Things were perking up around our little campground at Allison Point as the Memorial Day weekend brought out a few locals to camp with us. It also marked the opening of Magpie's On The Fly Coffee Shop a short walk from our site. Maggie, who also oversees the campground, serves up a delicious latte from her little red trailer. How cute is that?
On our departure day we braved the construction in town so we could empty our holding tanks and take on fresh water. Though we had picked a campground at our next destination that listed full hook-ups, we thought it better to be prepared for boondocking, just in case. In case of what, I'm not quite sure, but given the challenging conditions of the Richardson Highway, a flat tire or breakdown is always a possibility.
After making our way once again over Thompson Pass, we turned right on the Edgerton Highway (Alaska Highway 10). From the turn off, it's about 33 miles to Chitina. The road is like butter for the first 19 miles, smooth and a pleasure to drive. Not only that, but the Wrangell Mountain range with multiple snow-covered peaks stretched out in front of us as far as we could see. We were in awe.
Then, as soon as we crossed the Tonsina River bridge, the smoothness ended and the road once again demanded my full attention. At one point there was a short but fairly serious climb with an off-kilter hump of asphalt right at the top. We felt like Lucy and Desi crawling up Whitney Portal Road in the Long, Long Trailer, then thought for sure we were going to tip over when we crossed that hump. The words that came from our mouths were mainly of the four-letter variety . . . but we made it, unscathed. :)
We pulled into a big gravel lot next to the Wrangell View RV Campground to check it out. It looked closed. In fact, it looked like it had been abandoned. The words "Life After People" came to mind. There seems to be about 11 spaces, maybe a few more for tents, but it's difficult to tell for sure because it's so overgrown with weeds. And yet, at each site, there are full hook-ups with recently installed 50 amp power! We'll take it! $30 per night paid by check to the Iron Ranger and we were settled in for two nights.
We thought we'd have the place to ourselves until three Mini Winnie rental units rolled in. Two of them backed-in, the third went in nose-first. On the back of the RV, scribbled in the dirt, it said, "Six old friends, Alaska at last", or something to that effect. Just as they got settled, they all piled into one rig and took off! None had a tow car, so we figured they were just driving around, checking the place out. We closed our curtains and settled in for a couple of episodes of Boardwalk Empire while simulaneously doing three loads of laundry. Oh, how I appreciate full hook-ups!
The reason we came to Chitina is because it's as close as we can get Scoopy to McCarthy, which sits 60 miles down a mostly dirt and gravel road. The speed limit on the McCarthy Road is 35 mph and I'm not sure we managed that very often. It took us just over two and a half hours to drive each way. We had little traffic on the way to McCarthy, other than three moose, but on the way back, there was so much dust flying from all the vehicles that we could hardly see in front of us.
Once we neared McCarthy we parked in a lot by the footbridge and walked into town which is just over half a mile away. Unless you happen to possess a vehicle permit, which allows access on a different route, the footbridge is the only way to get to town. Originally a mining town built along with the establishment of the Kennecott Mine, it's now a neat little community which springs to life each summer season to open businesses that sustain tourists who make the journey. Kennicott, five miles further down the road, is reached only by shuttle van, biking or walking. (BTW, I know that I am spelling names differently: the river, glacier and town is spelled Kennicott, and the mine is spelled Kennecott. It was originally a misspelling accident and now so much a part of the history it cannot be corrected.) Anyway, it is all pretty darn remote.
The Kennecott Copper Mine sits 14-stories high on a hillside and sprawled out in front of it is the Kennicott Glacier. Now you might think that is an awesome sight, and it is, but the Kennicott glacier basically looks like the biggest construction zone ever. The glacier itself is 27 miles long, but the portion at the mine is covered in surface moraine several feet deep from erosion of the surrounding valley. It's massive and ugly and kind of awesome all at the same time. If you stand quietly and listen, you can hear it. It crackles like a shotgun.
If you want to see the snowy-blue ice, you have to hike a couple of hours to get to the Root Glacier, which feeds into the Kennicott. You can even rent crampons and walk on the ice if you're so inclined. Steven and I hiked to Jumbo Creek, just short of the glacier, but did not make it to the glacier itself. We tried to make arrangements for this adventure, but no one answered our calls or email, so we just hadn't prepared well enough to tackle it on our own or join a group at the last minute. As it turns out, we spent over 12 hours driving, hiking and exploring, and really enjoyed our trip to McCarthy and Kennicott.
The tiny town of Chitina is basically a stopover for folks heading to McCarthy, but just beyond town flows the Copper River, famous for its salmon. The lore of Copper River Kings is part marketing, part truth. Once salmon leave the ocean they stop feeding, having packed on enough fat to sustain them as they travel upstream to spawn. When caught early in their long journey, as they are on the Copper River, there is more fat on them and that translates into extra deliciousness. A couple of weeks ago when the first batch of Copper River salmon were shipped aboard an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle, it made the news with a photo of the captain holding up a big King salmon. All I could think was, ew, now he stinks like fish. I would not want to be his co-pilot.
I frankly don't know how those salmon swim in the Copper River, it is so filled with glacial silt, it looks like a river of mud. We came up on a group of folks filleting their first batch of salmon of the season. They all have a part in a privately-owned fish wheel, which is a kind of paddle wheel contraption that sits just offshore and scoops up fish. I honestly don't know much about it all, and I can't even Google it to learn more because there is no Wi-Fi at our campground.
Since the Mini Winnies left after one night, we have been here all alone. We did end up chatting with the "six old friends" as we were all on the same shuttle van to and from Kennicott. Turns out they all picked up their RVs at the Winnebago factory and had 18 days to deliver them to Anchorage. Two of the Mini Winnies were 28 feet, the third was 31 feet. That one was their party bus. The three fellows attended flight school together and they have been friends since the 70s. Instead of driving their Mini Winnie Party Bus over the McCarthy Road, they all flew to McCarthy and back to Chitina, with a little glacier flyover thrown in. I wish they had stayed another night, as they were a fun group to hang out with, but they loaded up and headed to Glennallen.
As I type this we have, for the second time, just extended our stay at the Life After People campground. Chitina, why can't we quit you??