Known as the Switzerland of Alaska, Valdez has long been considered one of the loveliest places in North America. Located on Prince William Sound near the end of the Valdez Arm, it is the center of the region's recreational and sporting activities.
HistoryValdez is situated at the head of Valdez Bay, which is a part of Prince William Sound named after Valdes y Basan, the Minister of Marine for Spain at the time that Don Salvador Fidalgo explored the area in 1780. For over 100 years the territory remained largely undeveloped until 1897, when the town was established to accomodate the 4,000 prospectors who traveled through the area on their way to the gold mines in the Klondike. By the end of the gold rush in the 1920s, the population had dwindled to about 500, and Valdez remained a tiny hamlet until 1964.
On March 27, 1964, an earthquake registering 9.2 on the Richter scale totally devastated Valdez, killing more than 30 people. The town was rebuilt four miles west on "safer" ground, with a larger harbor and more substantial docking for ships. Soon after the new Valdez was completed, the oil fields on the North slope were discovered and the great Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built. Oil first reached Valdez, the nearest ice-free shipping port, in 1977.
Tragedy struck the town again in 1989, 25 years to the day after the earthquake, when the Exxon tanker Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef off Bligh Island, 23 miles from the port, spilling 240,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound. Since currents propelled the slick southeast, the town itself escaped devastation. But overnight, Valdez became a center for the massive cleanup operation, and its population quickly grew to nearly 10,000, straining local accommodations and creating labor pressures. Today, Valdez has returned to normal with a steadily growing population of 4,700 residents year-round, but the commercial fishing industry -- one of the most important economic activities in the region -- is still feeling the effects of the spill.
SightseeingWhen in town, stop by the Valdez Visitor Information Center, located on Fairbanks Street; you can pick up maps and information on many of the sights and activities available in Valdez. You can learn more about the history of the town and Prince William Sound at the Valdez Heritage Center, located in the Centennial Building at the corner of Egan Drive and Chenega Avenue. Exhibits include artifacts from old sailing ships, an early hand-pump fire engine, a model of the pipeline terminus and displays about the 1964 earthquake. At Point of View Park, just off Fidalgo Drive near the Coast Guard Office, you'll get a dramatic vista of the town, the port and the mountains.
The main attraction in town is the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal at the harbor. The terminal, which contains 15 miles of pipeline, and oil-storage tank farm, the tanker berths and the ballast treatment facility, is the final stage of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline operation.
SportsSportfishing is the most popular outdoor activity in the Valdez region. In fact, Valdez, like many Alaskan communities, holds several summertime fishing derbies from late May to September. The biggest event is the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby, which is held during the month of August.
ShoppingThere are about a dozen gift shops in Valdez, most located in the downtown area and near the waterfront, which sell a wide range of items from souvenirs to fine jewelry. Several shops specialize in Native arts and crafts, including Yup'ik art and ivory carvings.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please