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Valdez is a quaint harbor town of 4000 bordered by the beautiful Prince William Sound, the majestic Chugach Mountains, and enormous glacier-fed waterfalls. In the summer it’s full of tourists, drunk fisherman from Washington, and little feral bunny rabbits (referred to by drunk fisherman as “little f**ng bunny rabbits”). Seriously, you have to watch where you step because there’s probably a little black bunny about to run under your foot.
The tiny harbor town is a popular destination for us interior folks both for the fishing and the change in scenery. Kate and I finally had family and friends visit from outside this summer that were not her or my parents. My brother and his wife came up from Vegas. They were followed a few days later by Jenn, an old co-worker and one of my best friends from New Hampshire. Since it was everyone’s first time to Alaska, a trip to the coast seemed like a necessity so we all drove down to Valdez from Fairbanks for a weekend.
Driving from Fairbanks to Valdez on the Richardson Highway is incredible. After passing through the taiga of the interior – sparse boreal forests and kettle ponds, you hit the Alaska Range just south of Delta Junction. The Delta sub-range is an awesome mountain playground filled with enormous glaciers. Then there are the lakes – Summit Lake and Paxson Lake are enormous, beautiful, alpine lakes with a backdrop of endless alaska forest. Seriously . . . endless.
Then, enter the Chugach . . .
Descending from Thompson Pass brings you through the Keystone Canyon. Back in January an enormous avalanche covered the highway and dammed the Lowe River, causing an enormous lake to form (check out the video below from YouTube user akiwiguy101 – VerticalSolutions video):
It was kind of crazy that 7 months later, in July we could still see the remnants of this.It was nearly 10 pm when we finally arrived in Valdez (after a couple of stops for waterfalls in Keystone Canyon). I think our total travel and distraction time from Fairbanks was about 10 hours. We had a late dinner with a few drinks before heading to the motel and listened to a nice little drunken fisherman street brawl outside our window.
After our relaxing sleep we had the standard continental breakfast before heading over to the boat for our cruise. We went on the Stan Steven’s with Kate’s parents a few years ago and it was pretty fun, even for me, and I don’t typically enjoy “touristy” things.
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Valdez and Fairbanks had apparently switched weather for this summer. While we had one of the rainiest seasons on record up in the interior, our (albeit short) stay in Valdez was under blue skies. This was an incredible day to go sit on a boat for 9 hours.
The scenery on the way out to the Columbia Glacier is astounding. The glacier front was calving and we spent a lot of time (in the cold) watching huge chunks of ice fall into the otherwise calm water. Wildlife was abundant on this too – lots of sea otters hanging out on icebergs, stellar sea lions on buoys, dall porpoises, and the highlight – a humpback whale.