Sunday, May 29, 2016

Thompson Pass, Keystone Valley & Valdez


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. 

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Spectacular sights along the way to Valdez. Everything that’s been said about the drive is true!

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!


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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. 

The view from Scoopy’s roof at Allison Point.

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!

Susan and Linda reunite after over 40 years.

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!

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Cool displays at the Valdez Museum and yummy lunch at our favorite restaurant.

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“Remembering Old Valdez Exhiibit” gets a special mention. Great museum on the 1964 earthquake.

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Visiting the Worthington Glacier. The snow was not yet cleared so we had limited access to the glacier.


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Waterfalls are in abundance in Keystone Canyon. Seen here are Horsetail and Bridal Veils.

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Toadie Hopper is queen of the mountain!

The view just before entering the little town of Valdez is beautiful!

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Black-legged kittiwakes nesting and a female trumpeter swan sitting on her nest.

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.

The view out our window from Allison Point. The fun thing about this? It was taken at 11pm!

Next stop: We're heading to Chitina, McCarthy and the Kennicott Mines.


  1. I'm sure when you look at these photos even you wonder how it couldn't have been love at first sight.....but that feeling is more than just the views and I know what you mean about just not feeling it sometimes. I've imagined all of AK being so crowded with tourists that it is odd to see you've had so much of it to yourselves - not usually a bad thing :-) Glad Valdez grew on you, and the pics are incredible!! How wonderful to "find" Susan after all these years :-)))) Love Toadie's shower pic!

    1. Getting ahead of the crowds was the main reason we bombed up here and so far, it has paid off. Right now, there are very few tourists. Busy weekend in Valdez, 95 percent of the vehicle license plates read "Alaska". :) They will catch up with us soon, no doubt.

  2. I hope we get to feel the 'magic' of Valdez. We'll be taking the ferry over from Whittier, and have all your beautiful arrival photos in our rear view mirror! ARG - I could have planned that better. As always awesome photos and descriptions.

    1. The view from the water isn't too shabby, either! And once you're on land, the waterfalls are 13.5 miles away and Thompson Pass & Worthington Glacier are less than 20 more. You can easily see it all!

  3. I suspect that part of the reason that the magic of Valdez didn't get you is because you didn't stay in Valdez. :-)

    1. I'm going to have to disagree with you, Fred. In fact, the more time we spent in town, the happier we were to be staying at Allison Point.

  4. Stunning. You can feel pretty small and realize where you stand in the food chain while alone in Alaska.

    1. You are so right. It may seem silly to locals, but we carry our bear spray with us everywhere!

  5. OMG, the wildflowers! I wanna be there. Isn't it funny, the thing about unease in the campground? Crowding is a drag, but I always preferred a few other rigs to an empty campground (unless the other rigs had big dogs and beer cans around). Always searching for that elusive balance.

    1. We were spoiled by having travel companions. :) It took us a couple of days, but we finally settled in and felt comfortable at Allison Point. It is a busy road with lots of traffic pulling in and out, but we got used to it. In the end, it was really wonderful.

  6. The waterfalls, wildflowers and snow covered mountains are just gorgeous! Glad you found the best of Valdez and settled into your beautiful spot. (Nice to know there was a good reason that campground was deserted!) You guys have really timed your trip right.

    1. We have read numerous blogs of folks who came before us who didn't cross into Alaska until after June 1st. I think each year folks will arrive earlier, and while that is a good thing for traveler, it's not such a good thing for Earth. :(