Day Forty: Celebrating the Fourth of July in Valdez

The Fourth of July was our first full day in Valdez, and it was free from group activities except for dinner that evening.  Before we get going, go put on your Depends or get a catheter.  I took a boatload of pictures, and had to cull through hundreds to bring you the best thirty or so. 

I woke up early, raring to go.  The first place I wanted to check out was the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery.  It’s on the other side of the bay from Valdez, but not a long drive.  The tide was going out at 0730, but I was dying to see the view from over there.  So, Rory and I sped off before most people were even up and about.

Turning onto the road leading to the hatchery, I immediately spotted a bald eagle high up in a tree.  Hoping this boded well, I found the parking lot–and I was the only car there.  Sadly, the tide was really quite far out, and there wasn’t any wildlife to be seen beyond myriads of sea gulls fighting over salmon carcasses in the muddy flats.  But, the view was pretty impressive.

Valdez lies across the bay in this pic. At a higher tide, water covers everything in front of me. It’s amazing to see how the mountain ranges come right down to the ocean shore. Not an uncommon thing in Alaska.
View to the south of the hatchery.

After taking the pics, I went back to the RV for a little bit to decide what to do.  I hadn’t had a chance to take pictures of the glaciers and such along the way near Valdez while towing, so I wanted to do that.  First, I stopped by the Visitor Center to check if I could fly kites, but there wasn’t a great place to do so.

Valdez Visitor Center.

I decided to go to Old Valdez next.  The city used to be located a few miles north of its current location–until the Good Friday earthquake of 1964.  Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it is the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America and the second most powerful in the world.  It’s epicenter was near Prince William Sound and within 40 miles of Valdez.  A section of the city’s shoreline broke off and sank into the water.  The main freight dock had 32 people on it, unloading the freighter SS Chena, the main supply boat for the town.  All were killed when the dock collapsed.  The glacial silt the town was built on was liquefacted; a massive underground landslide led the Army Corps of Engineers to declare the entire city uninhabitable.  Therefore, a new townsite was picked four miles south (and on higher ground.  Over three years, buildings were dismantled and moved.  The old town site was abandoned.  You can drive the gravel roads to it, which I did, but there was literally nothing there.  Some little signs about what used to be at the site, but nothing interesting.

However, I did meet Steve and Terri S. also tooling around the Old Town.  We conferred and decided to go up to the Worthington Glacier, which was up the Richardson Highway.  They told me to lead, which was a mistake.  I decided to go down a gravel road in the Old Town that I hadn’t driven.  It was like off roading for a while.  We actually had to ford some streams, and the pot holes were epic.  But, we finally got to the main road and set off.

We had to cross the bridge over the Valdez Glacier river.  Like most of the rivers in Alaska, it’s a braided river.  These rivers have lots of channels cutting through gravel bars.  Almost all the rivers I’ve seen in Alaska and northern Canada are braided.

Glacier Lake river. The water was moving very fast. As usual with glaciers, the amount of silt (rock flour) makes the color weird.
As the tide started to come back in and the cold water hit mud that was warmer, a fog bank started to form. It was quite pretty.

The day was warm and sunny; we got to the glacier and spent far less time than we might have done due to the man-eating black flies that swarmed the moment we opened our doors.  It was kind of miserable.  But, I got a few pics.

Shirley M. had wondered aloud in Canada how a glacier was made. I found the answer at Worthington. While doing karate chops of the air to combat the toddler sized flies.
The Worthington glacier. Very pretty, but not worth being sucked dry of blood by the flies. They were like mutants.

Steve and Terri bid me goodbye, as I wanted to take some pictures of the views along Thompson Pass.  They told me I needed to go to Glacier Lake next, so I made that my next destination after grabbing a bunch of landscape shots.

North of Thompson Pass, on the Richardson Highway. I just loved this area.
Yet another waterfall. Snow melt leads to water trailing down the mountainsides.
Just driving along. I was so busy watching the mountains half the time, it’s a wonder I didn’t come off the road.
Another glacier on the north side of Thompson Pass. No idea if it has a name–Alaska has so many, I think about 60% are unnamed.
Looking north as I headed back up Thompson pass, which is to the south of this picture.
Near the summit of the pass, there are snow collections right off the roadway.

As I was about to head to the Valdez Glacier Lake, I got a text from Jerry telling me to come back to the hatchery–the tide was coming in and the sea lions were feasting.  I detoured there immediately, and discovered the empty parking lot of the morning had been transformed into a buzzing hive of activity.  There were people everywhere, but there were also lots of things to watch.

Sea lions were stationed near the entrance to the hatchery, feasting on the salmon trying to return to where they were spawned.
There were plenty of fish for all, but some of them seemed to think they needed to fight over things.
The sea otters kept back a bit from the sea lions, but there were tons of them too. And kittiwakes and sea gulls as well.
The salmon were visibly thrashing around near the mouth of the hatchery entrance. The hatchery incubates 270 million pink salmon and 2 million Coho salmon eggs annually, so there’s a LOT of salmon returning to this one spot.
This otter was pretty happy with his snack.
I love salmon too, so I totally get their obsession with this area.

Once the tide had come in too high, the salmon weren’t nearly as visible and the lions and otters disappeared.  I jumped back into Rory and headed to the Valdez Glacier Lake–which had icebergs in it!  And toddlers…

There were a bunch of people camping and cooking out for the holiday here. Tons of kids in the lake–which I would NOT get into. It had to be really, really cold.

I finally went back to the RV park for the cookout–grilled brats and dogs, etc.  We had a fun time with some playing Jenga and just hanging out, but this is Alaska.  At 8pm it was still light out, so I went back to the hatchery for the third time that day.  And my goodness, was it a great time to be there.  The tide was out enough that there weren’t many of the sea lions or otters hanging about.  But the bald eagles were out in force.  I couldn’t count how many we saw, and I got to watch a few in their nest next to the parking lot as well.  Wendy and I took a LOT of pictures.  I thought it was a good omen for the end of the Fourth.

Enjoying salmon like everyone else on the beach.
Sea gulls kept getting closer and closer, so a little intimidation was needed at times.
Moving to a new site to look for fish.
I wish I’d had a better focus on this shot, but it’s not too bad.
Hanging out on the Fourth.

As the tide receded further, people started going down to the beach to poke around.  Jerry went down and decided he wanted to see what his GoPro would record under water.  I think he was happy with the result.  I haven’t seen the video, but I’m told its a good shot of the salmon milling about.

He really wanted to see under the water.
I think it worked.

As the day got later, we decided to pack it in.  But, as we got to the other side of the hatchery, there were a handful of more bald eagles scavenging about.  Wendy and I couldn’t resist more pictures, but I will be content with this final one.


Since it doesn’t really get dark until the wee hours–and then it’s just sort of dark, there were no fireworks.  Plus, Alaska was under a statewide fire watch.  It’s a bit different than Fourths in the lower 48, but I sure have never gotten to photograph so much wildlife on any previous Independence Day.  I had a great day!!  Hope your holiday was great as well.

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