We left Denali and headed east across Alaska on the Denali Highway, another mostly dirt road. The beauty in the landscape here is just jaw dropping. Over every horizon is something even more beautiful.
We stopped for lunch along the highway, at one of the many pull-outs along these roads, with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area. Another camper was also stopped there for lunch. The mother and son were heading to a beautiful lake area up the road to spread the ashes of a recently deceased husband and dad. You could tell that they loved Alaska, but she admitted that this would probably be her last trip to Alaska after their many trips over the years. The son (my age) told me the story of dropping a 1000+ pound grizzly up along the Dalton Highway with what he described as the “two best arrows I ever shot”. Seeing that he is still alive to tell the tale would validate that claim.
The trek to Wrangell-St Elias National Park was pretty long so we decided to camp along the way. We tried to get a spot at a nice little campground with a waterfall but it was full.
We then did like so many folks up here in Alaska, we just pulled off the road on one of the many places to park along the road and camped there for the night along a beautiful lake. Most of the folks with campers we talk with are from Alaska on vacation to the “local” beautiful spots. All of them love living up here, and we can see why.
The next day we completed the drive into Wrangell-St Elias NP along the McCarthy Road, a pretty rough dirt road. This runs through the Copper River valley, famous for their salmon. The salmon were beginning their run so there were huge salmon wheels in the water and many folks camped along the banks attempting to stock up for the year.
The road to the park was the old railroad track route from the abandoned Kennecott copper mine. Most of the bridges, single lane only, were still in place but now modified to handle car traffic. Wrangell-St. Elias NP is the largest national park in the US at 13 million arces, about ½ the land mass of Pennsylvania.
We camped at the end of the road, next to the river created by the Root Glacier. In this area of Alaska every direction you look has a huge, beautiful glacier riding down the face of a mountain. Excursion groups were also there camped in their tents. We’ll stick with the Roamer and our toasty fire.
The Kennecott copper mine, which is part of the NP now, had some of the purest copper ore ever discovered, which is why they decided to mine in such a harsh place all year long. The mines were up in the hills and the ore was processed in the buildings using several different methods until they achieved a 98% copper ore quality before shipping it south by train and boat to Washington.
The best part of the park for us was the trail to the Root Glacier and the ability to walk up on the glacier. It’s not an easy hike to get there, and bear scat marks the trail for most of the way to keep you on your toes, but it’s worth it.
On the way back to our camp we stopped in the little town of McCarthy, which is an area of private land near the old mine surrounded by the park. The Saloon closes in mid-September, along with much of the town. They have a “last man standing” party to finish off all of the beer that won’t keep until the saloon re-opens in the spring.
We met a San Francisco couple at the bar where he helps runs a camp at Burning Man – The 7 Deadly Gins. As he explained the workings of the event a few other folks said they had been at his camp in years past. Wow, this is a bar in a town of less than 200 folks in the middle of nowhere and several random people in this bar had been to his Burning Man camp – what are the odds? Pam now wants to go to Burning Man next August – lol.
We left Wrangell-St. Elias NP and headed on our way to Valdez, where this is the one lane entrance and exit to the McCarthy Road at Chitina.
Along the road back we stopped at a Yak farm – had to stop since they have been the topic of some great one-liners since the yak steak post. They were just out grazing in the field similar to cows. We also saw a lynx cross the road in from of us along the way. It was a big cat.
There was a 1950’s era Chevy flower pot. I guess when your truck dies in the back country if you are not going to tow it several hundred miles to get rid of it you might as well add it to the decor.
Valdez was a quaint little fishing village surrounded by beautiful mountains. It does not get nearly as cold as northern Alaska, and the snowfall can reach 600 inches in the nearby passes in winter. We camped at the Bear Paw RV lot right in downtown Valdez, across from the dock. Valdez is the most northern port that does not freeze in the winter, which is why the end of the pipeline is here (on the other side of the bay from the city) to ship the oil out.
We walked around town and noticed that there were a lot of pet rabbits running around, kind of like the chickens in Hawaii. We never got the story on how this came to be, but there must not be many eagles or loose dogs in the area – yet.
We had our first truck maintenance issue for the trip. The metal mounting bracket for one of our front spot lights cracked and the light was just resting on the bumper against the grill. Luckily the RV place knew the local welder, who has a portable rig. He came over and welded it back on, where now it is probably better than it was.
After the fix, we packed up and headed towards Anchorage. We ended up stopping for the night at the campground at Lake Louise (every state must have a Lake Louise). It was a beautiful spot and we got there just before sunset. We walked along the shore of the lake as the moon came up and saw a couple of muskrats in the water, which was easy to do since the lake was glass smooth. It’s getting noticeably darker at night now, not quite dark enough to see stars, but we may get a chance to see the northern lights before we leave Alaska. What was interesting was when the moon came up it was not 180 degrees opposite in the sky from the sun as we normally see it, but appeared more like 120 degrees away. This could be due to the latitude or the phase of the moon, but you felt like you were looking at the side of the moon as it chased the sun.
The drive to Anchorage the next day was again very beautiful, with many glaciers, lakes, river valleys and interesting mountains along the way.
We stopped at a muskoxen farm in Palmer, just north of Anchorage. While the muskoxen are wild animals they raise these for their qiviut, or wool that they comb out of their winter coats. The muskoxen are related to the goat family and the males run about 900 pounds, the size of a small cow. The qiviut is given to local knitting guilds and the native ladies create throws and scarves with a pattern that is unique to their guild.
We spent a night in Anchorage before setting out south to the Kenai Peninsula. The city campground was less of a campground for enjoyment as a campground of necessity for some folks looking to make a future in Anchorage. The tent clusters and rope supports for everything did not appear to be the work of folks staying less than 14 days.
Anchorage itself was good because we got many errands completed and restocked for the next week or so. We also had a delicious salmon dinner at Pam’s cousin Alex’s house, who lives in Anchorage. He and his wife, Marcie, had us over for dinner and we chatted the night away. Hopefully I can make good on my offer to bring back some halibut from a successful fishing day down on the peninsula.