The drive to Valdez officially tops our list of best driving views, surpassing the drive to Hyder. Other people have described it as being immersed in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery. Good way to put it with the narrow roadway, rugged canyon walls, high waterfalls and rushing rivers. Throw in a few glacier views with alpine areas, and you have it all. Oh, and road construction.
Tolsona Wilderness Campground
Our stopover on the way to Valdez was at the Tolsona Wilderness Campground. Nice woodsy spot with pretty good personal space and right next to a babbling stream. We do like those a lot. Only trouble with this place is the two sketchy bridges you have to cross to get to most of the sites.
Sketchy bridge number 1….
Sketchy bridge number 2 and a view of the decking on top. Yes, those are old road signs “holding” the wooden ends in place. We stop, we look, we swallow hard and proceed across. We weigh about ten tons between Lucy and Bitsy combined, so these bridges were doing us a serious concern!
We made the most of our stay getting the laundry caught up and taking an exploratory hike around the property.
The Fireweed is in full bloom right about now and lining the rivers and streams. Also loved this colorful wispy grass that looked like fine hairs in pink, purple, yellow and green.
Since this was a rest stop, we didn’t even unhook the car. Our entertainment consisted of sitting outside and whacking the horseflies with the tennis racket zapper. I can’t tell you how satisfying the tell-tale zaps are when you connect with one of those mean buggers. Turns out they are pretty tough and it only stuns them, but it gives you just enough time to stomp them before they fly away. This may say something about our character, but there you have it. We even made Jackson nervous with our enthusiasm. He wanted to go INSIDE.
Road to Valdez
This stretch was a pretty rough road. We’d forgotten how aggravating all the bumps could be. At least the road crews are doing their best to improve things. We were approaching the Worthington Glacier, but I didn’t want to make a stop for photos at that point. Turns out the road crew did us a favor.
Waiting for the pilot car and look at that! Worthington Glacier right out the front windshield.
And how about this one? We’ll wait our turn and take a look at the waterfall and river right beside us.
Thompson Pass is at 2,805 feet in the Chugach Mountains. It is also known as the place in Alaska that gets the most snow. The average is 551.5 inches per year. Guessing they really use those gates that close this road at the pass in Winter. For us in July, there was hardly any visibility, steep drop-offs and some really abused looking guardrails. Slow was the operative word.
After the pass, we really got that “Lord of the Rings” feeling. Steep canyon walls and spectacular waterfalls.
These are the driving stretches that are so beautiful, but require the most attention so Pat never sees anything. We went back on another day to enjoy the sights in Keystone Canyon. Pat and Jackson are approaching the “Goat Trail” used during the gold rush. We used that to get to the perfect vantage point for Bridal Veil Falls. Now that is a real waterfall and not like the water in a hole we saw in Florida. Our observation – every place with water falling off rocks must have a Bridal Veil Falls. Just has to.
Jackson is not in view since he’s already on the Goat Trail! A look up the hill at the avalanche area and one of the rocks that fell on the trail. Pretty big stuff. And the sweet rain soaked blue flowers. We’re still in the rainforest.
Everyplace seems to have its own glacier in these parts. This time we’re camped just a few miles down the road from the one that Valdez claims.
There’s a spot right out front where the little icebergs are floating by and people are getting ready to canoe.
The pretty blue ice is hidden by the dirt layer and all the melting snow flows right out to Valdez Glacier Stream. This glacier was part of the route for fortune hunters during the 1898 gold rush. The Goat Trail we hiked was built to make the route “easier and safer”. Narrow trail carved into the side of the mountain, but avoided the crevasses, so I guess that was better.
We’ve been stopping at every salmon viewing area we passed and had yet to see one stinkin’ fish! Not in Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Portage, Homer, or anywhere. It’s our outing with Jackson and we’re enjoying a surprise little waterfall on Crooked Creek next to one of the viewing spots.
Super nice waterfall, but no salmon.
Nice cool spot, bright flowers, and berries dipping their toes in the stream, but no salmon. Fortunately one of the locals was there with his two very chatty daughters. They pointed out that there were salmon in the area, just the tiny little baby ones called fry. Ok, I can only see the ripples they make in the water, so I’m not counting this as a sighting. Dad helpfully tells us about the fish hatchery just outside of town where he promises views of a lot of salmon. Now we’re talking.
Salmon are, in a word, ugly. I’d probably like them better to look at if I liked to eat them. Neither of us eat salmon, but we really wanted to see the big deal salmon run. This is the spot that delivered – Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery.
The water is literally churning with them here and these are all trying to get back to their natal stream for spawning. They spend years in the ocean and then remember which stream from whence they came so they can return to further the species. At this spot, they climb a fish ladder into the hatchery where the eggs are harvested, incubated and the fry are released to ensure an ample number are available for commercial and recreational fishermen in the area. Quite the process.
Taking advantage of this prime location are several sea lions. And the sea gulls are hoping for leftovers.
When the sea lions take a dive for another salmon, there is literally a wave of fish spreading outward as they try to escape. Two sea lions were gorging themselves this day. They’d catch a salmon, throw it straight up in the air, then catch it in their mouth to swallow it whole. The backdrop is pretty Prince William Sound. Mission accomplished. We’ve finally seen our salmon.
Valdez is one of those towns made famous by a several significant events. After the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, it was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. There is a point just outside of town where some foundations and pilings remain of the old location, but not really much to see. Sobering to note how the bustling town was here and then it was gone so quickly.
Valdez is also the terminus of the trans-Alaskan pipeline. We’ve been driving alongside this pipeline quite a few times on our trip and it is massive. It ends here where the crude is gravity drained into tankers. Fortunately the pipeline, tanks, and tankers keep a low profile.
Finally, Valdez is also the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill. At that time it was the largest oil spill in US waters. It’s considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. We spent an afternoon at the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive and learned about all three events.
A few shots of the area across from Crooked Creek. Despite the setbacks, Valdez is a lovely spot and looks a lot like the Portage Valley area we loved so much.
Our Campground IS The Big Fright
One of our friends we met along the way turned us on to the Valdez Glacier Campground just outside of town. More state park-like, so more room and privacy. We’re close to the glacier and away from the packed in crowds on the waterfront in town. What’s not to like? The first night was ok, but we stayed a total of three nights and quickly discovered on days 2 and 3 that we were less than a half mile from the shooting range. Gun slingers from all over were coming to shoot, sometimes until 11pm. Even rain did not dampen their enthusiasm. While that is not too much of an issue for us, Jackson is a quivering mess with loud noises such as fireworks, smoke detectors (dinner’s ready!), and most of all, gunfire. Needless to say, he was very glad to depart at the appointed time.
Chores And Other Musings
The campground this time was run by the Army. It used to be just for military families, but they opened it up to the general public. Perfect for us and we managed to get a spot with electricity, too. You couldn’t really tell by the look of the place that it had military ties, but there were signs that gave it away. For example, quiet hours are from 2100 to 0600. Not 11pm to 6am. And honestly, quiet hours are usually at least until 7am. Guess you are expected to rise and shine earlier here.
Also, there are rules about the latrine. Yes, latrine, not bathhouse or restroom. Any backtalk and I’m thinking we’ll be digging one. Of course there were military signs, but no sign of anyone caring about much of anything else. Pat took the opportunity to do a “pseudo” oil change. Just a drain and fill since we’ve been on the dirty dusty trek.
We also had a mail call here. (That military talk rubbed off) A month’s worth and not much to report again. No money this time, but at least one piece of personal correspondence. This mail drop did prompt a conversation about pet peeves. Pat’s is apparently the free and easy use of the word Hack. You know – life hacks, cleaning hacks and in this case RVing hacks in our RVing magazine. They just mean tips, says Pat. Use that word. So in the interest of fair play I’ll tell you one of mine. I got a letter from a financial institution wanting me to update some information. By my name is an asterisk. So, I go to the bottom of the letter looking for the reference implied by said asterisk. There isn’t one. Honestly, I had to throw the letter away so I could quit looking for the footnote.
A few other random things for you. Yes, Pat still has his wedding ring. It made it into and out of Alaska unscathed. Also, after the halibut fishing extravaganza, our freezer has been packed. We’re playing a “catch it before it falls on your head” game when we open the freezer door, which is above both our heads. The current record, held by Pat, is 3 – two difference frozen concentrate cans and a package of frozen waffles.
And lest you think our accommodations this time weren’t the greatest, get a load of this spot. Yes, you read that right. MANCAMP. I don’t even want to know.
Off to our last big hurrah in Alaska – Chitina and the Road to McCarthy. See you on the way!