(Pop. circa 5,000) Small town in South-Central Alaska
. Valdez is located near the back of a fjord
in north-eastern Prince William Sound
, on a small spit of land at the base of the massive Chugach Mountains
(hence its nickname "Little Switzerland
"). The town is about 30 miles West of the actively receding Columbia Glacier
, on of Alaska
's premeir tourist attractions. Valdez is accesible via road
, small plane
, or state ferry
(see Alaska Marine Highway System
Valdez was named for a Spanish navigator of some sort (Juan Valdes, I think his name was), but did not really take off as a settlement until around the time of the gold rushes in Alaska. At that time, some crazy prospectors came up with the bright idea of trying to use the Valdez Glacier as an overland route to the goldfields (I think they were trying to get to the ones in Dawson). From that time, the town of Valdez was located much closer to the face of the glacier than is currently the case. In 1964, after the town was utterly devastated by a local tsunami accompanying Alaska's Good Friday Earthquake, it was rebuilt about four miles further to the West.
Originally, Valdez' economy was almost soley dependent on the commercial fisheries. However, the construction of the Alyeska Pipeline in the mid-1970s made Valdez a very important location in the oil industry, and thus added a major oil component to its economy. Valdez became the focus of national attention in 1989 after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef (about 20 miles Southwest of Valdez), spilling 100,000 gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. In the following months, Valdez became the center of the massive oil cleanup efforts throughout the sound and portions of Western Alaska.
In the last decade, Valdez has expanded greatly in the area of tourism. Prince William Sound in general is now swarming with tour ships in the summer time, and several small, Prince William Sound-specific cruise lines are based out of Valdez. Valdez has also become the premeir heli-skiing destination in the world. Open any ski or snowboard magazine and it's almost guaranteed that there will be at least one or two centrefolds of someone ripping down the giant face of an untracked Chugach Mountain. But Valdez is beginning to attract other sorts of adventurers as well, and also has somewhat of a reputation among folk such as kayakers and alpinists (actually, the Chugach definately do have a reputation among alpinists - for their notoriously bad weather).