Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Day 4 Driving to Valdez on the Richardson Highway

After leaving the Fairbanks city limit, we are heading southeast on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez. (The natives pronounce it 'Val-deez', just so you know). There is tons of construction on the Richardson Highway this summer. We hit sections of loose gravel on the Richardson, we encounter lots of slowdowns and worry about rocks flying up. We notice that the rocks and stones flying up are kicking up from our tires from our own RV, not from construction trucks. Sparky winces at every hit, because it's LOUD,but we get through the construction ok....

Right away, as we get started, we notice that the Milepost Directory tells us we will be following the pipeline all the way to Valdez and sure enough we see it above ground, then it disappears below ground some of the time, but it's always there. We stop more than once to read all the placards, and get this--YOU CAN WALK RIGHT UP TO THE PIPELINE IN PLACES AND TOUCH IT! What??!! No fences, no gate???  Nope, not in some of the sections. In other sections, very fenced off and NO ADMITTANCE. That totally shocked us, that it was so easily accessible. We couldn't see any cameras, although we are sure they must have been somewhere.  Guess they figure it's so remote that who's going to mess with it. Certainly, not us! This is Sparky, touching THE ALASKAN PIPELINE.
Regardless of how one feels about the pipeline traversing the beautiful Alaskan wilderness, it's interesting to learn about it. The above ground sections are built in a zig zag pattern to allow for the expansion and contraction of the pipe due to temperature changes. It's 800 miles long and the diameter of the pipe is 48 inches. It cost 8 billion in 1977 and was PRIVATELY FUNDED, the largest privately funded construction project at the time. It crosses three mountain ranges and over 500 rivers and streams. (THAT part scares the heck outta Sparky.)

Where there is permafrost, and the oil in the pipe might cause the ground to thaw and make the pipeline unstable, the pipeline is insulated and has unique supports above ground. There are vertical pips called Vertical Support Members (clever name) that sometimes contain heat pipes to REMOVE the heat and keep the ground frozen.  Here's one more interesting fact about the pipeline, and then we'll move on:
As we get closer to Valdez, we stop and see the Worthington Glacier (very small as far as glaciers go), but you can walk a short distance and get fairly close to it. We read in the Milepost of several cool things to see--an old railroad tunnel that was never completed that involved a gunfight, and waterfalls in the Keystone Canyon area. Are they ever SPECTACULAR!  Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. WOW! The scale and grandeur of these falls was jaw dropping. Wish there was a person standing at the guard rail for perspective but not at this time. This is Bridal Veil Falls.
And, Horsetail Falls.....

We arrive in Valdez, planning to stay at the Bear Paw Campground, having checked our Milepost directory for different campgrounds and calling around. There are several in Valdez, at least three right downtown. We picked Bear Paw because it was VERY centrally located and got great reviews. It's a gravel parking lot, but well done. We weren't disappointed! More about Bear Paw tomorrow, a fantastic trip out on the ocean on the Lulubelle, and great places to eat!
See you on the road.....er, ocean!

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