Sunday, August 22, 2010

The BIGGEST of Them All!!

Hi there!! Have you missed us this past week?? The National Parks - and our travel partners, Kacy and Dusty - have kept us VERY busy.

Alaska is an amazingly LARGE state - with VERY FEW roads!! It also has lots of National Parks - VERY LARGE National Parks!!

Kacy and Dusty made their way from Park City, Utah to Anchorage and caught up with us in Glennallen, Alaska - our base for the next few days of our trip. We made our way to Glennallen around the northern side of the Wrangell-St. Elias NP - by far the largest of our National Parks! Almost six times the size of Yellowstone it contains 4 major mountain ranges (the Wrangells, the Alaska, the Chugach and the St. Elias) - 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the US - 4 of them above 16,000 feet - more than 150 glaciers - and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. This park is only accessible by two rough gravel roads - Nabesna Road, which was the subject of the last posting, and the McCarthy Road, which is described below. We drove them both and they provided beauty all around!!

Mt. Wrangell, Alaska.

Our entry into the Wrangell-St. Elias NP was the McCarthy Road - a 60 mile, narrow and winding road that originated in 1909 as a railway constructed to support the Kennecott Copper Mine at the end of the road. It begins at the Copper River bridge, which crosses the Copper River - home of the Copper River Salmon. Because the Copper River is a glacier river derived from the glaciers in the National Park area (25% of the Wrangell-St. Elias MP is covered by glaciers), it carries the ‘glacier flour’, or finely ground rock, that makes the water very murky. Therefore, one can not see the salmon in the river - nor can the salmon see what might be ‘lurking‘ in the river to catch them. So - the local natives, who are allowed to subsistence fish on this river in the preserve, fish with a device called a fish wheel. It looks, and works, similar to a paddle wheel - but the ‘paddles‘ are ‘boxes’ that can catch the salmon and funnel them into a holding container. These were lined up on the river as we began our trip into the NP and we had to stop and watch - it was quite fascinating!!

Fish wheels on the Copper River.

Copper River salmon caught in one of the fish wheels. Breakfast - Yum;-((

The only unfortunate item on this particular morning was the rain - which prevented any good views of all the glaciers that surrounded us. But, no matter - the scenery along the road was beautiful. We were just glad we had the ‘KBUS’ instead of Magic - especially on the bridges!!

Bridge over the Copper River, originally built for the trains to Kennecott.

Surprised the picture is in focus, given how much my knees were knocking.
The bridge is almost 300 feet above the river.

I just liked this view along the road to McCarthy/Kennecott.

The little town of McCarthy is literally at the end of the road. Today it is a tiny community of hardy individualists - but, boasted a population of nearly 2,000 in the mining days. It provided the entertainment and the escape from the mining town of Kennecott 5 miles away!

This IS downtown McCarthy. (Dusty, Kacy & Elizabeth)

The Kennecott story is pretty amazing - as are the men that made it happen. In the summer of 1900, a couple of prospectors found the hills on the east edge of the Kennicott Glacier full of copper! In fact, one of the richest copper deposits ever found. The Havemayer family began buying up shares of the claim - and with the assistance of the J.P.Morgan and Guggenheim families - formed the Alaska Syndicate to build a railroad and develop the mines. For four years a crew built the rail bed and bridges through difficult terrain at temps down to 40 degrees below zero. At the same time, the mining claims were being developed at the Kennecott mines. About 600 men worked in the mines and in the mill town - they worked long hours at hard, dangerous work. Over $200 million worth of ore was hauled from this Kennecott Mill to the port of Cordova in the early 1900’s. Kennecott Copper Corporation invested in mines in Chile and the lower 48. By the time th Kennecott mine closed in 1938 the corporation had grown into one of the largest minerals companies in the world. Today the mine buildings are a National Historic Landmark -

The old Kennecott Copper Mill.

There is a train trestle in the back center, used to move the ore down from the mine to the mill.

A view from inside the mill's power plant.

What could follow this up?!?! Perhaps a drive to Valdez, Alaska with more glaciers, wildlife and yet more beautiful scenery.

Pronounced Valdeez, because the early miners didn't want to use the Spanish pronunciation.
We were not on good terms with the Spanish at that time.

The Worthington glacier in Valdez, Alaska.

After driving almost 300 miles of wilderness dirt roads over the past 2 days,
we spotted this bear and her cub in the town of Valdez

The Valdez marina.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm! We came to see bears eating ALL
these fish - instead we got sea lions!!

Oh boy, look at all those fish. Let's go get some more.


Valdez is, of course, the terminus of the famous Alaska Pipeline which starts 800 miles north in Prudhoe Bay. But, it has its real roots in fur trading and gold and copper mining, as it was the entry point for all those coming to work in the Kennecott mine.

Our drive to Fairbanks followed the Pipeline - which again drove home the complexity of the monumental task of building this thing. The consideration given to the perma-frost in the ground, effects of warming on the ground, potential earthquakes, passing over lakes, glaciers, roads, etc. etc. etc. etc. Amazing that there has not been an oil disaster with it.

Alyeska Pipeline.

The further north we go, the bigger the mosquitos.

Fairbanks, with a population of 31,000, provided an interesting city tour, a drive to Chena Hot Springs (with more moose sightings) and a little down time to do those mundane chores of laundry, etc. - and a few nice dinners;-)

Dusty and Kacy putting the finishing touches on a delicious pesto chicken pasta dinner.

Alaska - Siberia War Memorial in Fairbanks, AK.

Ice Queens Kacy and Elizabeth. It was very cold in the Ice Sculpture Museum.

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church built in 1904, in Fairbanks, AK.

At last, a moose spotting on the road to Chena Hot Springs.

Slurp, slurp... This moss and algae really hits the spot.

Kacy testing the waters at the Chena Hot Springs.

Next stop is Denali;-) We are all soooo very excited for this little adventure and there are high hopes for lots of good pic’s with that blog posting. See you again soon -


1 comment:

  1. Unbelievable photos Gary, especially the wolf cub feeding and the sea lions eating salmon, thanks! We were in Acadia NP this morning, but just got a brief glimpse of it. Have to back for a bicycle ride! John D. Rockefeller Jr. did a good job here. Anxiously awaiting your next update, hopefully with some Passage photos! Have fun.