Have you ever gone to a 4th of July parade wearing a parka, wool hat and gloves? We'll, there's a first time for everything. The locals tell us they have lots of rain, but they can't remember a 4th that was so cold. We joined them in trying to make the best of it. A full day of activities was planned. All of them were within walking distance of our campground. The parade began at 12:15 and was over by 12:30. No bands, no floats, no animals. The Boy Scouts kicked things off and the parade marshall Uncle Salmon, got big cheers. Various emergency vehicles were the predominant participants. Everyone in the parade brought candy to throw and the small children around us had Halloween size bags to gather it all in. At the end of the second block the parade came to an end amidst local vendors selling unhealthy food and hand made craft items. All rather charming and small towny.
Then we moved to the local pond to watch canoe jousting and got an official tour of the local coast guard cutter. We think of the coast guard's primary job as rescuing boaters in distress, but around here they also function as EMT's. Although Valdez with 5,000 residents is large enough to have a hospital, it has no drug store and many medical emergencies are helicoptered to Anchorage by the coast guard. Valdez is also more affluent than most Alaska towns of comparable size, since it profits greatly from having the oil pipeline terminal as its closest neighbor. Last year they spent much of the extra proceeds on hiring people to shovel the thirty feet of snow that fell off the roofs of all the buildings in town.
This evening a free hamburger dinner was served on the dock and local musicians entertained. While we waited for it to get dark enough (10:30pm) for the fireworks which were shot from the pier right next to our campground, we took the daily drive to the fish hatchery to see how many salmon have returned to spawn so far. Every day we see a few more fish and a few more seals circling outside the fish ladder. But the real thrill was coming upon a mama bear with four cubs. The forest ranger said they rarely have that many and the way that fourth cub was lallygagging behind the group, would make us guess that its days are numbered. When the salmon truly come in, the bears will join the local fishermen in catching them, but this bear was enthusiastically eating grass just like the others we have seen.
We've seen a lot of fireworks at a lot of 4th of July celebrations, but the ones here in Valdez were unforgettable. We sat in the motor home right next to the pier where they were lit and watched them explode in a steely gray sky with snow capped mountains right behind them. The rain and fog marked the smoke trails of each explosion. Once the official show ended, the fishing boats waiting to come into port for the night shot off another series. The show went on for 45 minutes. When it ended we put on our PJ's and went to bed. Location, location, location.