August 22, 2007 – McCarthy Road and Kennecott

Another great adventure day…

We booked a shuttle to take us to Kennecott via the McCarthy Road. Jim, our tour guide, picked us up at the campground and off we went.

The McCarthy Road starts right after Chitina and is a dirt/gravel road. The road was originally a railway used to support the Kennecott Copper Mine. The mine shut down in 1938 and in 1971, the rail bed was made into today’s road surface by backfilling over the railroad ties with gravel. Most, but not all, of the rails were removed and salvaged for scrap iron. This road is only one of two roads into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. We decided on taking the shuttle because of the write ups in the brochures warning that railroad ties may surface along with the occasional spike.

We did see a few rails pushed off the side of the road; we also saw some of the wooden culverts collapsed (they are currently being replaced with plastic pipe as they collapse); and we did see a spike in the road (that I now have!!). The road condition was pretty good – actually much better than the road to the Artic Circle.

The scenery was great!

The Copper River: A trestle that is now the road (it is a one lane wood surface):

A trestle that was part of the road until it collapsed:

We were not able to see the snow covered Wrangell Mountains – lots of clouds. (Hopefully I will see them as we head towards Tok.)

The 60 mile McCarthy Road ends at the Kennicott River. There is a footbridge to cross the river and a shuttle on the other side that takes you to McCarthy (.75 miles away) or to Kennicott (5 miles away).

Kennicott River and footbridge:

We decided to go to Kennicott area first because of its rich history. Copper was discovered in this area in the early 1900’s and a mining company was formed – The Kennicott Copper Corporation. This copper deposit turned out to be one of the richest copper ore ever found. So the Corporation founded the town which included a hospital, school, store, post office, housing, etc. as well as the mill and mines. This was considered a very progressive town for its time (especially in Alaska) because the homes had indoor plumbing, electricity, and heat from the power plant. Because this town was a company town with strict codes of conduct (no alcohol, etc.), McCarthy (5 miles away) was born - restaurants, pool-halls, saloons, etc. The two towns serviced over 800 people.

Because the Kennecott Copper Corp. could not compete with the falling prices of copper, they officially closed down the mines in 1938. Train service was also discontinued. In November 1938, the last train left Kennicott taking the remaining people with it. Our tour guide told us that when it was rediscovered in the 1960’s, there were still clothes in the closets, pens and coffee cups on desks – it was like they felt they would only be gone a short time. In 1998, the Park Service bought the mill site. The other parts of Kennicott and all of McCarthy are privately owned. The NPS is now trying to restore many of the buildings.

The mill:

Some of the cottages:

Other buildings:

We were able to go into one of the cottages – very nice. Many of them are now privately owned. To go into the mill, we would have to hire a guide – the NPS would not let anyone go on their own. We decided not to do that so instead we just took the walking/history tour of the town – it was great. We then took the trail around the town.

The glacier and more rails (the town is built right by an active glacier):

More glaciers (fall is here – notice the leaf colors):

A cold storage for the winter:

There are 38 permanent residents that brave the winter. Until 3 years ago, all goods were transported over the footbridge or the river when it was frozen. There is now a bridge for vehicles but only those that live or work here can use it. There is no TV and paper/mail arrives once a week. Alaskans never cease to amaze me. I just love hearing their stories.

On our way back, we stopped at the fish wheel. We had a nice chat with the fisherman – it was so interesting. He told us when the salmon run is at its peak, some of the wheels are shut down because the fisherman cannot keep up. Only Alaskan residents can do this. They also do dip netting but there was no one out today – I would love to see that before we leave.

And I will leave you with one last picture. The fireweed going to seed.

They expect their first snowfall here in about a month. Tomorrow we head towards Tok and the ALCAN. I know the adventure is still continuing but I will miss this state.

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