Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Valdez, Alaska

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Oil-supported city is surrounded by Prince William Sound's beauty

Often called "Little Switzerland" and likened to Hawaii's lush landscape, Valdez's natural beauty is superlative. The majesty of the Chugach Mountain range meets Prince William Sound, emphasizing the rare environment of glaciers, canyons and waterfalls. The surroundings create opportunities for hiking, kayaking, rafting, ice climbing, fishing, learning or simply relaxing.

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"Valdez has everything to offer any type of traveler: low impact or high adventure," said Dave Petersen, executive director of the Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Valdez, pronounced Val-DEEZ, is an important Alaska port. Every day nearly 700,000 barrels of oil ship out from North America's northernmost ice-free port, the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline. At a population of some 4,200, Valdez has oil as its main industry, with commercial fishing supplementing the economy.

The geographical position of Valdez at the head of a deep fiord, surrounded by mountains and in a temperate rainforest makes it rainy in the summer and snowy in the winter. Annually the town gets about 325 inches, or 27 feet, of snow.

The experience out on the water is essential to any traveler's visit to Valdez, said Colleen Stephens, manager for Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises.

Petersen agrees. "Prince William Sound is absolutely astonishing," he said. That's beside the fact that it's a premier fishing destination.

"We're one of the only ports to get all your fish in a half-day charter," he said. The daily limit for silver salmon, or coho, in Port Valdez is six, which is one of the highest in the state.

Many charter boat services are available for fishing in the Sound. Anglers can also catch their dinner without leaving the harbor. Popular fishing sites in town are at Allison Point on Dayville Road and off the John Kelsey Municipal Dock near the ferry terminal. During the Valdez Fish Derbies, locals and visitors alike fish right off the docks at the small boat harbor. The fish derbies last from the end of May to the beginning of September and include weekly prize money for the biggest halibut and silver salmon as well as top prizes at the end of the season. The biggest catches in 2009 netted $15,000 in prizes for a 19.42-pound coho and a 312.90-pound halibut.

Fishing is not the only way get out on the water and enjoy the Sound.

Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises offers two tours to the Columbia and Mears Glaciers.

"There's icebergs bigger than the boats we drive," Colleen Stephens said. Visitors can experience the calving activity of the glaciers in two very different stages of movement. The Columbia Glacier is retreating and the Mears Glacier is advancing.

The fully narrated tours offer insight into life in Alaska, including sea life, she said. A typical cruise includes sightings of whales, seals, sea otters, puffins, eagles and sea lions.

For the more adventurous, two local companies, Anadyr Adventures and Pangaea Adventures, offer guided kayak trips. Keystone Rafting also offers trips on the Lowe River, which runs through Keystone Canyon after Thompson Pass.

For the landlubber, there's plenty to do on shore.

Valdez has a variety of hiking trails such as the Dock Point Trail (.75-mile round trip), the Mineral Creek Trail (1.75 miles), the Goat Trail (4.8 miles), the Solomon Gulch Trail (3.8 miles round trip) and the Shoup Bay Trail (10 miles).

Three museums in town offer a glimpse of Valdez' past.

"I think people are amazed at how much history is in this small town," said Kathryn Hurtley, executive director of the Valdez Museum.

Valdez has been through "boom, bust, natural and man-made disasters," she said.

The best-known disaster was the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Good Friday 1989, which leaked some 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound.

Twenty-five years before that, Valdez experienced a natural tragedy when a 9.2 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter 40 miles west of Valdez, shook the community. The 1964 earthquake, also on Good Friday, destroyed the old town and killed more than 30 people. The city was rebuilt four miles from the old site. The "Remembering Old Valdez Exhibit" at the museum annex includes a model of Old Town and information on the earthquake.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, the town was established as an alternate route for reaching the gold fields in the Yukon. The Valdez Museum has an exhibit on the Gold Rush, complete with photographs and a recreation of a prospector's cabin.

"When people come to Valdez they get a sense of Alaska history and Valdez as a key player," Hurtley said. "The Valdez story is the Alaska story."

To get to Valdez via the road system, take the Richardson Highway through the Chugach Mountains and over the stunning Thompson Pass, by the Worthington Glacier and through Keystone Canyon with its breathtaking waterfalls. The experience of getting to Valdez is a sightseeing trip in itself.

 

Brielle Schaeffer is a reporter for the Valdez Star.

 

VALDEZ HIGHLIGHTS:

 

Valdez Museum

The museum has interpretive displays on the Gold Rush, the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline and local Native culture. Exhibits include the Cape Hinchinbrook Lighthouse lens and a turn-of-the-century fire engine.

Where: 217 Egan Drive

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Cost: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 ages 14-17, free younger than 14 (includes admission to the Remembering Old Valdez exhibit)

Phone: 907-835-2764

Web: valdezmuseum.org

 

Remembering Old Valdez Exhibit

Check out what Valdez was like before the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The exhibit includes a model of Old Town with more than 400 buildings.

Where: 436 S. Hazelet Ave.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, Memorial Day to Labor Day

Cost: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 ages 14-17, free younger than 14 (includes admission to the Valdez Museum)

Phone: 907-835-2764

Web: valdezmuseum.org

 

Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum

See Native Alaskan art through the eyes of an avid collector, Maxine Whitney, who bought indigenous artifacts and handicrafts for her gift shop in Fairbanks. The collection includes dog sleds, baleen, carved ivory and taxidermied animals.

Where: 303 Lowe St.

When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors and military, $3 children under 12

Phone: 907-834-1690

Web: pwscc.edu/museum.shtml

 

Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site

Easily accessible from the highway, the site has an interpretive center and a short trail that leads to the glacier.

Where: Mile 28.7 Richardson Highway

When: Open Daily

Cost: Free

 

EVENTS:

 

May Day Fly-in and Air Show

Bush pilots from around the nation compete in activities such as "flour bombings," short takeoffs and landings and a "poker run." An air show displays all sorts of aircraft.

Where: Valdez Pioneer Field at the airport

When: May 7-9

Cost: Free

Phone: 907-835-4636

Web: valdezalaska.org

 

Valdez Fish Derbies

Valdez Fish Derbies offer prizes and big money for the biggest fish caught during the season. There's a free Pink Salmon Derby for children on July 17 and the popular Women's Silver Salmon Derby is Aug. 14. In June, anglers can participate in Valdez's Halibut Hullabaloo to try winning two round-trip airplane tickets.

Where: Waters around Valdez

When: May 22 to Sept. 5 (halibut), July 24 to Sept. 5 (silvers)

Cost: $10 a day, $50 a season

Phone: 907-835-5680

Web: valdezfishderbies.com

 

Last Frontier Theater Conference

The annual week-long conference draws notable playwrights, actors and directors from all around the nation for play labs, workshops and performances.

Where: Valdez Civic Center

When: May 16-23

Cost: $250 for full registration; day registration is $50

Phone: 907-834-1614

Web: pwscc.edu/conference

 

Fireweed race

This popular bicycle race starts at Sheep Mountain and ends in Valdez. Racers cross the finish line to a free community picnic. As Alaska's biggest bicycle race, the event generally attracts hundreds of competitors for the different races of 50, 100, 200 and 400 miles.

Where: Sheep Mountain to Valdez

When: July 9-10

Cost: $70 per person, $140 family; picnic at finish is free

Phone: 562-2965

Web: fireweed400.com

 

Valdez Gold Rush Days

The town's main festival celebrates Gold Rush history with cancan girls, a parade, a fish fry, live music, geocaching, a pancake breakfast and an open-air market.

Where: Locations vary throughout Valdez.

When: Aug. 4-8

Cost: Varies

Phone: 907-835-4573

Web: valdezgoldrushdays.org

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