Boy, we chose an amazing journey to further explore Alaska! We were naive in what to expect, but overwhelmed by the majesty, beauty, and inexhaustible zest for exploration and hard work with which America was made great! And it made me realize what an amazing country we get to live in! WOW!
We saw majestic mountain peaks and incredibly large glaciers. We were able to just sit and look at the slow moving glacier, off the front porch of our little, dry, cabin. When we were quiet enough, we could hear the rocks and parts of the glacier breaking away and falling into the lake in front of us! It was so incredible. We were blessed that weekend with cooler temperatures, and even some overcast skies. But sitting on that front porch and watching a glacier, and all the land around it, took our breath away. It is hard to see in this photo, but that chunk of white centered in that sort of dip, is the 3rd largest ice fall in the world. The entire world. And it was outside our doorstep for 4 glorious days.
We were privileged to listen to the fast moving waters, flowing from the glacier. The waters look muddy, but that is glacier silt. The rich minerals feed the lands below and all the plants and creatures that call Alaska their home! What I thought was common knowledge, but what I came to realize was not really known, is that I am afraid of heights. I have always told my husband about it, but in our 36 years together, he got to see for the first time just how much it freaks me out. He had no idea I was truly frightened from being up high, and not feeling the solid support of the land under my feet, that I need to feel safe. The first time on this trip he got to see me panic was when we had to drive over a narrow wooden bridge that was 238 feet above a river. I about died when I saw it was wood. Wood! Creaky, old 1910 constructed, wood. And then I stupidly looked down. I was a mess for a few minutes afterwards. But I did not really have time to wallow in my fear, because after we crossed the bridge, we faced 60+ miles of dirt roads. I use the term, “road,” only because it was bigger than a path, but not much. It took us over 2 hours to go that distance. At times, the road fell away to canyons far below, on my side of the car. I gripped onto those “panic straps” like my life depended on it. The river above has to be crossed to get from where we were staying to the town of McCarthy. And from McCarthy, you can either hike the 5 miles uphill, or ride in a 15-passenger van, up to the Kennicott Mine. And this bridge, well, it is a footbridge and it is not solid. It is a wire mesh-like thing. Yes, it is solidly built, but it is see-through and very high over that river. And yes, I was holding on to save my life. My husband, God bless him, thought it would be funny to jump up and down on the bridge, as he walked behind me. Until he heard me panic, scream, and practically fall to my knees. Oh my word. I was scared to death. And that sort of made him realize that I am truly afraid of heights. At least he now knows for sure. LOL. A man, a pretty smart man, has a pet-sitting service on the beginning side of this footbridge. He’ll watch your dogs for $10 while you explore McCarthy and Kennicott. Why? Because so many dogs are scared to death of that bridge and refuse to cross. I almost wanted to stay with the dogs.
This is downtown McCarthy. Population, full time, of 33. There is no paving. There are very few cars, but there are lots and lots of dogs. I think they out-number the residents. They must be descended from the brave dogs who crossed that bridge, along with me! It is a laid back and casual town. I have never seen so many tattoos, ice axes, man-buns, and hiking shoes in my life. Backpacks far outnumber purses. I rarely saw anyone carrying a purse! LOL! Everyone is hiking up to the mine, or to the glacier itself. The park we were in is larger than Connecticut. Seriously huge. Lots of backpacking trails, glacier hikes, and generally incredible sites to see. (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve – check it out by clicking here). It is an incredible national park. I got a really uncomfortable neck ache and it took me a day or so to realize what from – I had to watch where I walked because it is so rocky and the paths very treacherous, that I developed a sore neck! Too funny. It also highlighted for me how out of shape and old I have become. I am definitely more of a couch potato and realized how out of my depth I was, hiking more than 5 miles in one day. Ouch! I ache in places I did not realize could ache. I learned that I have let myself really go. I hated being the old broad who could not keep up and needed that 15-passenger van to just get from the Potato (restaurant) in McCarthy to the walking bridge – a distance of about a mile – after a full day of walking and exploring. I was just done. My girlfriend was happily counting all her steps, but after 20,000+ I just groaned, because I was walking next to her most of the time. Seriously – I want to get back into shape, but not in one trip! LOL!
This is the Kennicott Mine with yours truly posing across from the main ore processing building. It was 14 stories tall on the side of a mountain and at one time, the tallest building in North America! I can assure you that we are a generation of wimps. This mine was discovered in 1901 and closed in 1938. In those 37 years, countless hundreds worked the mine. They put up with 30-foot snow drifts. They had -50-degree winters and sometimes suffered with the 90s in the summers. No running water. They generated their own electricity. I cannot imagine the life of a woman back then, trying to care for her family in one of the provided cabins. Or bunking with other families in the dorm-styled quarters. The laundry alone was daunting, let alone trying to provide meals for the entire family. So much work! There was a school for the children – many were born here and the hospital up at the mine was top-notch; they had the first x-ray machine in all of Alaska. They had a dairy, a bakery, a general store. They played baseball in the summers and hockey in the winters. They had a tennis court. All in the clothing and habits of the 20s and 30s. It was a very hard life. My husband and his friend went crazy over all the engineering feats they accomplished at Kennicott. It is an amazing place. Like I said, we are wimps! These people made millions of dollars worth of copper come out of the ground in one of the 5 or 6 underground mines, up through the rail and tunnel system, into this processing plant, and onto the ferries which hauled the ore for smelting, clear to Tacoma, Washington. It is an incredible story. And I was so proud of the many, many feats accomplished at Kennicott Mine. It stunned me, truly.
Every single item we saw at Kennicott had to be brought up there. There was nothing there, except for the initial hole in the mountain, when they started. Today, we have kids wining about their iPhones and faulty apps, and their free college tuition, and the rights they think are owed to them. I wish they could experience the life these Kennicott miners had. I wish they could know hard work and a job well done. Of working 24/7 against Mother Nature and the very low odds of success. They want everything handed to them. They want reparations for things none of us perpetuated. They think they are owed something. Well, they are riding on the backs of people who worked harder than they could ever imagine, just to have the freedom to complain. And I stand in awe of these people. And I am so proud of the American ingenuity and brains it took to accomplish what they did in just 37 short years, and the legacy they have given to us all. I wish our American youth could know these sorts of historical facts. Where they could see the photos of these men and women, and their children, as they lived in astounding conditions doing heroic work to line the pockets of people like the Havemeyers, JP Morgan, and the Guggenheim families, the titans of industry who helped shape American industry and its accomplishments. When the copper ran out, the mine was abandoned (in a matter of hours). And they left behind a wonderful time capsule of life at Kennicott.
When I see what was possible, using far less than what we have now, I am stunned and humbled by the people who worked Kennicott and McCarthy. It was, and still is, a rough life. I doubt many of those protesting in our city streets could have handled a work day at this mine. From 1911 – 1938, over $200 million dollars worth of copper was extracted by approximately 200-300 miners, and 300 who worked in the town below, McCarthy. McCarthy, in its heyday, had 100s of residents, and even boasted of having 12 whorehouses! It was quite the town, and the hub for moving all this copper.
The sunrise at our cabin on the last day we were there, was exceptional. The glacier was glowing with blue and white, and the skies had some left-over clouds from a brief drizzle the night before. We had fun watching the white-water rafting crew set off on a night run before we climbed into bed, exhausted and ready to go home. And we had only stayed there 3 nights and 4 days, in July. The town is closed in the winter, because the roads are not even plowed! So I cannot imagine life in the wintertime. Only the 33 hardiest McCarthy residents brave that! I came away from our journey of just 4 days wonderfully excited and proud of the past Alaska has played in American industry and history, and blissfully grateful for my own bed, running water, and carpeting. Like I said, I am a wimp! But I also came home realizing I have let myself down. I have become lazy and content with the status quo. It is not good for my health, my psyche, and my family. I need to be a better me. I did not like my role of the “old broad who could not keep up.” I am a grandmother to 6 wonderful grandchildren (so far) and I want to enjoy them. So I am endeavoring to take up outdoor walking. And eventually hiking. I loved being out there, holding hands with my hubby, as we explored a slice of American history and ingenuity. And we want to continue to explore this amazing land we call home. Alaska is an incredible place to live, and holds so many secrets I am excited to discover. Me and the hubby have lots of plans to do just that! God Bless Alaska, and God Bless America!!