For over two months now we’ve been traveling, sleeping in a new place almost every night, driving long miles by day, in constant pursuit of our ultimate destination. While experiences have been both rewarding and plenty, each has been only a fleeting thing, something to be remembered as ancillary to the goal. But now, at last, we have reached the essence of the adventure, the place towards which we’ve been forging ahead for these many weeks. And while simply crossing the border into this magnificent land was not the singular goal, once inside, each waking moment has begun to take on a different hue. Experiences have become things fundamental to the adventure itself, no longer mere tokens reminding me of the seemingly endless number of waypoints through which we have passed to get here.
This is the lens through which I was able to view Valdez, our first real destination in this expansive state. A tiny little harbor town nestled among snowbound mountains, creeping glaciers, and undiluted Alaskan ruggedness, Valdez immediately confronts the traveler with the essence of all that is stereotypically Alaska. Initially discovered by the Spaniards in the twilight of the 18th century, Valdez remained an obscure and largely irrelevant port for over a century. It wasn’t until the Klondike gold rush of the late 19th century that a town was formed here; and that town was based entirely upon a scam.
Evidently several steamship companies falsely pitched the tiny port to incoming prospectors as a better route into the Klondike than Skagway, the otherwise recognized “golden gateway” of the period. Hundreds of potential settlers were deceived, many of whom lost their lives. The Glacier Trail Crossing from Valdez to the Klondike region turned out to be twice as long, and treacherous beyond measure. Most died from exposure during the brutal winter crossing while others died of starvation in the endless barren wilderness.
Valdez ultimately proved its merit beyond the gold rush scam, earning distinction as the northernmost ice-free port and the first major supply route to the Alaskan interior. In 1964 the Good Friday Earthquake destroyed the port and much of the town. With assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers, the 50 or so buildings that remained were moved three years later to a new site a few miles away where the port had also been rebuilt. The town’s role is largely oil-related today, representing the terminus of the 800-mile Alaskan pipeline. It also plays host to a thriving artist community, a local music scene and at least one very angry prostitute. The latter gave me the tongue-lashing of a lifetime, right in the middle of town, for being uninterested in “purchasing” her wares.
It was nice to “settle down” for a few days, though. Boots and I discovered a dispersed camping area just a couple miles outside of town, on the shores of Valdez Glacier Lake. Looming high above us, in full view, perched Valdez glacier itself, while icebergs drifted lazily across the sea of mirrored glass at our doorstep. The best part was the pleasant 55 degree daytime temperatures that kept us in heavenly comfort between activities.
Be sure to check out more Valdez photos in the Gallery. Next destination is the Kenai Peninsula but we’ll be taking the slow route to get there. So until then, mahalo y’all!
B & B