I remember hearing almost 20 years ago for the first of the city of Valdez. The tanker Exxon-Valdez just ran aground spilling in the bay a scar of dark oil. The images were majestic, with the beautiful Prince William Sound surrounded by snow capped peaks in a paradise like scenery. The story ran in the news for many days showing the destruction of pristine nature and the terrible effect on the wildlife. While I drove the Richardson Highway I kept remembering those images and I was not surprised to find Valdez the way that the images were playing in my mind.
I found the busy harbor surrounded by the same snow capped peaks, an iconic image of Alaska in a way. The wild life is back, apparently unscathed, but many animals and birds were killed in the aftermath of the spill. Now otters were swimming playfully in the middle of the bay and funny seals were following our ship in an impromptu marine show while the bay is still traversed by huge oil tankers that were filled in less than a full day across the sound at the pipeline terminal. The Alaskan used the oil reserve revenue to create a fund that saves money for future generations and offer a yearly dividend for each Alaskan resident. Birds of all sizes are on shores or in the middle of the bay, from all sort of gulls and puffins to bald eagles.
Salmon is caught in the bay; gigantic nets are thrown in water on the path the salmon moves. The fishermen hit the water with some long poles making noises that direct the fish toward the nets. At the end of the day they will raise the nets and would see if the day brought them anything or they go home empty handed.
But the spill was not the only catastrophe that hit Valdez. In 1964 the 9.2 earthquake that happened right 40 miles away from the city triggered a tsunami that wiped the entire city away. Following its devastating aftermath the entire city was rebuilt in the current location, 4 miles away from its original location, on a an area that is somehow further from the water. The old location it remains just as a remember for the ones lost in the tragedy.
There are several bay and glacier tours that depart from the Valdez harbor that reach the Columbia Glacier, the second largest glacier in Alaska. We took the Stan Stephens one that proved to be very good but I also heard very good reviews about Lu-Lu Bell. The glacier is in rapid retreat and its terminal is now tucked in its branch bay. What is interesting is that on the same massif, just close by, another glacier, Meares is in expansion and another one is stationary. It’s a prediction from U Colorado that the Columbia Glacier would stop its retreat in 2020. It remains to be seen…