McCarthy

June 29

The day’s goal is ride to McCarthy and the Kennicott copper mine.  The Kennicott mine was the richest copper deposit ever found.  The ore was 70% copper whereas other mines at the time were 4%.  McCarthy was once the largest city in Alaska when a billion dollars of copper was brought out in the early 20th century.

The Glenn Highway appears to be the major league of sign shooting and it runs through very scenic country.  The whole time you are driving toward the Wrangell mountains which have one peak over 16,000 feet.  We got a short look at this peak when there were no clouds above it and it was impressive.  Most of Alaska were the roads are is not that high in elevation, only up to 4,000 feet, but mostly under 3,000 feet.  However, it always seems much higher because of the trees, in the western US similar forests are at higher elevations.

The road into McCarthy is really spectacular.  Off the Glenn Highway you first pass through Chitina and then the road changes.  The first two miles are gravel and a bit rough until you cross the Copper River.  This is a big river and there were a lot people dip net fishing and even some fish wheels off in the distance.  The river is also gray and full of glacier silt and it is hard to believe that salmon can live in it to get to their spawning grounds.

After the Copper River crossing the road became chip seal for fifteen miles and was very fun and we set a brisk pace.  The next 45 miles was gravel and in excellent condition.  Since the television show about McCarthy has been on the number of visitors has doubled and the road is maintained better than before.  We found we could easily exceed the 35mph speed limit and we ripped up for miles.

We got a site at the Glacier View Campground.  It is a no frills private operation and did just fine for us.  After setting up we went into McCarthy and then to the mine.  Being on motorcycles we drove across the footbridge and into town.  Some lady that had to walk over because she was in a car scowled at us.  Too bad, motorcycles rule.

The Kennicott glacier comes out of the mountains and is right in front of the mill.  When it was in operation the glacier was 300 feet higher in above the mill site.  Today you look down on the glacier.

The Kennicott mill site is spectacular.  Imagine if you can that a railroad was built from the coast into the remote interior and a huge industrial operation built.  The mines were a few miles away and the ore brought to this site and processed before loading on the rail cars.  One large building housed four huge steam boilers to power the mill which is hundreds of feet high up the hill on the other side.  Many of the smaller buildings are well maintained in this national park but the large buildings are probably going to eventually collapse because it will be so hard to maintain them.  I can just imagine the noise from the steam plant and the mill, it must have been deafening.

We toured around the mill and took photos and then went into town and had dinner at the old saloon.  There are some of the original buildings still in town and it is surprising how many people live there, this is in a very remote area.  It is a really interesting place and very pretty. One of the people working in the saloon is the guy from the TV show that wants to open the mine to tourists.  I asked a ranger if she thought he could do it and she does not think so, his property is just too hard to get to. After dinner we went back to camp and eventually off to bed.  There was a bit of a sprinkle for the last several hours but it was not really rain so we were not uncomfortable.

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