Last night we boondocked in a “View” site off the Richardson Highway at Atna Lake. When we arrived there already were four RVs boondocked there so we joined them. We had beautiful views of the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain Range as well as Lake Atna. It was a very quiet and relaxing place to stay. Woke at 5:00 am to a sunrise that was so beautiful we both got out of bed to take pictures. Left this site early as we were excited to get into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Richardson and Edgerton Highways–
I realize it is odd that someone writes about highways but most of the highways in Alaska are Sceniac Byways. Even when a highway is not a designated Scenic Byway, the views from these highways are so wonderful that they are worthy of mention. Such is the case with these two highways with views that were breathtaking from these two good, paved roads. Between the view of the Chugach and the Wrangell Mountain Ranges and the beautiful valleys with their rivers and lakes, we had a lovely drive to the town of Chitina.
McCarthy Road and the town of McCarthy—
The McCarthy Road starts in Chitna and is one of only three roads that lead into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We were warned by the park service that this 60 mile road is a very poor dirt road, something we have become accustom to in our travels in Alaska. Yes, it is a very poor road with numerous large potholes and wash board areas. To make it a little more difficult the road is very narrow, sometimes only one lane wide and like all roads in Alaske there is “road work” in progress. Some of the land adjecent to the road is privately owned so it is hard to be sure if you are looking at park land or private land. There are few houses and NO services so if you should break down or get a flat tire, you are strictly on your own as with many of these dirt roads. Well, even with all that, driving it was so worth it! The views are fabulous and surviving the road takes going slow which you want to do anyway so you can see everything as you go along.
The McCarthy Road ends at the town of McCarthy (pop. 54). McCarthy was born to support the copper mining in the area and now lives for the tourist trade that, while it provides money to the town, it also brings all the difficulties of having lots of tourists and vehicles come to a very small town.
Kennicott Copper Mine Tour–
Kennicott is a former copper mine and processing area. The mine and processing building is no longer in operation but many of the buildings and some of the equipment remains. We took a guided tour of the historic Copper Mine buildings. Our guide, Ryan, was excellent explaining the history and operation of the area and buildings. The highlight of the tour was entering and touring the 14 story copper processing building. Seeing these buildings and learning of the tremendous output of product despite some of the most adverse weather conditions and the wilderness location is amazing. They overcame the need to transport equipment and product by building their own railroad with tracks 193 miles long. Managed to bring in or fabricate equipment on site and became fairly self-contained. Everything was provided to the worker, “food, shelter, etc.” in exchange for back breaking work under very trying conditions and few worker protections. It was an amazing story and being in such a beautiful, distant place made it all the more interesting.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park–
This is the largest park in the U.S National Park system. It is so big, Yellowstone could fit into it six times! It has the largest number of mountains over 16,000 feet on the North American Continent, to say nothing of the many huge glaciers within the park. The McCarthy Road we took is the only road that goes so deep into the park. There are two other roads into the park; one is only a few miles and the other about 25 miles and we will be taking them later on our tour of Alaska. Of course, with all it’s mountains, glaciers, water features, vistas and geological wonders this is a beautiful place to see and we think the difficult road into the park was worth it. Besides birds, the only wildlife we saw were a few hares.