The Port of Valdez is located on Prince William Sound about 25 nautical miles from the Gulf of Alaska in the far northwestern United States. About 490 kilometers east of Anchorage and 27 kilometers southeast of the Columbia Glacier, the Port of Valdez is North America's most northern port that is open all year. In 2000, over four thousand people called the Port of Valdez home.
In one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Port of Valdez has been called the "Switzerland of Alaska." It is a tourism center for the glaciers, marine life, deep-sea fishing, and heli-skiing. It is also a commercial fishing and freight port serving interior Alaska. Ships load oil from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the Port of Valdez oil terminal.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez grounded at Bligh Reef, about 40 kilometers from the port, as it left the Port of Valdez, spilling over 40 thousand cubic meters of oil. While it did not reach the Port of Valdez, the oil spill killed much marine life in the area and bankrupted the nearby Chugach tribe that depended on the sea for their livelihood.
Explorer Don Salvador Fidalgo named the Port of Valdez in 1790 when he claimed the territory for Spain. A scam brought settlers to the area in the late 19th Century. Gold prospectors were lured there, having been told the Valdez Glacier Trail would be a better route to interior Alaska. This was a lie, and many people died trying to make the crossing.
The Port of Valdez did not really begin to grow until the summer-only Richardson Highway reached town in 1899, connecting the Port of Valdez to Fairbanks. Already having an ice-free port, the Port of Valdez became the first land supply route into Alaska. In 1950, the highway became a year-round route.
In 1964, the Port of Valdez was shaken by a massive earthquake when the glacial silt beneath the town liquefied, causing part of the shoreline to break off and sink into the ocean. The slide caused a 9.1-meter tsunami that killed 32 people on the Port of Valdez' main freight dock when it collapsed. A new town was built about six kilometers to the east on more stable ground.