Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The biggest National Park in the U.S. is ?

The 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. That was the next adventure on the Alaska trip. This time quite a bit more in civilization (actually more than I anticipated). A solid days drive from Fairbanks of which the last 2.5hrs is dirt. Prepared for a few days "off grid", I was surprized to see a guy talking on his cell phone in the camp! We were staying west side of the Kennicot ice melt river in McCarthy.The town of McCarthy is one of the oldest in Alaska, it has 42 residents, a few of which stay there all year. It grew as a supply town for the people that worked in the Kennicot copper mines. Most of the buildings are in as good condition as in their hay day (1920's)
These days it is ground central for tourism, the place has no less than 3 airstrips! (one for every 12 residents) We stopped in the saloon to find a great atmosphere. It was pre-tourist season, everyone was very friendly, great vibe in that town.
Up the road is the town of Kennecott, where the copper ore was milled and sorted for transport is being rennovated. It's an interesting mixture of National park and private property, and it works very well. It had a European feel to it that way with a bit of wild west thrown in, a buzz of different commercial enterprizes.
Bruce and I walked up to the Kennicot glacier snout. Without crampons we didn't venture very far, and in this case they were necessary.
Instead we walked up to the Bonanza mine, one of five big copper mines.
There are many glaciers in the area too. Just 10 miles north the Nabesa plateau stands around 10,000ft. Needless to say it accumulates lots of snow. Interestingly is a considerable amount of gravel on top of most of the glaciers.Three glaciers come together to form the Root glacier.
The town of Kennicot is at 2200ft msl, the Bonanza mine is at 6000ft, a pretty nice walk :)
A Bald Eagle gave us a nice fly-by on the way up.
At the mine site, immediately you notice the rock colours, green, blue and black, mostly copper ores, with some limestone here and there.
The Structures themselves are in great shape considering their age, environment and that they have mostly been left to the elements for the best part of 70 years. Maybe the fact that it gets down to -60'F here frequently in the winter, removing all mosture from the air, prevents the timbers from decomposing.
We walked up over the ridge for the view. Spectacular in all directions.The was considerable mining below the surface, perhaps why it looks fairly natural up there, or maybe the erosion is so fast here from snow and freeze thaw hides the blasting.

In the afternoon the skys cleared and it was possible to see Mt Blackburn standing at 16,010ft, impressive as viewed from just 2000 above sea level, almost 3 miles straight up.
While there Bruce and I also took in the 2.5 hour mill tour, the inner workings from the 1903 design were fascinating. And to think of the logistics of bringing in the building supplies and machinery by horse wagon and dog sled from the Valdez Fjords is mind boggling, especially as it was a year round operation back then!

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