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Travel: Exploring Valdez

Glaciers and rainforests meet near Alaskan harbor town

Ice melting after breaking free from the receding Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Alaskan coastal rain forest near Gold Creek.

Valdez is best best known for an oil tanker disaster in 1989, when the ship’s hull was ripped open and subsequently flooded Prince William Sound with 11 million gallons of crude oil that covered an area extending 470 miles to the southwest. However, the port of Valdez today is a biologically vibrant and beautiful part of the coastal rainforest that extends along the Alaskan coastal region.

Bus transportation is available from downtown Anchorage to Whittier, where ferry service delivers visitors to Valdez. I chose to drive the 265 miles across Alaska from Palmer, through the Matanuska River Valley, in order to pass Matanuska Glacier and explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  Along the way, I camped beside Squirrel Creek, a river filled with fast-running, opaque, silt-filled glacial water. Next day, I dropped from a glacier-covered pass to the coastline at Valdez.

At the harbor, I joined a Stan Stephens tour of the Columbia Glacier on a sunny sky, passing friendly sea otters, whales, sea lions, and porpoises. According to the Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Columbia Glacier has receded nine miles since 1980 and is expected to lose another nine miles during the next fifteen years. Discharging two cubic miles of ice into Prince William Sound each year, the Columbia Glacier is the largest North American glacial contributor to rising sea levels. Continue reading

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