awoke on July 4, I was excited to see a bit of blue sky beginning to peek out
from behind the clouds. Even better, the
previous day’s haze was gone. This was a
promising start to a day of flightseeing.
Tim and I arrived at the Chitina Airport (it was really no more than a
dirt airstrip) and boarded our six-seater plane for the thirty-minute trip to
McCarthy. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat
and had a bird’s-eye view as we flew over the Copper River and began our climb
toward the mountains that dominate Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
the air, it was difficult to grasp the enormity and scale of this small section
of the national park. The Wrangell
Mountains were not just snow-capped, they were totally enveloped with
snow. And the glaciers. We seemed to pass one after another, one more
splendid than the next.
|What a View!|
pilot, gave us a running commentary on what we were seeing, but I’m not even
going to try and remember the names of the individual mountain peaks or
glaciers that we saw. Bill was
especially excited as we approached Fourth of July Pass. How appropriate to be flying through there on
scenery got even more awesome as we emerged from the pass and caught our first
glimpse of the Kennicott Glacier. This
glacier is 27 miles long, and we could see part of its circuitous route as it
made its way down the slopes of Mt. Blackburn.
We flew past nearby Root and Gates glaciers that merge with the Kennicott
Glacier to form a massive sea of ice that terminates near the town of
McCarthy. Wow! The views were simply breathtaking. So much ice!
So much majesty! So much beauty!
|Kennicott and Gates Glaciers|
|A River of Ice|
|Reflections Next to the Glacial Moraine|
at McCarthy and soon learned that the Fourth of July is the biggest day of the year
in this tiny town. We had somehow
stumbled upon a down-home celebration.
People from all over Alaska were arriving for the festivities, which
included a parade, games and general merriment.
We could feel the excitement in the air, and everyone seemed to be delighted
to be there. Many people had flown in on
their own small planes, and it was quite a surprise to see a row of planes and
tents at the airstrip. We are finding
out that things are different in Alaska – in the Lower 48, people go car
camping; here, they seem to go plane camping.
Tim and I
had some time to wander around McCarthy, and we really felt that we were in a
frontier community. We were disappointed
to learn that we would miss the parade since we would need to catch an earlier
shuttle to Kennecott. This was not to be
any ordinary small town parade. We were
proudly told that this one was a bit more unusual, maybe even a bit R-rated. We later found out that the “costume” worn by
our afternoon tour guide included a bare butt!
|McCarthy, Alaska - An "End of the Road" Town|
|An Alaska Frontier Town|
|Ready for the Fourth of July|
shuttle took us five miles to the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark,
the major attraction for history buffs in Wrangell-St. Elias National
Park. Before I tell you about this site,
let me address the question of spelling.
Which is correct – Kennicott or Kennecott? That was a question I had asked. The natural features in the area, including the
glacier, valley and river, are spelled Kennicott after Alaska explorer Robert
Kennicott. The mining company, mines and
mill town are spelled Kennecott, which is actually a misspelling of the local
|Entrance to Kennecott Mines National Historic District|
was established in 1900 following the discovery of one of the world’s richest
concentrations of high grade copper ore in the mountains above Kennicott Glacier. Kennecott is considered to be the best
remaining example of early twentieth century copper mining in the United States
and is an amazing relic of America’s industrial past. During its heyday, Kennecott was a
self-contained company town, and it contained 100 buildings, including
bunkhouses, a hospital and recreation hall for the miners who lived and worked in
this remote and wild place.
|Kennecott from the Air|
|Ready to Spend the Afternoon at Kennecott|
|West Bunkhouse and Refrigeration Plant|
company closed the mines in 1938, virtually everything was left behind, from
the machinery in the mill to the dishes on the tables. Kennecott became an instant ghost town, and it
still appears to be virtually frozen in time.
Today, the buildings are in varying states of preservation, from
completely restored to ruins. The
National Park Service has acquired many of the structures and is in the process
of stabilizing and rehabilitating them.
What a mammoth undertaking that is proving to be.
afternoon tour, Tim and I took the time to check out the visitor center, watch
the film and wander around to get a sense of the town. We walked near the edge of the Kennicott Glacier,
which is in the town’s front yard, although what you see today is the glacial
moraine, not ice. Although the town is
within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, many of the buildings are still
privately owned, and one of those is Kennicott Glacier Lodge. That’s where we had lunch, and it turned out
to be the best meal we’ve had since leaving Haines. We never could have guessed that we would
find such high quality food in the most remote place we’ve visited.
|The Glacial Moraine Is Directly in Front of the Town|
|View from Kennicott Glacier Lodge|
iconic and impressive structure in town is the 14-story Kennecott Concentration
Mill, and the only way to go inside is with a guide. I was surprised to learn that the National
Park Service does not give tours.
Instead, St. Elias Alpine Guides has the concession, so we joined four
other people for an afternoon tour.
|The 14-Story Concentration Mill Is the Most Iconic Building at Kennecott|
|The Power Plant Supported both the Mill Town and the Mines|
even pretend to try and explain the process for concentrating, crushing and
sorting the copper ore, although I found the description interesting. Darren, our guide, did a great job in helping
us make sense of what we were seeing. What
fascinated me the most was the building itself. This is one of the tallest timber frame
buildings in the country, and its construction on a series of terraces that
stair-step up the 36 degree slope of a mountain is still mind boggling. We were required to wear hardhats for the
tour, and I am still surprised that the National Park Service allows people
inside the mill building. Maybe that’s
why the tours are given by a concessionaire.
I never felt unsafe inside, but I did note that the stairs were very
steep, some of the wood railings were rickety and debris was everywhere. I’ve never toured any structure like this
one, and I’m so glad we were able to see it.
|This Is Where We Entered the Concentration Mill Building|
|Darren Was a Great Guide|
|Darren Explained the Process To Us|
|The Scale of the Machinery Was Huge|
|Everything Was Left Behind|
|Kennecott Copper Corp. - Kennecott, Alaska|
|A Great Tour of the Mill|
in Kennecott was way too short. Had it
not been for the cat, we would have spent the night in McCarthy or
Kennecott. It would have been great to
hike on the Root glacier, but we couldn’t do that and our tour. It was a tough choice, but I’m still glad we
chose the mill tour.
returned to McCarthy for our return flight to Chitina. This time we were in a four-seater, and I let
Tim have the co-pilot’s seat. Nice, aren’t
I? The sky was a bit hazy, but the scenery
was still magnificent. I had the back
seat to myself and could easily catch the views on both sides of the
plane. Tim and I were really impressed
with Wrangell Mountain Air and our pilots.
Bill and Martin were personable, knowledgeable and professional, just
what you want in a bush pilot. They also
seemed to love what they were doing, and I’d fly with them again any day.
|Returning Through Fourth of July Pass|
|Mt. Drum Was Visible|
|Planes of Wrangell Mountain Air - On the Way Out, and On the Way Back|
|Kitty Didn't Get to Fly with Us,|
But Martin Let Her Try Out the Plane
we were tired from a long day, we decided to leave the RV parked at the
airstrip in Chitina and just spend the night there. It may have been a parking lot, but the views
were great. Without a doubt, this was the
most memorable Fourth of July I’ve ever had.
What an amazing flight! The snow covered mountains and the glaciers are just beautiful!!ReplyDelete
The scenery was truly incredible. Flightseeing offers such a great experience.Delete
Thanks for taking us on the flightseeing and the tour ... I've been intrigued by that beautiful mill building ever since I saw my first photo of it.ReplyDelete
You are welcome. The mill building is so distinctive and worth a tour.Delete
Thank you for taking the flight! It must have been awe inspiring - the photos are beautiful. You caught McCarthy on a better day than we. Such is the luck of travel. I'm glad you had a great time.ReplyDelete
You are so right about the luck of travel. Yes, we managed to hit McCarthy on the best day of the year, but you managed to snare a quiet, waterfront sites in Seward and Homer where you could enjoy the views. We seem to be too late to manage that. Some places are better early in the season, while others are just beginning to wake up. It's never possible to hit every place at the perfect time. I think we've both been very fortunate.Delete