Only two more days until AK Fam packs up and heads toward the beautiful fjords and scenic vistas of our 2010 Numero Uno destination, Valdez. Yes, we’re going, even though snow still rests upon the towering mountains and mud predominates hiking trails and yards; because it’s springtime, and AK Fam, like most Alaskans, is jumping like a moose on hot parking lot to go someplace. And what a place!
Mother’s Day weekend usually marks the beginning of the summer season in Alaska; lodges shake off a winter’s collection of grime to polish up in time for the first round of cruise ship passengers, tour companies begin training their newest cadre of drivers/guides, and seasonal attractions start opening doors to the thousands of visitors who flock through their hallowed halls each year.
Valdez is slower than some to begin all-out preparations, mostly due to the fact that this little community usually is slammed by snowfall resulting in a slow descent of white stuff. No cruise ships dock here, either, so Valdez and its residents have a bit of extra time to come out of the winter-fog and make ready a summer of adventure in a place with a mantra of “field-tested, Alaskan-approved”.
AK Fam has been planning our Mother’s Day trip to Valdez since before we left from the last visit last summer. Held each spring, the Valdez May Day Fly-In is famous, mostly due to the diversity of pilots and planes that hold the attention of everyone, young and old, for three days of swooping, diving, and showing off for our benefit. How cool is that? Beginning with our flight to the tiny Valdez airport via our friends at Era, AK Fam will take a plane ride (HEY! Great deal, short sightseeing trips are only $35/ $25 for moms on Sunday), inspect the innards of vintage and late model flying machines, and watch a flour-bomb contest. Yes, it’s flour so nobody gets killed. We will, of course, report back to you on this unique portion of the weekend.
If we can drag AK Kid away from the airplanes, we might even take a short hike on some of the lower trails already free of snow and ice. A favorite among our family is the Dock Point Trail, beginning in town near the boat launch and a perfect way to stretch one’s legs and see a bit of the Valdez view so famous with visitors. A short, .75 mile loop that takes even us only 30 minutes to complete, a family can also count on some rock-turning on the beach before or after the hike.
Another lovely walk (or bike, or scooter, or skateboard) is the newish paved trail that departs from downtown Valdez along the Richardson highway, passing a salmon stream, the tidal flats, and some pastoral scenery that boggles the mind. We’ve seen bears here, so keep a close eye out, according to Dave Petersen of the Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau. Travel loudly and together so as not to surprise the still-sluggish bruins and their family unit.
If the weather is, ahem, less than spectacular (but you know how we feel about that; bring the raingear and do it anyway), check out the Valdez Museum at 217 Egan Drive downtown. Still operating under winter hours, it pays to call ahead, but this museum is a great introduction to the history and industry of Valdez, and there’s some great machinery to look upon as well. 907-835-2764.
The Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum on the campus of Prince William Sound Community College is an awesome example of Alaska’s wild life and wildlife. Absolutely incredible displays of Eskimo kayaks and umiaks are on hand, and a beautiful showing of Native-carved ivory so intricate you won’t believe the detail. Don’t forget about the polar bears, either, as AK Kid found out when we visited last year. Call ahead for hours. 907-834-1690.
For a complete rundown of Valdez-ish fun, check out the CVB at 200 Chenega Street, where helpful volunteers will create an itinerary for you and answer any question at all. Like, when does the Harbor Cafe open?