Abundance In Alaska
~Thursday, July 14, 2022~
Day 24 of Alaska Trip
Finally…….the sun was out in Valdez today!! Without it, one would certainly miss out on those 360- degree views of these gorgeous, white-capped mountains. Even with interspersed clouds, it is still breathtaking, adding more interest to the landscape.
We had two things going for us today…..great weather and HIGH TIDE! We’re soooo glad we took the time to drive back out to the hatchery. Much more wildlife activity this time around, with the exception of bears. Not sure where they are with the amount of salmon there is here. So I guess seeing them at their high protein buffet on VIDEO, would have to do. Some salmon have returned to the hatchery
after being out at sea for about a year. However, the gates remain closed which would normally allow them into their man made path. Maybe the hatchery waits
for a bigger abundance of fish to arrive before allowing them in. It’s amazing to me how these smart fish know their highway back to any spawning spot, driven by the currents. The salmon that aren’t patient go back out a bit where hungry sea lions await. And of course where any animal dines, many seagulls wait for their opportunity. The seals and sea otters were very patient, waiting in the distance, coming up to the surface every so often to check out if the coast was clear of sea lions. (We’re assuming seals would also be a meal for a sea lion?) If so, I need to have a talk with Mother Nature so those adorable otters and seals have a longer life.
After spending more time than we expected at the fish hatchery, we still thought we’d give the Valdez Museum a try. Closing at 5:00, we only had an hour but asked the concierge if we could use the same ticket for another visit tomorrow. Not a problem. Evidently they have a “sister” museum which she offered free passes for as well. One of the first things we saw was a machine used in keeping the Trans-Alaska Pipeline internally clean. (Jeff and I plan on seeing the Alaska Pipeline up close and personal on our visit to Fairbanks. The cleaning device is what’s called a “Scraper Pig”, used to remove wax deposits from the inside of the pipeline. Wax, a natural component of crude oil, collects on the walls of the pipe thus reducing flow. These pigs are inserted in the 48” mainline pipe at a pump station where they clean the walls of the pipe as they are carried along by the oil at about 6 m.p.h. Maybe we’ll get an actual demonstration of this on a future tour.
The museum is well worth a stop for any Valdez tourist, even if you’re not a real history buff. And we only saw a fraction of it. In its fairly small space, it is full of amazing artifacts dating back from the time Native Alaskans first occupied the region to what still brings people here today. However, there are plans for a larger more modern building to occupy its space, breaking ground in 2024. Per the exhibit with its renderings, floorplans, and even finishes to be used, it will be one beautiful space in the heart of downtown Valdez. In the meantime, they continue to gather funds by donation and sponsorship. I guess the next time we’ll be back, and we WILL be back, we’ll have something new to see.
Like many museum layouts, this one too, is organized in chronological fashion. We would only see a small portion of it today, ending at the Native Alaskan section. As one can imagine, they were/are experts at adapting to their environment, especially evident in their clothing design. Moose hide and furs were used to protect them from the elements. But what do you do for wet weather? Hopefully what I’m about to say won’t gross you out, but was necessary for their survival. If you’re not easily squeamish, read on. If so, you can jump to the next paragraph. Bear intestines made for excellent waterproof and breathable clothing, sewn in sections with sinew. To prepare the intestines, they were cleaned, dried and bleached, then skillfully sewn into lightweight gear.
To prevent water from entering at the seams, tufts of hair, yarn or small feathers were sewn in with precision. Being a sewer, I could have learned a thing or two from them I’m sure! Even their way of catching a large amount of fish by a fish wheel was genius, yet so basic. But they also had a talent in more creative/artistic aspects from masks and headdress ornaments to beautifully painted canoe paddles, and artwork. We look forward to finishing up the rest of the tour tomorrow.
Since we don’t have to worry about getting back to camp before dark, since there is no dark, staying out late was right up our alley. So we drove out to Glacier View Park to see where we originally were going to camp while staying in Valdez and to see the Valdez Glacier. Nobody seems to know the reason they’ve shut down all camping in the area. Again, we think it’s from overuse and disregard by campers. We’ll have to keep investigating since it would be one amazing spot to stay next time we’re in Valdez. Unlike the Athabasca Glacier in British Columbia, they don’t mark the years the glacier’s receded. But based on the old photos we saw at the museum, it’s easy to tell it’s receded ALOT!!
In the past 50 years, the glacier has thinned by more than 300 feet with extensive splitting. However, after 400+ inches of snowfall back in 2012, it was enough to protect anyone from its deep crevasses. That same year, 3 scientists were able to snowmobile up to the summit of the glacier with the excessive snowpack. Today, it seems the only way to access the glacier would be by aircraft. It’s hard to imagine that where we were standing was where the glacier had advanced years ago, carving and grinding its way, only to leave behind rock, debris and lakes in its path after receding. This 20-mile valley glacier located in the Chugach Mountains, terminating in Valdez, has a runoff that is so vast, it creates a lake in front of itself, making it a beautiful place to kayak. This glacier fed lake is approximately 640-feet deep. During the winter months, it becomes a frozen wonderland, where massive icebergs form into amazing sculptures. But back in the late 1800’s, it was known as the All-American Route for the Gold Rushers. Due to its long, gradual descent, gold seekers traveled OVER the glacier to get to the interior of Alaska. Many would parish by exposure to the elements or by falling into hidden deep crevasses. A very rough “road” for sure!
About 5 miles from downtown Valdez is a side road with a sign that reads “Old Town Site”, so of course we had to check it out. As we got closer to the water, there were a few interpretive signs along the way, some highlighting the devastating earthquake of 1964. It was the largest earthquake to ever hit North America with a 9.2 Richter scale reading. Most of the people that died were pier workers after subsequent tsunamis obliterated anything in its path. This is where the old town of Valdez stood, much of it wiped out and not an ideal location in the first place as it had a lot of effects from wind and weather coming off the Valdez Glacier. It would take years for rebuilding after its 5-mile move. Today, there is very little evidence that a town ever existed here. All that we could see was the foundation of its former post office. How many relocated towns can you think of?
After a pretty full day, we stopped at the grocery (yes, it was nice to see a Safeway again after months of unfamiliar names). Because of remoteness, we knew Alaska would be more expensive for the basics, but nothing could have prepared us for this. Our timing is not ideal as the rest of the lower 48 grapples too with the highest inflation in decades. Not only are we in sticker shock for gas prices, the groceries are astronomical. You know things are bad when you have to spend $6.50 for 2 leeks (I wanted Potato Leek Soup pretty bad), and an avocado for our arugula salad…..$5.00 for one avocado! And as you can imagine liquor is about 3 times higher than what we’d be spending back home (just when you DO need those shots!). So seltzer water and juice it is! Honestly, I don’t know how the locals do it. You’d have to have 2 jobs to make ends meet. Maybe they should discount the locals, and have the tourists pay full price. Wait, did I just say that? I AM a tourist. It reminds me of what it felt like shopping in Hawaii my first time. What I used to pay for my 6 or 7 bags of groceries has now dwindled to 2, if that. As we’re all standing in line, a Canadian tourist stood behind me with his 2 bags of groceries, waiting to purchase a bottle of wine (there’s a separate annex of the store in which to purchase liquor, beer or wine). He said, “I feel your pain. This cost me $100 just for basics. I say we all just go with it. It’s only a number!” Hmm…..I do like his attitude but our bank account doesn’t see it that way. It is what it is I guess.
To ensure my leeks wouldn’t go bad (after spending $3 on each), I made sure to double my recipe. In the end, it was one delicious dinner with an avocado/arugula salad and French bread accompaniment. Hey, and we’re not the only ones eating European time. Our neighbors from Germany were just getting their dinner rolling around 9:30, putting steaks on the “barbie” , while enjoying glasses of wine at 9:30 p.m. 😉😋Cheers everyone! 🍷