Mark and Nadine's Arctic Expedition travel blog

The Kennecott Glacier, near McCarthy AK

On the road to Valdez AK

Valdez AK

Oil terminal at the end of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, Valdez


Our travails with this particular leg of our trip continued this morning. Our plan was to visit the Kennicott copper mine and mill site, 4-and-a-half miles beyond McCarthy. There’s a shuttle van that takes people from the other side of the footbridge in McCarthy to the mine; the shuttle supposedly runs every half hour.

We arrived at our side of the footbridge at 8:00 A.M., only to watch the shuttle van on the other side leave without us. Undeterred, we sat down in the bus shelter on the far side of the footbridge to wait for the 8:30 shuttle. (It gave us a chance to talk with a local man, who told us how the residents of McCarthy like to “get liquored up” and celebrate the spring flood by going hand-over-hand across the river on the cable of an abandoned tram. Sounded delightful!)

When the shuttle failed to arrive at 8:30, as expected, we called the company’s information number, only to be told that there would be no shuttle until 9:00. By this time, we had had our fill of McCarthy and were in no mood to wait another half hour to tour the mine buildings. We were just anxious to get out of this hell-hole!

We re-negotiated the 60 miles of gravel with no problems, again grateful to Rosie for service above and beyond the call of duty. Back on the main highway, we headed south, through dramatic mountains, to Valdez AK, a harbor town on Prince William Sound.

Valdez is the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, but we could only glimpse the pipeline terminal facilities from across the harbor (it’s a restricted area, with no tours). Valdez is where tankers are loaded with oil from the North Slope. On our recent tour of the oil fields, we were told that only 30 percent of this oil is bound for the U.S.; the rest goes to buyers in other countries. So much for “energy independence”!

Prince William Sound is also where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, dumping millions of barrels of oil into an extremely sensitive marine habitat. While some animal and plant species have recovered, others still show the effects of the spill, and Alaskans affected by it are still bitter.

We found little to keep us in Valdez, so we once again headed north (like Homer and Seward, Valdez is at the end of a dead-end road, ending at the Gulf of Alaska), retracing our steps to Glennallen, and then continuing on to Tok AK, where we spent the night. We had driven almost 450 miles this day, but we were grateful to be anywhere but McCarthy!

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