more stable ground. Sixty-two buildings were moved and a new townsite was constructed. You can visit the restored gold rush cemetery that was used between 1898 and 1917. An informational sign can be found just off the Richardson Highway, along the gravel road leading to the cemetery. A visit to the downtown Valdez Museum can offer more information about the earthquake and I've heard it's well worth it. I plan on going as well, just as soon as I stop spending all of my time in Valdez fishing. There is also the Whitney Museum, which has an extensive collection of Native artifacts, located at the Prince William Sound Community College downtown. 
Prince William Sound Community College
The docks are fun to explore and there's usually a salmon and halibut derby running, so anglers crowd the fish cleaning and weigh-in stations for a chance to claim the winning catch.  There is a visitor center at the edge of town, with a nature trail and views of spawning salmon. I have seen black bears crossing the road and trail here on numerous occasions as they come down from the waterfall-streaked mountain and head for the beach. Always be bear-aware around Valdez. 
A costal brown bear subadult eats grass,
patiently awaiting a tide full of salmon.
Though the town is so small, it's big on character and charm. I never find enough time to do everything when I'm there, since I have to plan my schedule around the tides. You can also fish at the dock in town instead of Allison Point. I caught a lot of ling cod there in the past. I could put my 3-hook pixie in the water and seconds later had a fish on each hook.
Valdez Boat Harbor
Whether you go to Valdez for the fishing or the views, you'll have a great time. Make sure to take your time and explore. It's important to also know the history of many Alaskan towns to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice it took to settle in the Last Frontier.  While traveling the Richardson Highway, think about the Athabascan Natives who originally traversed this harsh land, creating the important trails we now use as roadways. Remember the many prospectors who rushed to Alaska seeking riches, only to leave downtrodden and broke, and hopefully with all their fingers and toes. Frostbite was a constant danger to these people crossing glaciers and rivers, but they pressed on like men possessed. The people who struck it rich were the ones who stayed in Valdez. It goes to show that Valdez residents have always recognized a good thing when they see it. After all, they live in what I consider one of the best places on earth.
Another fan of Allison Point, enjoying incoming pink salmon.

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