2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   101 THINGS (AT LEAST) TO DO IN VALDEZ

SATURDAY, JUNE 16

 
"Valdez is the activity center for Prince William Sound, a mix of tidewater glaciers, 
rainforests, and mountains . . . Unparalleled natural scenery is matched 
only by the abundant activities offered throughout the year."
 
~ from the introduction to the 2012 Valdez Vacation Guide
 
 

Valdez is a popular tourist destination in Alaska, fairly easily accessible year-round by road, water, and air. Despite the heavy snow that falls every winter season, road crews reportedly do a good job keeping the Richardson Highway open.

There is plenty to keep visitors occupied for a few days or an entire season, whether you prefer more active or more sedentary activities or, like us, a variety of both.


Activities along the waterfront can be as easy as watching boats come and go from the pier to
hiking several hundred (or thousand) feet up into the mountains for a bird's-eye view of the scene.

On this page I'll give you an idea of the range of things visitors can enjoy doing in Valdez and a synopsis of what we did in the short amount of time we were there, including photos from the Whitney Museum.

In the next three entries I'll show you more pictures of the scenic waterfront, the trails we hiked, the bike path, Valdez Glacier, and our campground.

PLANNING YOUR FIRST VISIT TO VALDEZ

I say "first" visit because if you go to Valdez once, you'll most likely want to return someday to enjoy some of the same things again and/or try some new ones you didn't have time for the first time!

Or you might be like the woman we met who has a winter home in Texas and volunteers each summer at the Valdez visitor center. She's been doing that for twenty years. Some people get so hooked on Alaska they move there year-round. I'll tell you about one of those couples in this entry.


Colorful flags and fish sculptures lead the way to the waterfront.

Whether you plan to visit Valdez for your first or twenty-first time you can do considerable online research before arriving in town and then pick up more current, detailed information from various sources when you get there.

Don't just look for maps and brochures. Talk to the people you meet. All the full-time and part-time residents we talked with were more than happy to share their opinions with us about their favorite places and activities.

Other visitors can be a great source of information, too. Their perspective may be more similar to yours as a fellow traveler. They can make recommendations about campgrounds and other accommodations, restaurants, various tours and fishing charters, trails to hike, and other things they enjoy or consider to be good values for their tourist dollars.


You can take a ferry ride from the Valdez Ferry Terminal to other places in Prince William Sound
such as the towns of Cordova and Whittier and several glaciers (Columbia, Hubbard, etc.).

In a fortuitous meeting with the woman in the campsite across from us at the Valdez Glacier CG we got some of the best information on the whole trip, not just about Valdez but about all the places we plan to visit this summer. She is an MWR supervisor stationed at Fort Greeley near Fairbanks who was visiting her Valdez staff while we were there. I'll refer to the "Cliff Notes" I took during our conversation for the rest of our trip.

After we got set up at the Valdez Glacier Campground our first two stops on the afternoon we arrived were to the visitor center and the nearby Chugach National Forest Service cabin, which is located just in front of a lovely waterfall at the base of West Peak:

 

We learned a lot just from talking to the volunteers at the visitor center and the ranger at the NFS. We got updated verbal recommendations as well as city and trail maps, brochures, and a handy printed sheet of paper entitled "101 Fun Things to Do In Valdez" which gave us information about some interesting things to do and hunt for that weren't listed in the more professionally produced materials we'd gathered.

We already had a moderately long list of things we wanted to do while we were in Valdez. We found even more on that list. I'll include more details about some of them in this series of entries. Many of the other things sounded interesting but we simply ran out of time. 

That gives us more incentive to come back again!


Inside the Chugach National Forest information center

We managed to do quite a bit in two and a half days (list below). We could have eked out more if the weather had been a little better and if some of the trails hadn't been buried in snow. Most of these activities were free:

  • Picked up information at the visitor center and forest service cabin + admired the waterfall
  • Rode our bikes and/or drove every street in town and near town; it was a three-mile ride to town from our campsite at Valdez Glacier CG, mostly on a nice bike path
  • Strolled the waterfront several times admiring the views and watching boats and people
  • Watched for bald eagles, bears, and other critters in our campground and at Duck Flats:


A duck floats on the water at Duck Flats. When the tide goes out it's more of a mud flat.

  • Read numerous interpretive signs, information kiosks, and historical photos around town
  • Hiked the Overlook Trail, Dock Point Trail, and Mineral Creek Trail
  • Admired the murals, sculptures, carvings, totem poles, and flags around town:


This 30-foot-tall wooden "Whispering Giant" statue by Peter Toth is one
 of his 70+ statues in the U.S. and Canada that honor Native Americans.

  • Explored the historical and cultural exhibits at the Whitney Museum on the Prince William Sound Community College campus (more about that below)
  • Watched a fascinating video about the wildlife and glaciers in Prince William Sound
  • Visited the Old Valdez town site and thought about the people who died in the devastating 1964 earthquake and tsunami (photos on the first page of this series)
  • Photographed interesting buildings and boats, colorful flowers, and awesome scenery


Interesting bottle tree in front of a house;  in the background  
is a wooden replica of an old Alaskan food cache.

  • Walked along the lake at the base of Valdez Glacier; we observed Worthington Glacier from the highway on the way to and from Valdez because the road to it was blocked by snow.
  • Checked out the Civic Center:


The Civic Center sits on a hill above a small city park containing Ruth Pond.

I'll have lots of photos of the waterfront, bike path, hiking trails, campground, and Valdez Glacier on the next three pages.

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM

We enthusiastically recommend a visit to this museum. We spent a couple hours there because we also watched a film but you can enjoy the exhibits in less time than that.

The Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum, located on the campus of the Prince William Sound Community College, is a modern facility housing an extensive collection of Native Alaskan artifacts (art, bead work, ceremonial masks, dolls, furs, carved ivory, etc.), big game animal mounts (bears, moose, bison, musk ox, Dall and bighorn sheep, wolves, a fox, a trumpeter swan, and more), prehistoric objects like arrowheads, and other historical and cultural exhibits.

Exterior view of one wing of the museum (above), and a closer look
at the photo collage on the side of the building (below)

The Whitneys came to Alaska in 1947 on a visit and ended up living there the rest of their lives. (That phenomenon really does happen!) They collected an astonishing array of Alaskan artifacts for their gift shop and home. Many of the items are included in this collection.

Here are some of the photos of historical and cultural artifacts that I took inside:


Display of pioneer frontier life


Native Alaskan watercraft made from animal skins


Beautiful fur jackets and boots, beaded moccasins


Functional Alaskan ulu knives;  some of the handles are intricately carved.


Collection of old tools, fishing nets, and other equipment

Here are some of the animal mounts on display:


Grizzly bear (L), wolves (R)


Grizzly bear (there are polar and black bears, too)


Caribou, polar bear, male Dall sheep


L-R, mountain goat, polar bear, trumpeter swan, musk ox


Jim inspects the moose. There's a red fox behind it.


Collection of animal horns, walrus tusks, and fur

During the summer the museum shows two films throughout the day. We watched the one about glaciers and wildlife in Prince William Sound and got even more enthusiastic about taking a boat tour while we're in Alaska. Although we didn't go out on a tour of the Sound from Valdez we hope we will be able to see a variety of marine mammals, birds, and calving tidewater glaciers on a catamaran tour from Seward in a couple of weeks.

Admission to the Whitney Museum is free; donations are encouraged.

MORE THINGS TO DO IN VALDEZ

There are many other things visitors can do in Valdez. I won't list a hundred of them but here's a list to whet your appetite, so to speak:

  • shopping tax-free; Alaska has no sales tax (or state income tax)
  • enjoying locally-owned restaurants and/or bars


Some of the shops and eateries near the waterfront

  • viewing and photographing wildlife (birds, bears, moose, mountain goats, marine mammals, etc.)
  • taking a day cruise through Prince William Sound
  • taking a ferry to Cordova or Whittier for the day or overnight
  • visiting one or more state marine parks
  • going on a charter fishing trip for halibut, salmon, etc.
  • sailing or sea kayaking in the Sound

  • canoeing or kayaking at Robe or Blueberry Lake
  • fly fishing in a local creek or lake
  • fishing in an organized derby
  • seeing several glaciers in the area
  • taking an ice-climbing tour on a glacier
  • hiking into the mountains (too much snow for us to do that this week)
  • exploring Keystone Canyon (trails, waterfalls, old roadbed, etc.)
  • visiting an abandoned goldstamp mill
  • finding the "Man Camp"

Above and below:  Can women who work in Alaska
during the summer stay at Man Camps, too??

  • picking berries in season
  • panning for gold
  • taking an historical tour
  • rock climbing
  • watching the earthquake videos at the Valdez Museum
  • camping along the beach
  • riding ATVs or snow machines at Thompson Pass (year-round)
  • rafting the Rowe River
  • exploring the pioneer cemetery
  • finding more murals and totems than we did


Totem near the Whitney Museum on the campus
of the Prince William Sound Community College

  • flight-seeing over the mountains, glaciers, and Sound
  • searching for geocaches
  • touring the fish hatchery
  • watching salmon head to their spawning grounds
  • watching bears fish for spawning salmon
  • going cross-country skiing and enjoying other winter sports (almost year-round!)
  • attending special events year-round
  • and more.

Dress warmly whether you're just doing sedentary things in town or seeking adventure out on the water or in the mountains. Even in the summer the average high temperatures are relatively chilly (60 F.) at sea level and colder higher up. The weather is unpredictable and can change rapidly because of all the mountains and water.

And did I mention it rains and snows a lot?? Bring clothing and gear for that, too.

Next entry:  more photos from the waterfront

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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