For many years after Joe Hazelwood rammed his boat into the rocks near Valdez in 1989, the town received a lot of bad publicity.
I put the question mark behind the title of this article because the name "Valdez" may still conjure up very different images to different people.
To me, Valdez is still "postcard Alaska" - the boat harbour is a photographer's dream for pretty well all 24 hours of the day, the mountains
hugging Prince William Sound are perfect, and there are lots of animals to be seen (at least marine animals). The highly-visible oil
terminal across the harbour helps to keep things in perspective.
Getting to Valdez requires some planning - you probably aren't going to just decide on the spur of the moment
to pop in for a look. There is so much to do and see on the drive in,
and in the Valdez area, that it would take many days to see it all. It pays to do your research early, and make reservations
so that you can make the best use of your time there.
From either Tok or Delta Junction, the drive south on the
Richardson Highway is a beautiful trip. It isn't, however,
a road on which you want to make up lost time - there are lots of frost heaves in the roadbed that require care.
The Trans Alaska Pipeline is highly visible along much of the final 100 miles into Valdez, and is worth a close look,
particularly at the interpretive displays set up at Mile 88.5 (from Valdez) and at the pump station at Mile 64.7.
As you head up towards the summit that crosses the coastal mountains, Worthington Glacier comes gradually closer
and closer. This is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska, and few people will be able to resist stopping for a close look.
For the very energetic, a steep hiking trail allows
you to get high above the glacier for some spectacular photos.
The descent from Thompson Pass is awesome - from 2,678 feet to near sea-level in less than 8 miles!
Watch how you use your brakes here, especially if you are in a large vehicle.
As you near Valdez, the waterfalls in Keystone Canyon demand a stop - both Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls are
stunningly beautiful, and large pullouts have been provided.
Fishing in Prince William Sound is superb, and a pair of derbies over the
summer, for halibut and silver salmon, offer over $80,000 in prizes. During the peak of the silver run
in early August, fish are jumping everywhere, even right in the boat basin! The best fishing
requires a boat, however - full-day charters run about $150 per person.
A boat tour to experience the beauty of Prince William Sound away from any man-made intrusions is highly recommended.
You can travel in a wide variety of ways, from a sailboat/kayak tour to the
Alaska State ferries, and several charter operations offer service with boats from 22 feet right up to 100-foot yachts.
On days when the weather is fairly dreary, the boat tours are not as spectacular as when the sun is out,
but the beauty is still astounding, and the wildlife viewing is often better.
If you get a crystal-clear day, Era Helicopters offers flights from a base right beside the ferry dock.
And regardless of the weather or time of day, take a stroll over to the ferry terminal - you can almost
always watch the beautiful sea otters that come right up to the dock.
If you'd like to see what the weather is like at Valdez right now, have a look at the photo at the
Web Cam site on the Links page.
Valdez is rapidly becoming more than a summer destination for visitors, as word
spreads around the world about this spectacular location for winter sports, particularly extreme
skiing and snowboarding, and ice-climbing. Within 30 miles of town, the snowfall averages over 400
inches a year, and skiers and snowboarders can find 35-55 degree slopes, with descents of up to
3,000 feet. If you'd rather be looking through the lens of a camera than heading rapidly downhill,
the Valdez area offers superb subjects - see our
winter photo album for some examples.
Photographs are © 2004-2009 by Murray Lundberg