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valdez

The ferry docks at Valdez at about 8.30 pm and I ride to a campsite just outside town to camp for the night.

Valdez is where the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, that I followed for five hundred miles along the Dalton Highway from Deadhorse until Fairbanks, terminates. The pipeline carries millions and millions of gallons of crude oil each year over the eight hundred miles that lie between the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the port at Valdez. The pipeline’s existence, and all that it entails, has always been controversial in Alaska, constantly pitting committed environmentalists against equally dedicated pro-developmentalists. It was here, in Valdez, that the oil which caused the devastation on Prince William Sound was loaded onto the Exxon Valdez shortly before it ran aground on Bligh Reef.

The holding tanks at Valdez at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

The holding tanks at Valdez at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

In July, Valdez is swarming with tourists who come to fish in waters that are positively seething with running salmon. Competing with the tourists are bears, seals, sea lions, bald headed eagles and a host of other wildlife. On my way out of town, I cycle ten miles off the highway to witness this feeding frenzy before tackling the Thompson Pass.

The scene is slightly bizarre – RV’s are lined up in parking bays along the road and their owners are lined up along the shore, in droves, hauling fish out of the water and then, for the most part, simply throwing them back.

Tourists fishing for salmon in Valdez.

Tourists fishing for salmon in Valdez.

There are bear crossing warning signs at strategic points on the road and large flashing illuminated signs implore people not to approach fishing bears. I didn’t, however, see any bears myself.

Traffic.

Traffic.

Bald-headed eagles perch on the tree tops, calming surveying the fishing prospects from the land, while sea-lions, seals and sea otters advance from the water. The sea is murky and so for the most part the fish are not clearly visible, only the occasional dorsal fin breaks the surface.

I chat for a while with a woman who is patiently waiting while her husband fishes. We share her binoculars to get a closer look at the animals while she tells me about the bear she saw playing on the shore yesterday evening. I wonder whether I should stay for a night in the hope of a repeat performance but I find the whole scene a little disconcerting and so eventually I decide to tackle the pass instead.

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