Sunday, July 31, 2016

Valdez, AK - The Lonesome Fish, the Heffalump and KCHU

We enjoyed walking around the town of Valdez, with its harbor, its interesting cityscape and its amazing influx of people and vehicles. We saw this vehicle, the ‘Heffalump’ in front of the library and crossed the street to see the flags even better. Gary and I put states of the United States that we have visited in our RV tours. Obviously this person puts flags of the countries he or she has visited.

We walked around to see the other side and its list of countries, were discussing them when the window opened, a head popped out and someone said ‘Hi.’ Oops, caught. Nah, fun conversation with the owners. They had actually bought the vehicle in Italy last summer and the flags on it were from the previous owner. They have a blog called the Heffalump and we checked it out. I wish they had invited us in. I wanted to see the interior but, shucks, they didn’t.

We heard that there were 2 iconic statues in Valdez that we had to see: the ‘Lonesome Fish’ and the ’Whispering Giant.’ Gotta see those. The Lonesome Fish used to be a sign for a fishing outfitting store but the store left and the fish didn’t. They are making a lot of street scape changes this summer and adding some sidewalk designs  - but leaving the iconic Lonesome Fish. It will look great when its finished and give a more trendy, inviting walking vibe to the town. But it’s a mess right now what with the highway construction too.
The other statue is one by Peter Toth. He’s done stautes throughout the US.

I finally got my picture of a porcupine. This one stood quite a while and posed for us. He must have known that this was the empty hole in my wildlife sightings.
But, these characters roam the streets at will. I’ve never seen so many bunnies about. 5 or 6 at a whack in one place and all different colors.
Then there’s the local radio staion - with a sense of humor.
If you thought that all of Alaska was proud of its native daughter running for Vice President, you’d be mistaken. Here’s a t-shirt for sale - featured prominantly in the front window of a local gift store.
We did have one day when the first layer of mountains was visible through the fog and rain. Hey, is that a glint of sunshine on the tallest mountain?
The water was so still in the small boat harbor that I got this cool reflection.
While we’re at the harbor, we had to check out the current listings on the Leaderboard for the Halibut and Salmon Derbies.
Well, yes, there are some mountains around Valdez.
Another foggy reflection picture.
Valdez is so easy to walk around and we did that just about every day. So many things to see - we knew we were not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Valdez, AK - Valdez Museums

There is a cool museum in Valdez which we visited one day, the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum. They came to Alaska in 1947 and traveled throughout the state as then accumulated one of the largest private collections of Alaskan Native art and artifacts in the world. It’s not the biggest museum in the world but it is a huge collection.
When we walked in we saw this huge stuffed moose, the largest piece in the museum. It is 8’ tall and has antlers that span 5’ 8” across. He is among the largest mounted moose in existence and actually had to be taken off the form to get it into the space.
There are lots of other stuffed pieces in the museum and I was amazed at how tall this polar bear could be when standing on its hind legs. Hey, it doesn’t have a Coke bottle in its hands. Those paws are as big as my head.

This is a model of the Revenue Cutter Bear. The hull is constructed out of ivory layered over a full walrus tusk. The sails are mostly baleen from whales with the front sails made out of ivory. The rope coils, smokestack, bridge deck, hold covers and all rigging are made from sinew. It is a stunning piece of work.
This basket is actually made out of baleen not any kind of grass. It was made by Inupiaq artists, Joe and Nellie Sikvayugak. She did the weaving and he did the carving.
Harsh climates call for thick, warm clothing. Using what they could collect, harvest or hunt the natives had to come up with some good ideas to keep themselves warm. Here are some mukluks and mittens lined with different furs and skins. The intestines of moose and seals were often used for waterproof clothing and soles of boots. The fur of wolverine resists frost accumulation and shields the face from the cold. Mink and beaver add warmth and decoration. Seed beads and Russian trade beads add status and connote wealth.
I’m an old cribbage player and enjoyed these cribbage boards carved out of walrus ivory for the tourist trade. During the 18th C, whalers would visit the coastal villages of Alaska. Cribbage was a popular way to while away the time and the sailors would ask the natives to make cribbage boards for them.
Lots of stuffed heads here too. There are several walrus tusks too. Note the board on the lower left with pieces of fur to touch. And, in the lower right is a moose antler chair.

Here are two ivory carvings of Wiley Post and Will Rogers who died in Barrow in 1935.
Here is a rack of tools. You can see the harpoons off to the left that were used to hunt birds, fish, whales and large game. They were made from various materials like bone, iron, wood, fossiled ivory and stone.
Here is a pen and ink sketch on a hide.
The other museum we visited was a museum of the history of Old Valdez, before the 1964 earthquake. We were particularly intrigued by the miniature village that had been reserached, deisgned and constructed by architectural muralist Sue Fowler. It took 2 1/2 years to put this all together but it historically accurate.
It is so big that it is contained in 9 separate glass covered cabinets. Here is the overview picture I took from a balcony above the room.
Here is some detail of one of the streets. Atop the cabinet are often actual pictures of the house if they were available. In front of every home is the name of the family that was living there when the earthquake struck.
And, here is more detail of one of the homes. Here is the Newell house on McKinley Street.
Finally, here is the pier where the freighter Chena was tied while it was unloading. I don’t think it shows all of the people on the pier when the earthquake stuck since 32 people died when the ship rose up on a tsunami wave and crashed down on the pier killing all of those people. There is a film that we watched about the earthquake with people who lived through it telling what they were doing. One man was a young kid when the earthquake struck. He visited the pier with his friend to see all the excitement. He had to go to the bathroom so he went to the land end of the pier with his friend and, thus, both of them were saved. However, his mother who knew that he had gone to the pier did not know he had been saved and went through the next night not knowing what had happened to him.

When he appeared the next day she burst into tears. They were together when they were telling this story. But, not every story ended so happily.
Exellent museum, film and miniature of the town. A great memory for the survivors and the town and an excellent museum for tourists to learn about the earthquake.

We saw a commercial fishing boat leave the harbor as we were heading back to the RV.
And, the clouds obscuring the mountains.

Valdez, AK - Double Whammy

You can visit Valdez, Alaska and enjoy all that it has to offer: helicopter flights, glacier and wildlife cruises, deep sea fishing, great views all around you, the hatchery and not realize how hard the town has fought to overcome two major disasters. Two disasters, either of which might have destroyed it. One was a natural disaster, the 1964 earthquake and the other was a man made one: the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

A  real double whammy over the last 50 years: one natural whammy - an earthquake which devestated the town and then a man-made whammy - an oil spill which did the same thing. But the town has survived.

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez had filled up with oil from the Valdez terminal, and was heading out to sea when it struck a reef, tore a hole in its hull and released 11,000,000 gallons of oil. Exxon and Alyeska Pipeline Company didn’t act fast enough to contain the spill and, when a storm blew in, the oil was spread widely through out Prince William Sound. Eventually, more than 1,000 miles of coastline were covered with oil, fishermen were put out of work, businesses in Valdez lost millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of animals and birds perished. Exxon ended up paying billions in cleanup costs and fines. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was acquitted of being intoxicated while at the helm, but convicted on a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil, fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. Though the oil has mostly disappeared from view, many Alaskan beaches remain polluted to this day, crude oil buried just inches below the surface.

We saw this little demostration in the Homer, AK museum. It had a black cut-out the size and shape of the oil spill in Valdez harbor and you could put it anywhere on a US map to see how large it was.

Below Gary holds it over the state of California almost from top to bottom and then over the state of Iowa. This was a large spill.


Thick crude oil washed up on the cobble beach of Evans Island sticks to the boots and pants of a local fisherman in Prince William Sound, on April 11, 1989
Here you can see a dead oil-covered sea otter and on the right is a pod of sea lions swimming through a crude oil slick.
Here’s a red-necked grebe, covered in oil, which was taken to the clean-up center in Valdez.
I can show you pictures about the disasters and manh of its effects. What I can’t show you is the economic effects: how many fishermen were out of work, how many familes faced bankruptcy, how many town businesses failed. Ironically, many of the out-of-work fishermen obtained jobs in the oil clean-up paid for by Exxon. Many did not take these jobs because they didn’t want to take Exxon money.

The Exxon Valdez was prohibited from sailing through this area but it had severeal new owners, changed names several times but collided with another freighter and finally beached in India for dismantling.

This oil spill is the largest in America but fell off the list of the top 50 world-wide back in 1989. However, it is still considered the most damaging to the environment because it happened in such a remote location with thousands of miles of seashore, where there is so much wildlife.

I understand that you can still find oil on the beaches and waters of Prince William Sound, that not all species have recovered fully, that some have died out, that some have never returned to this area. However, fishermen have gone back to the seas, businesses have recovered and Valdez survived.

Valdez, AK - Old Valdez

Because Valdez was founded by prospectors headed to the gold rush and by those wanting to supply their supplies, it was originally located right on the beach, right at the base of the Valdez glacier. Severe glacial winds, heavy snow, seasonal flooding, unstable ground - it was a crappy place to build a town. Even the army moved to a new site 3 miles away. It flooded every summer with the melting from the glacier and the land beneath it was permafrost, melting ice, mud and dirt. Shifting constantly. Difficult to build a foundation for a building.
Then in 1964 the 9.2 Alaska earthquake and resulting tsunami wiped out most of the town. After the earthquake the city’s foundation of glacial silt liquefied, the shoreline slid into the ocean and the resulting 30’ high tsunami traveled out ward towards the ocean. The Chena, a freighter unloading at the the dock that day lifted up and dropped down onto the dock atop bystanders watching the action. 32 people died as the dock collapsed into the ocean under the weight of the freighter. The earthquake, the flooding and the dock collapsed pretty well did in the town.

Finally, they realized that they had to move the town - 4 miles around the shoreline to a stable foundation.
They actually transported 54 homes to new foundations in the New Valdez but others decided to build new homes on their new site. The own town was abandoned, dismantled and finally burned.
Today we toured Old Valdez, where the town used to be. There is not much signage on the highway into town but we used our GPS and a map and found the old site. This used to be a thriving village and now all that is left is memories and, as those who lived her grow older, the memories will die too.
Here is the only foundation that is left, that of the post office.
This plaque stands listing those who died in the earthquake and its aftermath. Chenaga, the town listed in the second column, is a small town across the bay from Valdez.
Not much left of the old town except some street signs, some piers for the loading docks and weed-filled streets.
This one piece of rusting equipment stands silhouetted against the foggy banks. Looks like an old fork lift.
There is also an old cemetery there, hidden away back in the trees. The people of Valdez are slowly working to restore the cemetery and are trying to find all the old graves which are spread out.
Here is this plaque to the earthquake dead from Valdez.
We followed a mown path towards the water and found this grave of a child.
And, these graves too. Note the new fence around the grave on the right. The wooden headstones are also newly done.

We also went to the current cemetery and found these two headstones. Susan Galloway on the right says: ‘I told you I was sick’ while Martha Jane Mandregan reminds us that ‘Juicy Fruit makes the world go round.’
Ethal was the First Lady Barber in Valdez and knows that ‘Even the Lord needs a trim Every now and then.’