On this date in 1969, the first shipment of pipe for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline landed in Valdez, Alaska. On board the Alaska Maru was enough pipe for 8.6 miles of the proposed 800 mile pipeline. There were 1160 sections of 40 foot long pipe, weighing 5 tons each.
Alaska received on average, three shipments a month from Japan. It took ten days for the pipe to travel from Japan to Alaska. The first 300 miles were unloaded at Valdez, and 500 miles to Seward, Anchorage and “other” ports in the state for distribution along the line. The final 150 miles of pipe were trucked up the Haul Road to Prudhoe Bay.
When we were camping at Blueberry Lake earlier this summer, we spent a rare sunny day hiking up to Worthington Glacier.
Worthington Glacier is located in Thompson Pass at Milepost 29 of the Richardson Highway. It’s a typical small valley glacier, approximately 4 miles long, and sits at an elevation of 3800 feet.
In normal years, the glacier is one of the most visited recreation areas on the Richardson, but this year we were the only ones hiking out at the glacier, while a few people hung out at the viewing area.
Worthington Glacier is retreating, although not quite as fast as other glaciers in Alaska. Thompson Pass is the snowiest area in the state of Alaska. On average, the pass gets 500 inches of snow every winter. It holds the state records of 974″ of snow in a year (81 feet!), and the most snow in a single day at 62 inches.
Still, Worthington is in retreat. In the late 1990’s, the glacier extended to the pond in the picture above. In the last 20 years, Worthington has retreated a quarter of a mile, in spite of the tremendous snowfall in the area.
Today, the Richardson Highway runs through Keystone Canyon, en route to Valdez. Back in the early territorial days of Alaska, people traveled this route on the Valdez Trail from coastal Valdez to Interior Alaska.
In 1905, nine separate entities were competing to build a railroad through Keystone to the copper mines of Kennecott. This tunnel, which is accessed off of the Richardson, is all that is left of the proposed railroad.
A gunfight erupted between opposing factions, work ceased in 1906, and the hand cut tunnel was never finished.
When we were recently camping down by Valdez, we stopped by to explore the old tunnel. Graffiti covers many of the rocks, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the effort it would have taken to cut through this rock wall in 1905-06 with hand tools.
There is both a silent film, and a novel titled “The Iron Trail”, based on this era of Alaska’s history.
Courtesy of the snow bound folks in Valdez, Alaska
I stopped by the grocery store on Friday morning, and was amazed at how many people wanted to encroach into my 6 foot bubble. I wasn’t even in the TP aisle! I wondered if people just don’t know what a six foot gap looks like. Lo & behold, the fine folks in Valdez have had the same thought.
In all honesty, this is the only time of year in Alaska where one sees only 457 mosquitoes in a space of six feet. Swatting season is just around the corner!
A photo of Bobby Sheldon crossing a river, probably on his 1913 trek from Fairbanks to Valdez. Sheldon was an interesting character, even by Alaska standards. He was the first civilian to drive an automobile the length of the Old Valdez – Fairbanks trail. It took Sheldon 4 days to travel the 360 miles in a Model T.
He also built the very first car in Alaska in 1905. In fact, it remains the only vehicle, on record, ever manufactured in the state. When Sheldon built the car in Skagway, he had never seen a car first hand. It was built by pictures and diagrams.
As a Skagway newspaper boy in 1898, a young Bobby Sheldon witnessed the death of the notorious Jefferson “Soapy” Smith in a gunfight with Frank Reid. Smith died there on the Juneau wharf, Reid died of his wounds 12 days later.
Sheldon on what he saw: “He (Smith) was sprawled out with his Stetson lying there, but nobody dared put his feet together or place his hands over his heart. They didn’t dare show sympathy for fear somebody would pull out a gun.”
Sheldon brought up the first Model T Fords for his “auto stage” which ran between Fairbanks in the interior and Valdez on the coast. Eventually he included Pope Toledos and Studebakers entered service in the 1920’s.
Sheldon went on to become an Alaska road commissioner, a Fairbanks postmaster, he served in the Alaska Territorial Legislature as well as the first State Legislature when Alaska was granted statehood. Bobby Sheldon died in 1983 at the age of 99.