Thursday, July 2, 2009

100 Miles of Gravel - The Road to Kennicott

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - We left Valdez and retraced our path north on the Richardson Highway. After hearing from several different people that McCarthy and Kennicott were worthwhile stops we changed our minds and decided to go see for ourselves. We only traveled about 100 miles to Chitina which is the gateway to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. As mentioned before, the road into the park ending at McCarthy and Kennicott is a gravel road in fair to poor condition so we stopped at the Kenny Lake Mercantile and RV Park and dropped off the motorhome. We then drove on into Chitina to the Copper River where we watched dip netters and fish wheels fishing for Copper River Red and King salmon. The only fishing permitted is subsistence fishing for Alaska residents who are allowed 300 fish per year. We drove down through the river bed and talked to two guys who were checking their catch in a fish wheel. The fish wheel is owned by one local woman who makes up a schedule during the season and local fishermen can sign up for 3-day blocks of time. Approximately 100 fishermen sign up to use the fish wheel without charge other than sharing equally in all maintenance and repair costs. The owner reserves about 1/3 of the time for herself and also gets any unused time from fishermen who either don’t show up or catch as much as they want and then leave early. The fishermen are allowed to give salmon away to friends and family but may not sell or barter with the salmon but we talked to some local women who said that she thinks a lot of people do. We figured they probably have a lot of “friends” who just happen to do brakes, repair appliances, cut hair, etc. We did not have enough time to drive all the way to Kennicott so returned to camp and made dinner together.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 – We left this morning about 9:00 AM for the drive to McCarthy and Kennicott. Although it is only about 90 miles, due to the road conditions it took a little over 3 hours to make the drive. We arrived at the end of the road and walked about ½ mile over a couple of foot bridges to the somewhat restored ghost town of McCarthy. From there we took the shuttle van about five miles on to Kennicott and got our tickets for the tour through the 14-story copper mill. The mill operated from 1911 until 1938 when it closed abruptly with only a few hours notice. We hiked up a wooded hillside to the top of the mill and then made our way down a series of boardwalks and narrow steep staircases to get a good view of the mill used to concentrate and process copper ore before bagging it and shipping it off by railroad cars. Considering the condition of the mill it is a little surprising that the National Park Service allows tours but the guide said they have determined that it is in a state of “arrested decay” and therefore safe enough to allow tours. It was an interesting tour and afforded excellent views of the Kennicott Glacier and surrounding area. At the end of the tour we took the shuttle back down to the foot bridge and walked a short distance to the car for the 90 mile drive back to the campground. When we arrived we were met with a note on our windshield telling us that we were supposed to have checked out by noon so they charged us an extra night. The only problem with that is that we had already paid for the extra night before we left this morning. We immediately went to the office and found the problem to be a classic case of the “right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing” so they apologized and refunded our money for the extra charges. We stopped at the little diner in the campground and even though it was about 5 minutes after closing time the owner told us to come in and she made us hamburgers for dinner. Tomorrow we will head back to Tok to begin the last leg of our Alaskan Adventure by heading down to Haines which will serve as our base camp while we use the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry system) to see Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Skagway.

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