Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

noted fisherwoman

the catch

the real fishermen

cleaning the fish


The story of Valdez starts out quite similar to the story of Skagway. Thousands of frenzied miners, stricken with gold fever based on the erroneous reports filed by reporters, often based far from the scene, arrived her to make their fortune. This port city was another choice in the journey to the gold fields north in the Yukon and in Fairbanks. It was known as the "all America" route since it did not go through Canada. Unscrupulous recruiters told these inexperienced gold miners to head straight north, over the glacier we visited at Thompson Pass on our way here. Very few of them made it. Many grew ill with scurvy since fruit and vegetables were few and far between. Most of the folks who made money here mined the miners.

Flash forward to Good Friday, 1964 when an earth quake magnitude 9.4, the strongest ever to strike North America hit Alaska shaking the ground for almost five minutes. The unstable ground in Valdez became almost liquified and shook like jello. A ship had just arrived at the dock and over 30 workers were unloading it. The quake sucked the sea out and brought it back in, destroying the dock and bringing the ship into town. Valdez was located in a bowl and the seas sloshed back and forth numerous times. It was amazing that those onboard the ship survived, but everyone on the dock was gone. The sea destroyed buildings a few blocks into town and others collapsed from all the shaking. Since so little was left intact, the city fathers wisely decided to move the whole town to more stable ground nearby. So everything we see in Valdez today has been built since 1964. The quake also shook Anchorage, Kodiak, and Soldotna, towns that we will visit the next few weeks, so we surely will be hearing more about this traumatic day. Here we learned the sad story in the earthquake museum and visited the old town site, which has little left except foundations and pilings from the dock. As we look across the bay at the Aleyeska pipe line terminal and think about earthquakes, it does make us wonder. We have read that the storage facility is built on bed rock. So far so good.

On a happier note we have been enjoying the daily return of the fishermen on the nearby dock between 5 - 6pm. Valdez is noted for great fishing, halibut especially. Every summer a fishing derby takes place. Fishermen buy a derby ticket when they head out and enter their biggest fish in the derby when they return. We’ve seen them bring back 110 pound halibut, but understand that the prize winner when the derby ends at the end of the summer is sure to be considerably bigger. After the proud fishermen hang their catch up to be admired, they get to work gutting and cleaning and packing their catch for the freezer. Gulls are always lurking, ready to feast on the leftovers.

An official from the department of fisheries was there as well today, collecting inner ear bones as the fishermen dissembled their catch. He said that the ear bones are used to date the age of the fish, a bit like counting tree rings. Fishing is a critical industry here and officials do all they can to keep the supply healthy and plentiful. Lessons learned from other parts of the world who have fished themselves into oblivion.

There’s also a lot of lurking going on at the fish hatchery. The first few pink salmon have started to return to the hatchery where they were born. Bald eagles joined fishermen, tourists, seals and otters cruising the area. Pickings are slim at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time. If the salmon don't run while we are here, we will surely see them in one of the other towns still on the agenda.

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