Friday, July 4, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Day 16 Valdez

Valdez is probably our favorite Alaskan town. It retains a small town America feel that has faded from the more tourist oriented towns such as Seward, Homer, Skagway, etc. The primary economic support for Valdez comes from the Alyeska Pipeline terminal, and from fishing, as opposed to tourism. The Vladez 4th of July Schedule of Events exemplifies the Americana atmosphere:

9:00am 10K Freedom Run
9am-6pm Free Admission to Valdez Museum
11:00am Independence Day Parade
& Kids Decorated Bike Parade
11am-3pm Fairbanks Street Block Party
11am-3pm Fire Department Exhibition
12:00pm Live Music w/ the “Moon Dogies”
12:30pm Kids Flag Tag
1:30pm Kids Games
2:00pm Connex Art Exhibition
3:00pm Canoe Jousting
5:00pm Free Community BBQ
6:30pm Freedom Swim
8pm-11pm Community Bonfire
8pm Live Music w/ “Mosquito Creek”
8:30pm Marshmallow Games
11:00pm Fireworks

We participated in some of this activity, as permitted by the WIT touring schedule. In keeping with the spirit of the day, Keith erected our flag.

Keith’s 4th of July Statement

At 9am we boarded a bus for a town tour, which included a ride around the end of the bay to “Winnebago Point”, which takes it’s name from the waterfront campground visible across the bay from the town. Located just past Winnebago point is the entrance to the Aleyska pipeline terminal. Prior to 9/11, Alyeska operated a visitors center and provided tours of the terminal. The visitors center is closed and visitors are no longer permitted in the terminal, so you dear readers will have to be satisfied with a photo from across the water. Also visible in this photograph is an emergency response barge. There are three of these vessels anchored in the bay, waiting for the next Exxon Valdez incident.

Emergency Response Barge, with Alyeska Pipeline Terminal in Background

Supertanker Docked at the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal

Valdez as Seen from Winnebago Point

On the ride out to the point, numerous eagles were spotted, sitting in the trees, and flying with the seagulls.

Bald Eagle Takes Flight

On our way back from Winnebago Point we toured the old Valdez town site, which was devastated in a severe 1964 earthquake. Our bus driver was a young girl living in the old town when the quake occurred. She described her experiences trying to descene a moving, bucking stairway and exit her residence. She told us the violent shaking persisted for 5 minutes, and was exacerbated by the fact that the town was built on poorly compacted glacial outflow soil. After the quake, the old town was abandoned, and the current town was constructed from scratch, on bedrock. Near our campground, in the new town, is a building moved from the old site.

Aerial View of Old Town Valdez, Destroyed in the 1964 Earthquake

Site of the Old Valdez Post Office

Historic Building, Moved from Old Town

While we were riding, our guide told us the story about how a small dog from a visiting motorhome was snatched by and eagle at a now abandoned Tesoro station 15 years ago. By interesting coincidence, Keith and his son, and his friend Richard, stopped to buy gas at this station the day after the incident in 1993. The attendant was telling everyone about the story, but we thought he was just funning the tourists, until we heard it on the national news.

Site of the 1993 Eagle Snatching

Following our visit to the old town, we toured the new town. We drove up Hazelet Avenue as the parade was assembling, so were treated to a preview. We also drove through a residential area, and past a few schools and museums. Most importantly, we were shown where the free food was to be served at 5pm.

Lunch was left over Shepard’s pie (4 COWS), followed by a nap for Keith. Later in the afternoon we visited the local Safeway, then drove by the town museum to snap a few photos of the outside exhibits. We were too tired to avail ourselves of the free 4th of July admission, but will return on Sunday morning as paying customers, when we are bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Among the exterior displays at the museum is a cutaway section of pipeline with a cleaning plug, called a “pig”, and a lifeboat from the Holland American Cruise Ship Prinsendam. In October 1980 this vessel embarked from Vancouver on a 30 day Pacific cruise. Three days later the engine room caught fire, and the vessel sank in the Gulf of Alaska. All 524 hands boarded lifeboats and were rescued, but it must have been a harrowing experience. A book titled “Burning Cold” has recently been published about the dramatic rescue.

1980 AP Photo of the Sinking Holland American Cruise Boat Prinsendam

Lifeboat From the Sunken Prinsendam
Pipeline Cutaway Showing Cleaning "Pig"

At 5pm we drove the short distance to Ruth Pond to avail ourselves of the free BBQ. Burger, chips, chocolate chip cookie, and pink lemonade, served with a smile and enjoyed at an outdoor picnic table overlooking the harbor. It was as American as Apple Pie.

After dinner we read and blogged for a while, then Keith went to enjoy an ice cream social with the caravan group.

WIT Caravaners Enjoy an Ice Cream Social

We retired after ice cream, but were awakened at 11pm by some very loud bangs just over our heads. Kathy raised the rear shade, and we were treated to a very nice bedside fireworks show from the mountainside. Tomorrow we embark on an all day Columbia Glacier Cruise.


Raechel said...

I liked reading your section on Valdez. I have lived here all my life. So it's always fun to see what tourists do when they get here and what they think of our small town. I am glad you enjoyed yourselfs.

Anonymous said...

I was just searching for PRINSENDAM photos and came across yours. I did not know any of the lifeboats were kept. I was involved in the rescue.

Here's my picture from the actual rescue - whcih amazingly shows the same lifeboat in your post!

Best Regards,