I think Alaska wore my dad out today. Nine hours of driving has to take it out of you. We took the scenic Denali highway, which, if you haven’t heard of it, is a 135 mile gravel road between Denali and a small town called Paxson. The road is closed every winter because of deep snow and was only recently reopened for the year. Over the course of the trip we passed a total of 14 moving vehicles, most of them within the last 10 miles.
As we drove along, my dad and I talked about life and careers until he asked me a very good question, “Who have been your role models?”
I haven’t thought much about that before he asked me, and although I could not come up with a huge list of people who had influenced me in one way or another, I found that there were very few people that I considered to be role models. Among those people are my dad, both of my brothers, Ben Talmadge, and Colonel Brett Morris, and Wes Fondren. Those are the people that I try to model myself after. I am sure sure there are others too, but those are the people that really stand out to me.
Though the first third of the trip was rough, literally, things picked up a lot once we got back onto the paved road and on our way to Valdez. The view from the highway was incredible for most of the drive. Imposing snow capped mountains overlooked braided, glacier fed rivers as we worked our way down the road.
Pop Pop Loved to Fish
As we passed rivers with excellent fishing, my dad recounted stories of growing up and his father, pop pop. When he was a child, his family would go to Amacalola Falls every single summer for vacation. Because he had never been anywhere else for vacation, they were perfectly happy to go to the falls and just walk around year after year.
My grandfather loved to fish, and always wanted to go to Alaska, so while my dad was in graduate school, he took pop pop to Alaska on a fishing trip. As we passed over a bridge, my dad pointed out to me the very spot where he and pop pop camped on their trip, 26 years ago.
Glaciers, Oil, and a Freezing Cold Rain Forest
Gradually the wide open valleys and subsistence hunting lands narrowed into a high mountain pass where the roads were still walled in on each side with deep snow, and the bases of huge mountains were close enough to hit with a Frisbee.
We stopped at Worthington Glacier to climb on the tidy-bowl blue ice, and then began our decent toward Prince William Sound and the city of Valdez.
As we got lower the vegetation began to change from tundra and evergreen forest to a more tropical feeling birch forest. Here everything is green and wet, a huge change from the desert-like conditions of Denali. Valdez is known to get 340 inches of snow in a year, and because it is surrounded on three sides by snow covered mountains, it is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Alaska.
To get into the valley you must pass over Thompson Pass and down through a narrow ravine called Keystone Canyon. The canyon is covered in beautiful waterfalls that feed into a glacial river with beautiful grey water. Because of the sediments that they pick up, many glacial streams and rivers are a milky grey or green color.
Beyond Keystone Canyon is the town of Valdez which is known for the Exxon Valdes oil spill in 1989, as well as a massive, 5 minute long, earthquake that scored a 9.2 on the Richter scale. Just outside of town we pulled into a little campsite with a $10 per vehicle per night fee.