Valdez (pronounced val-DEEZ) is at the southern end of the 800-mi/1,300-km engineering wonder known as the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. The pipeline sends Alaska North Slope crude oil from the Beaufort Sea to Valdez's ice-free, deepwater port for shipment.

That oil made Valdez rich. But it also put the town on the worldwide news when Exxon's supertanker Valdez struck Bligh Reef in 1989. More than 11 million gallons of oil were spilled but did not significantly affect Valdez's shoreline because the tides pulled the oil away from the area. However, other areas of Prince William Sound and beyond were badly damaged.

Another catastrophe struck Valdez 25 years earlier, when an earthquake created a tsunami that killed 33 residents and compromised structures throughout the town. The town relocated 4 mi/6 km to the west on higher ground and was rebuilt, which is why it looks modern and young. (Both the quake and the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred on Good Friday.)

But there's more to Valdez than oil. This self-proclaimed "Gateway to the Interior" is truly one of Alaska's crown jewels, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Most visitors reach Valdez on an overnight drive from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway over Thompson Pass, noted for its record snowfall of 81 ft/24 m the winter of 1952, and continuing down through Keystone Canyon with its magnificent waterfalls.

Some cruise ships also stop in Valdez. Most visitors take a half- or full-day boat tour to view the Columbia Glacier, one of the largest and most accessible glaciers in Alaska. Charter fishing and hikes to see the surrounding mountains, glaciers and waterfalls are also popular pursuits for visitors.

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