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Thursday, February 25, 2010


J.J. slips Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" into the system and eases his way down the road away from Copper Canyon Princess Wilderness Lodge. I say eases because that's how the coach moves down the steep, serpentine road. No wonder this place will be closed for the winter in just a week or two.

The ride to Valdez winds through the Chugash Mountains. Because of their proximity to the coast, the the Chugash Mountain Crest is the snowiest place in the world with an average annual snowfall of over 600 inches. We travel the Richardson Highway built in the mid 1940s. Prior to that time, the way to move from the coast inland was over the “Goat Trail” which wound through the mountains. Today what is left of that wilderness trail can be be recreationally hiked. It's another world since the 1940s. Hikers can pick up the Goat Trail off the highway at Bridal and Horsetail Falls.

J.J quickly points out Mt. Billy Mitchell (named after Billy Mitchell, father of the modern Air Force and the man who correctly felt that control of the North American continent would be done by those who held Alaska, a point proven during WWII).

We also pass the beautiful Worthington Glacier and once again see Nature's palette at work.

One marvel follows another, and coming over the Thompson Pass, rising up through the clouds and coming down through the clouds is breathtaking. Thompson Pass rises to 2,678 feet and can get as much of 980 inches of snow. Those poles are not mere light poles. They indicate to the snow plowers the depth of the snow and also show them the road. Imagine the snow like that! This is not a road one wants to slip off! I'd bet that through most of the lower 48, a sign reading Easy Freeze means ice cream. Not in Alaska! Nothing like Flash Freezing FISH!!!! Ha Ha Ha It is a bit sad to get to Valdez. It's the end of the land part of our tour. Though it's been spectacular, we also know we've barely scratched the Alaskan surface. In fact, we've been advised that when we return, we should make sure to get to Nome. It's an entirely different world.

Valdez is very small, and in the mountains across the water we see the huge oil tanks. Valdez is 96% recovered from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. We've no time to explore, however, as we board our catamaran for the speedy trip down the Prince William Sound to Whittier where we'll meet the Coral Princess. Our catamaran is quite a boat. It has real-time sonar and map, and it's fascinating to follow our progress, to observe icebergs, perhaps results of Columbia Glacier's calving, and spot those seals resting on a buoy. We see fishing boats on the Sound. Silver salmon are starting to run. Fishermen cast their gill nets and bring their catch to the tenders that bring the fish back to port.

It's a difficult but very important way of life they lead. This life was violently interrupted in 1964 by the Good Friday Earthquake. Valdez was the city closest to the epicenter, and the earth rose and fell about three feet. Prince William Sound emptied and came back as tsunamis that virtually destroyed Valdez and left 32 people dead. It is one more place that proves Alaska is not an easy place.

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