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Last Updated: July 21, 2010
Alaska Vacation Part 4
June 20-22 — Valdez
After Fairbanks, we made a long, 360-mile trip south to Valdez. The drive was very scenic, passing along lakes and snow-capped mountains. The Alaska Pipeline could often be seen, as it follows the same route, albeit part of the time underground.
However, there isn't a great deal to do along the way. We attempted to visit the Santa Claus house in North Pole, Alaska, but were unsuccessful. We drove all over the town looking for it, but eventually gave up and got back on the highway. Then we passed it in plain view further south along the highway. However, it looked like a tourist trap, so we decided against backtracking to see it.
Between this incident and others like it, if you're passing through a small Alaska town and want to stop to eat or look around, don't hunt around looking for the center of town. Just stay on the highway. Alaskans are not shy about putting businesses they want seen right along the road.
The best part about the road to Valdez is the last 60 miles or so. Allow time to stop at and Bridal Veil falls (not to be confused with the waterfall of the same name in Yosemite).
Considering not only this trip but two previous trips to Alaska, in my opinion Valdez is my favorite city in Alaska. I know the image of Valdez that comes to mind is herons covered in oil and drunk Exxon tanker captains. However, that spill happened in 1989. 21 years later (it seems like yesterday), I personally couldn't find any evidence of the disaster. I even dug about an 8-inch hole by the water and didn't find any oil.
There are other cities that are about equally as scenic as Valdez, like Seward. However, Valdez is off the beaten track and not along the way to anything, so it doesn't get as overrun with tourists as the equally scenic Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. I have never seen such tall mountains so close to the ocean before. The scenery around Valdez looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. The town itself strikes a good balance between offering interesting things to do yet still maintaining its small-town charm.
One downside to Valdez is that it is hard to find a place to stay, and if you do, it is expensive. Although I planned this trip three months earlier in March, the only somewhat affordable room I could find was at the Head Hunters Inn, a bed and breakfast above Ernesto's Mexican Restaurant and an untitled beauty salon. Lodging is expensive everywhere in Alaska, but Valdez is especially costly.
The main thing to do in Valdez is fishing. My 8-year-old son had been looking forward to it for months. However, when I inquired about doing fishing trips, I was warned that the water might be choppy. My son has issues with seasickness, as do I, so we played it safe and did an easy kayak tour of Shoup Glacier with instead. That was a easy trip paddling in a lake created from a melting glacier. Those looking to burn a lot of calories would likely find it too easy. Meanwhile, my wife and daughters did a sightseeing cruise of Prince William Sound, which they all enjoyed, and the much-feared seasickness problem was not an issue.
Kayak Trip Pictures
Prince William Sound Cruise Pictures
We got free breakfasts at Ernesto's both mornings, which were good. However, I have to put out a special recommendation for Mike's Palace for dinner. It is located right by the harbor, and I found the food very delicious and reasonably priced. The other dinner we had was Thai take-out we got from a purple truck on the way to Valdez in Glennallen, which was pretty good. My wife liked it so much we ate there again on our way out. So the only places we at ate twice the entire trip were the purple truck and the salmon bake in Fairbanks.
I regret we only had one full day in Valdez. Hopefully, someday, I'll have a chance to return. As I write this on a 112-degree day in Vegas, you wouldn't have to twist my arm very hard to get me to just move there.
After leaving Valdez, we drove about 300 miles back to Anchorage and stayed one more night at the same hotel we started at before flying back to Vegas with a stop in Portland. My next trip to Alaska will likely focus along the coast. I think it would be fun to hop from town to town along the Alaska ferries, which I've always heard are a great way to see the state. If it were not for limitations imposed by my kids' summer vacations, I would go during one of the "shoulder seasons" to avoid the barrage of other tourists, at the expense of colder weather. Another idea I mentioned in part 3 is a winter trip to see the Northern Lights.
One thing I didn't mention yet is that just before starting the vacation, I purchased an iPad. This was one of the best decisions I made in regards to the trip. I had to pay about $300 above the market price to a guy on eBay, because the Apples stores were sold out, but it was worth it. The GPS feature kept me from getting lost, the Internet browser let me keep up with e-mail everywhere with cell phone coverage, and my two older children got hours of entertainment playing games on it during the long drives.
So that concludes my Alaska travelogue. Sorry it was so long, and I hope it wasn't too boring.
- Part 1: Anchorage and Talkeetna.
- Part 2: Denali National Park.
- Part 3: Chena River Hot Springs and Fairbanks.