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Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Alaska

Thursday, July 12, 2007

rain 0 °F

Another morning with raindrops hitting the roof of the trailer, but it’s a brief shower. We get an early start since we have a long drive through Wrangell St Elias NP.

We first stop at Chitina to read their roadside signs and take a few pics. Chitina is a small, picturesque town that reminds me of how Chicken, Alaska looked years ago (before the tour buses). Downtown Chitina has a few old, wooden buildings, including two saloons. It’s at the end of the Edgartown Highway, a 2-lane road off of the Richardson Highway. I’m guessing that as the national park becomes more developed, Chitina will also become more touristy and developed, but today it’s classic small-town Alaska.
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There are only two roads in Wrangell-St Elias NP. We are taking the McCarthy Road, which is the larger of the two roads. McCarthy Road starts at Chitina and ends near McCarthy. It’s 60 miles of dirt and gravel. The road crosses the Chitina River and we get a nice view of Mt. Wrangell.
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The first ten miles are horrible – pot holes and very washboardy, but then it gets better. McCarthy Road is an old railroad – they didn’t bother to remove the rails or trestles when they made the road. They simply covered it with dirt and gravel. We come to a long, one-lane bridge which was built for the railroad. The canyon it traverses is really deep and the bridge doesn’t look that sturdy, plus they are working on it – but it’s the only way to get to Kennicott, so off we go.
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It rains off and on during our drive, but stops when we reach the park’s small visitors’ center. The last 5 miles to get to Kennicott Historical Park is not accessible by car, since there is no bridge big enough for cars. So we need to switch from our truck to our bikes. We could have walked across the pedestrian bridge and then paid for a shuttle to get us there, but it's only 5 miles to Kennicott (and the shuttle is $10/person) so we decide to bike it.

We bike about a half mile to get to the town of McCarthy, where we have lunch. The place is a converted lunch truck with quirky décor. We are twice the age of anyone else there, but we enjoy the ambiance and enjoy our lunch.
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Kennicott is only a 4.5 mile bikeride from McCarthy; however, it is entirely uphill! When we finally arrive at Kennicott, it begins to rain. We go into a few buildings that are open til the rain stops and then take a ranger-led tour of the town. Kennicott was a large copper mining town in the early 1900s and is the home of the largest wooden building in North America (14-stories tall). The National Park Service acquired the town in the late 1990s.
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After our tour we take off for a 1.5 mile hike to the Root Glacier. It rains off and on, but we ignore the rain and take a walk on the edge of the glacier.
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The glacier is slippery and we have sneakers on, so we don’t go very far on the glacier.
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Then 1.5 mile hike back to Kennicott
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and a 5 mile bike ride back to the car, BUT I coast downhill for the first 4.5 miles. I can’t believe I actually biked up this hill:-)

We drive back the bumpy McCarthy Road, seeing no wildlife except for rabbits and squirrels. We have a few occasional sprinkles and then see a rainbow when we get back to Chitina near our campground.
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Posted by jengelman 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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