The Road to Valdez
The most beautiful drive in North America

Glennallen to Valdez

July 22nd, 2002

While staying in Glennallen, we decided to leave the rig and drive the truck down to Valdez. This is the termination point of the famous Alaskan Pipe Line. It turned out to be the most impressive drive I have ever taken. A little over a hundred miles, it was nothing less than spectacular. Our first treat was a roadside stop at the pipeline information pull off. The placards explained it all. On November 16, 1973, through Presidential approval of pipeline legislation, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company received permission to begin construction of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline, its pump stations and the Marine Terminal at Valdez. The 360-mile road from the Yukon River to Prudhoe Bay was built, and construction of the Valdez Terminal was begun in 1974. At the same time, work started on pump stations on the pipeline work pad. The first lengths of pipe were placed under the Tonsina River in March of 1975. Barely two years later all pipe had been installed and tested; and pump stations, the Terminal and essential communications systems were almost completed. The first oil entered the line at Prudhoe Bay on June 20 1977, and reached Valdez on July 28. On August 1, 1977 the first tanker load of North Slope oil left the Port of Valdez aboard the ARCO Juneau. The area where the frozen-soil temperatures are near the thaw point, heat pipes are installed inside the pipeline's vertical supports. The finned radiators above the supports are the external extensions of these heat pipes, which employ a fluid with a low boiling point to take heat from the ground through vaporization and condensation. Heat from the soil enters the lower end of the sealed tube, causing the fluid inside to boil. The resulting vapor rises to the radiator and condenses, releasing energy. The condensate then returns to the bottom of the tube as a film along the tube wall. Where permafrost -permanently frozen soil - is present, and heat from the pipeline might thaw unstable soils, the line is insulated and elevated. The pipe, insulated to prevent heat transfer or loss, is mounted on Teflon-coated shoe assemblies, designed to slide on crossbeams installed between vertical supports. These specially designed supports are located about every 60 feet. The zigzag design of the line provides the flexibility necessary to accommodate movements due to temperature changes or other causes. The road from here to the great hill that leads into Valdez is unbelievable. We passed through a very wide valley floor, slightly elevated for the most part, giving us a wonderful view of the valley floor which stretched out for miles in both directions. Ice blue lakes, all stocked with an assortment of delicious and tasty fish appear mile after mile. The backdrop to all of this are two mountain ranges with mountains reaching up above the tree line and into the Snow Belt. The road is good and straight in many places. Traffic is a little heavier than it had been getting here, but the uphill runs all seemed to have truck lanes. There were two other stops along the way that were well into the spectacular category. One is a spot where two of the State's most famous waterfalls come crashing down to the side of the road. For hundreds of feet the waters of the Bridal Veil Falls tumbled down in a thin but vigorous and noisy exhibition of raw natural power. Not more then a quarter mile further down the road, Horse Tail falls displays its spreading channels of water that separate from the narrow start to a flurry of small rivulets of water spreading dozens of years along the face of a cliff. There was a small pull off opposite the falls, which could take up to a dozen cars, unless several rigs were there. We made a short stop at Worthington Glacier State Park to see that magnificent ice flow.  Alaska is noted for its many glaciers and this one was as good as they come.  We declined a climb to the ice edge as the weather was turning and time was running out. At the crest of the 8 mile long hill that leads into the city was Blueberry Lake State Park. We pulled in to see if we could find any fruit. The walk down the drive was fabulous and I quickly cut out over the meandering hills toward the lake below. The bugs were quite profuse which was of no consequence to a DEET covered human, but the Artic graylings in the lake were delighted as they jumped and twisted in the air while picking off the flying pest as they skimmed over the surface of the water. What a sight it was. Jagged rock outcrops nestled in a kind of tundra stretched out before me for miles. Short Alder scrubs dotted the hillside giving diversion to the otherwise almost manicured looking scene. We never found the berries but I didn't want to leave. Finally, it was back to the truck and a spirited ride down Valdez hill to the city below. As we pulled into town we had to stop one more time at the Crooked Creek observation station operated by the US Fish and Game division. Here the pink salmon were spawning. The pink, (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) salmon is not big in terms of salmons. Also known as the "Humpback" or "Humpy" because of its very pronounced laterally flattened hump, which develops on the back of adult males before spawning. It is known as the "bread and butter" of the fishing industry in Alaska for its abundance in coastal waters. We stood at the side of the creek and watched the fish as they battled seemingly impossible odds of climbing over the rocks in the shallow water, climbing still further up the creek to lay their eggs and sperm as a final act, completing their intended purpose in life. The scene is both heroic and tragic, and totally fascinating. From the still water pools to the rocky climbs these energetic symbols of Alaskan prosperity preformed their final dance for all who gathered on the banks in attendance to the best natural show in town. There may be great things to see in Valdez, I wouldn't know. We burned up all our time and energy on the way down. When considering what we had seen, and what me might see, we decided that the best thing to see in the time remaining was the run back up the road to Glennallan, so after a short meal we headed back up the great Valdez hill, through the Thompson Pass, and off through the valley to Glennallan. That stretch of road has now replaced the 80 miles between Terrace and Prince Rupert in British Columbia as the most beautiful road I have ever driven down in my life.

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