The drive from Glennallen to Valdez is often touted as one of the most beautiful trips in all of Alaska and it is a well-earned reputation. On our travel day the weather was perfect as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds, creating plenty of sky and mountain drama around the craggy peaks of the Chugach mountains. By the time we descended Thompson Pass and reached the Keystone Canyon, numerous rivers rushed to the ground from hundreds of feet high amid green and lush forests, creating stunning and thunderous waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. WOW! has become such an inadequate word. But fear not, where words fail me, photos tell the story.
Our final destination for the day was Allison Point Campground, across the bay about five miles north of Valdez. Our view is of water and snow-covered mountains, exactly what we hoped for. Yet, something about this place didn't feel quite right. We had a really hard time picking our spot, since there were no other rigs here, it was kind of difficult to figure out how to park without taking up multiple spots. We ended up parking nose-in to maximize the view, then locked up and headed to town.
Valdez is a favorite stop for visitors to Alaska, including my Dad and Zac, who stayed here during their whirlwind tour of Alaska in 2008. When I posted my usual "Departure Day!" post on Facebook, friends said I was going to love Valdez. As we drove into town, Steven spoke up and said that despite the high cost, he thought we might be happier closer to town in a commercial campground than way out on Allison Point. I was relieved, because I had been thinking the exact same thing! We decided to take a look at campground options to decide which one we liked best.
Valdez is a beautiful location, to be sure, surrounded by towering mountains, glacier-blue water and the quaint small boat harbor. We checked out each campground, driving through several times, but ultimately agreed that, for the price, none of them appealed to us. We found it hard to get around town through all the construction, which is no doubt a necessary evil considering the winter weather, but still. We drove around in circles trying to find places and finally had to stop at the Visitors Center to ask directions. And Valdez is not that big!
Slightly unsettled, we headed back to Scoopy at Allison Point, a twenty-minute drive from town. By now we had decided it would be our home for the next week. As we drove, I found myself wondering, why am I not feelin' the love?
I think there were multiple factors at play, not the least of which was my own expectations. I was expecting to fall instantly in love with Valdez, as I had with Haines. I didn't. Another factor in my unease was our camping situation. There is safety in numbers and we were, for the first time since we began our trip, alone. We were unable to register and the reported host was nowhere to be found. She finally knocked on our door the second day we were here, handed us a registration envelope and told us our first night was free, because the campground was only now officially open for business. That explains a lot! With that information, and paid up at $120 for the week, we began to relax and enjoy our spot.
An absolutely unexpected bonus in Valdez was meeting up with Susan, a friend from my teen aged years. We lived in Tripoli, Libya together, and she attended the same boarding school in Switzerland that my sister, Judy, also attended. How we got together was thanks to social media, and her brother, Emil, who lives in Wasilla. Emil saw the photo I posted on Facebook of Scoopy at Allison Point and sent it to Susan. Susan's husband, David, works at the pipeline terminal and he literally drives right past us each day. One day he stopped and as he got out of his car, he announced who he was and how he found us. From there, Susan and I made plans to meet up! It's been more than 40 years since we'd seen each other, and we tried our hardest to bring each other up-to-date over a two hour period. We didn't get very far, but we sure had fun trying!
With warm and sunny days during our stay, we spent a fair amount of time checking out several restaurants, exploring museums as well as making return trips to Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier and Keystone Canyon. We spent a full day on a glacier cruise to see the Columbia Glacier, and what a day that was! As you can imagine, Steven took hundreds of photos, so that trip deserves it's own blog entry!
And so with a little exploration during our repeated visits into town, a bit of effort on my part and a willingness to seek out what was on offer, Valdez began to grow on me. I leave tomorrow with very fond memories and I suspect with those in place, the charm of Valdez will reveal itself even more in hindsight.
Next stop: We're heading to Chitina, McCarthy and the Kennicott Mines.