Happily we managed to find a free camp just out of town and woke not far from the head of the historic Valdez to Fairbanks trail. It has about ten different names each reflecting the many different uses from the gold rush days of horse and cart in 1898 and it charts a history of dreams and conflicts. The reason it remained a popular trail is that it was the best transportation route to central Alaska, eventually the Richardson highway followed most of its route.
The Mozzies were particularly bad in the woods so we headed back into town to look around some more. The weather was moody and it made the scenery even more dramatic. This is the view across the bay from a few different spots. We took a bit of a detour going into town to view it from across the water. In the background is Allison’s point in one of the pictures and Valdez in some of the others.
As we mentioned in the last blog Valdez is at the end of the Alaskan oil pipeline. The pipe runs down to the Valdez marine terminal. The marine terminal can store 9.18 million barrels in six tanks at any one time and has loaded 19’000 oil tankers since 1977. There have been a few “minor” spills from the pipeline mainly caused by gunshot damage or sabotage but in 1989 one of the tankers (the Exxon Valdez) that had just filled up at the Valdez marine terminal ran aground on Bligh reef spilling 10 to 11 million US gallons of crude oil and causing one of the worst ecological disasters in history.
There were a couple of museums in Valdez so we spent most of the day looking around them. The weather was a bit sketchy so it was nice to keep warm and dry. A lot of the towns history revolves around the 1898 gold rush, the 1964 earthquake, the Alaska pipeline and the Exxon Valdez oil spill although there were other exhibits about native history, gold mining and some of the towns preserved fire engines.
This sturdy little fishing vessel (pictured below) was built on Perry island in 1939. It survived the Good Friday earthquake when it was docked in Cordova in 1964 and in 1989 it was one of many volunteer boats which helped to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It was donated to the Valdez museum in 1994.
This strange looking thing is an oil pipeline cleaner in a display cut away pipe. Nicknamed a pipe pig because of the squealing noise it makes as it’s travelling through the pipe. There are several different kinds, some called scraper pigs clean the pipe every few weeks. Others check for rust, cracks and damage using special instruments as they travel through the pipe.
Here are some of Valdez’s old fire engines including a couple of exquisite horse drawn examples. Most Alaskan towns seem to have every fire engine they have ever used around somewhere. Kev’s theory is that it is such a long way to get rid of anything that you might as well keep it, it might come in useful some day. Indeed most people in remote places have every car they have ever owned gently rotting in a field somewhere out the back of their house.
This is the first barrel of oil that came through the Alaskan pipeline on July 28th 1977 at 11.02pm. It takes an average of 11.9 days for oil to travel the entire length of the pipeline to Valdez at roughly of 3.7 miles per hour (6.0km/h) so they would have been peering up the pipe for a long time waiting for it to appear.
This is a section of the hull of the Exxon Valdez which is in one of the museums. Look at the bottom of it you can see the silhouette of the ship which has been gas cut out as a macabre souvenir.
This credit card machine was found at the former site of the Valdez dock in 2004 having spent 40 years immersed in mud and salt water. There is a credit card in the machine which its owner had left behind at the gas station by the dock in 1964. She was on her way back to retrieve the card when the quake struck. The card is still quite legible. That will do nicely madam would you like barnacles with that.
We got a message via ebay in Valdez saying my replacement coils had been returned to sender because they could not find our friend Denny’s house. What ? Thank you Canada Post ! We were still running on our “temporary” bodge of a car coil cable tied to my phone holder. Would we ever catch up with the replacements?. Fortunately the bike was still running fine despite some very crude wiring. Below this really was the end of the road, the next landfall is the Aleutian islands.
After dinner we headed back to Allison’s point to find a brown bear cub catching his supper. It was salmon spawning season and the rivers were teeming with huge fish. The bears and the gulls were making the most of this bounty.
It’s hard to believe this is only a bear cub, he certainly got the hang of fishing.
We camped again in our convenient free-camp but this time had a sopping wet night, it rained solidly from 11.30pm to morning and everything in the morning felt damp. We had to do some laundry in town at the laundromat then it was back to the last museum. Just a short stroll away was a good takeaway where we had a halibut burger for lunch which was scrummy.
Our last stop was at the visitor centre which would normally have been our first stop but it was closed last time we passed it. They had a brilliant underwater camera mounted in the salmon stream which runs right by. Karen took a picture of the tv screen on which it is displayed which is how we got this bizarre picture with our “fish eye lens” ha-ha.
Also on display was this baleen from a grey whale, it is a fibrous material which the whales use to filter plankton and krill through their mouths. It is made from keratin which is the same material which human hair and fingernails are made of. Depending on the whale species, a baleen plate can be 0.5 to 3.5 metres (1.6 to 11.5 ft) long, and weigh up to 90 kilograms (200 lb).
Next up – McCarthy and the Kennicot mine.