Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Valdez small boat harbor

June 26 - Squirrel creek campsite - Richardson Highway north of Thompson Pass - a diving duck fishes alone in a wide spot on the creek, and the grey clouds scuttle quickly overhead racing from the coast, but dissipating after rising up through Thompson Pass and towards Alaska's vast interior.  The slate grey sky reflects as a shimmering background for the ever changing elongated ovoids  of dark green floating and changing and forming, and stretching, and joining, and dissipating as the breeze creates ripples over the water.  An abandoned fishing skiff lays beached among the reeds across the river, it's owner having been absent long enough to bleach the benches, and gunnels pale tan, stripped of any paint.  A bald eagle soars low over the trees at the edge of the river scanning for any prey unfortunate enough to be In shallow enough water for the powerful bird to spy from above.  

We have left the rainy coast and busy fishing and tourist port town of Valdez behind with its steady drizzle, and squads of ubiquitous White boxy rental RVs.  The ferry disgorges a new fleet of travelers with each stop once a day- most of which rapidly dissipate up the Richardson Highway, but some who congregate in the soulless parking lot RV camps near the small boat harbor.

Out near the compact airport is "man camp" a crowded collection of clustered multi story quick build barracks for the army of transient labor working on the new port construction project and its related stone quarry, and at the trains-Alaskan pipeline terminal across the bay and the other  gravel operations. Mining sized dump trucks belch their acrid exhaust endlessly one truck after another all day long drive out of the harbor carrying the blasted and scraped and dredged remains of a shoreside hillside that is being transformed into a new boat harbor.

In Valdez ( actually new Valdez, since the original Valdez was abandoned and burned after the 1964 9.2,  5 minute earthquake and subsequent tsunami) is built on  the terminal end of Prince William Sound, surrounded by the snow capped Chugash mountains. Waterfalls cascades down the steep alder covered slopes beneath the melting  snow fields above. Their is no evidence of the booming heli-ski operations which operate here between mid February though Early April- but two kayak companies keep a colorful fleet of stout double kayaks in the small boat harbor for daily short, and multi-day excursions.

There is a salty fleet of sturdy commercial fishing vessels, sprouting all sorts of tethered super structure, a mound of netting threaded with bouys along one edge, and a deep welled tender, used to stretch the net around the suspecting schools of fish out in the deeper water.  They were all out yesterday, but this morning found them all in port, holds being hosed out and engine compartments open with work in progress. Mountain sized fisherman mingled in knots, smoking cigarettes, and gesticulating dramatically as voices rise to make a point.  Dashboards of the hard working vessels strewn with sea charts and binoculars, and air horns, and threaded with piles of electronic devices leave barely any clear room for the captains to see forward.  The tall proud prows of these vessels reflect the steep seas in which they must often find themselves.

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