Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Are We In Switzerland? Nope! - Wednesday, August 3, 2022

After yesterday's rain and stormy skies, it was a surprise to wake up to a beautiful blue sky. For our flight around massive mountains, this is a good omen!

At the airport, we were loaded into small planes for our flight. Bob and I did not get to go on the same plane because of seat assignments. You see, in these small planes, it is necessary to balance the load. Not only did we have people, but we also had our backpacks, and mail to be delivered to our destination.

This is where we met.
Getting ready to fly.

The planes were loaded, and our pilots jockeyed for take-off position. Our pilot went last because he thought the other planes would be faster than ours. He was right. We were in a Cessna 260 circa 1970. Soon we were airborne and enjoying the gorgeous views of the mountain ranges and glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska. [Note: I was pleased to learn our pilot has done aerobatics. To me, that means he really knows how to fly a plane!]

Mt. Drum.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is equal to six Yellowstones! This national park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in combination with Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, along with Canada's Kluane National Park & Preserve, and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. Four major mountain ranges meet in the park, which includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States! Together these four parks make up the world's largest international protected wilderness. 

While flying over this amazing landscape, we saw major mountain peaks, and layers of mountain ranges in the distance. The four major peaks we flew by this morning are Mt. Sandford (16,237'), Mt. Drum (12,010'), Mt. Wrangell (14,163'), and Mt. Blackburn (16,390').

Mt. Sandford on the left, Mt. Drum is
front and center.

Mt. Sandford

Mt. Wrangell (it looks like a fluffy 

Mt. Blackburn.

In addition to mountains, we flew over a mud volcano, rivers, and glaciers. These landscapes are volcanic in origin, but only Mt. Wrangell remains active with vents of steam near its summit. It last erupted in 1900.

The Copper River, the largest river in
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Mud volcano.

Numerous mountain peaks.

The stars of these national parks, in addition to the mountains, are the glaciers! This land feels so grand and so wild. The glaciers are an essential ingredient here. Different types of glaciers can be found in Alaska:

  • The Nabesna Glacier (approximately 53 miles) is the longest valley glacier in North America, and the world's longest interior valley glacier.
  • The Malaspina Glacier, larger than the state of Rhode Island, is the largest non-polar piedmont* glacier in North America. (*If a valley glacier spills out of the valley, onto the flat foreland, the ice often spreads to form a lobe. That is called a piedmont glacier.) It covers an area larger than Rhode Island or seven cities of Los Angeles.
  • The Hubbard Glacier is one of the largest and most active tidewater* glaciers in North America. (*Tidewater glaciers are glaciers that terminate in the sea where they discharge icebergs into salt water in a process known as calving.)
Kuskulana Glacier off Mt. Blackburn.

Mt. Blackburn and green
volcanic slopes.

Kennicott Glacier rises off of Mt.

Mt. Blackburn and the 
Kennicott Glacier.

Mt. Blackburn and the 
Kennicott Glacier.

We truly enjoyed flying into McCarthy, Alaska. The views from the air are outstanding. As we headed to the McCarthy Airport, we flew over the Kennecott Mine. 
The Kennecott Mine.

The shadow of the Cessna 260 as
we flew over the forest.

Upon landing in McCarthy, our caravan excursion broke up into groups for different tours like river rafting, ice climbing on a glacier, and a hike to a glacier. We decided to toodle around McCarthy and Kennecott on our own.

Our information was that the airport was between McCarthy and Kennecott with 1/2-mile walk in either direction from the airport to visit each place. That information was wrong. The airport was near McCarthy and we got a shuttle ride from the airport with the pilots who were headed to lunch. 

We walked around McCarthy with our friends Matt and Margret. There is not a lot to see there. When we told the pilots we wanted to walk to the Kennecott Mine, they said it was a five-mile walk each way! We hadn't expected that. So, the new plan was to take a free shuttle to the mine and do the one-hour mine tour. 

McCarthy doesn't have a whole lot there: a few restaurants, a grocery store, and a museum. The grocery store has exceptionally good ice cream. I had a two-scoop cone with Black Cherry and Moose Tracks. We finished our walk of the town, looked at the river, ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the picnic tables outside the store, and caught the 12:30 pm shuttle to the Kennecott Mine National Historic Landmark (NHL). 

Part of our caravan group at the airport
in McCarthy, Alaska. Look at those 

Cute road sign in town.

An interesting gate/fence.

Mountain Arts Bakery.

Salmon and Bear Restaurant.

These lovely classic cars are
sitting around town.

It would be fun to go to the "Truth
Be Told" storytelling competition. 

Look at this classic beauty.

The hood ornament on the car above.

McCarthy was so busy today that they had to call a second shuttle to take all the visitors to the mine. The mine tour was scheduled for 1:30 pm. Since we thought the tour was one hour, we planned on taking the 3 pm shuttle back to the airport for our 3:30 pm flight back to Glennallen, Alaska. 

We arrived at Kennecott Mine NHL at 12:50 pm. Our first stop, after reading a few introductory signs, was the National Park Visitor Center. 

The Copper Town Shuttle logo. [Note:
This is the free shuttle. There is also a 
$5 shuttle.]

At the Visitor Center, much to our surprise, we found out that the mine tours are TWO hours. That would make us miss our flight back. So, no mine tour today.

Instead, the Visitor Center gave us a map on which the ranger highlighted the three mine buildings that are open to the public as museums: the general store, the machine shop, and the general manager's office. We could explore those without paying for a tour. 

There was also a waterfall we could hike to! Yippee!

First, we listened to a 20-minute ranger talk about whether the jobs at the mines were "Heaven or Hell." She had different visitors read from real people's accounts of how they liked or didn't like their jobs at two different mines. It was okay and gave us a glimpse into the demands and stresses of the jobs in remote Kennecott mines.

The ranger talk.

Matt, Margret, Bob, and I then headed to the Kennecott Mine area to snoop around. The buildings are a striking red color.

Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

Bob wanted a photo of me with 
matching delphinium/larkspur.

West Bunkhouse in foreground.
General store in background.

These signs are posted
throughout the site.

Kennecott Mine Concentration Mill.

Bob is in front of the railroad
history building.

Kennecott Mine Railway Office.

You can see the rails in the 

We continued over the bridge toward the machine shop. The bottom of the waterfall is visible here along with the ruins of the staff quarters, east bunkhouse, and the hospital.

The ruins of the ammonia
leaching plant.

The photo below is deceptive. It looks like a lot of hills of gravel, silt, or sand. In reality, the dirt and gravel is on top of the glacier, which is still very much alive under the mass of detritus. 

The Kennicott Glacier used to be at
the same level as the mine. 

The 12-story 
concentration mill. 

The concentration mill building.

A different type of warning than the 
chemical warning you saw earlier.

We are headed to the machine shop. A lot of history markers in the machine shop tell the story of the Kennecott Mine.

Flotation plant.

The ore slide.

The machinery shop had the most information of any building on site. As we were exiting the machine shop, a number of people from our caravan were entering. They were all atwitter about a grizzly bear sighting in town. Matt thought they were pulling our leg. 

We headed toward the General Manager's Office, our last building to tour. The General Manager's Office also had quite a few exhibits on the planning and running of the mine. The drafting office was there, along with the accounting functions. 

Another shot of the impressive
concentration mill building.

Looking toward the power plant (with the 

Captain Obvious.

As we were looking at the exhibits in the General Manager's Office, people started excitedly saying there was a bear outside. We all hurried out to see. 

Sure enough, an adolescent-sized bear was walking across the bridge!! We were partway up a hill along with a mine tour group of about 10 people.

The bear in question.

The bear got spooked by all the people. It was on the bridge looking for a way off. At first, it looked like it was going to jump off the bridge, but thought better of it. Then it came off of the bridge in our direction. Here's a video...I started the video right after the bear was looking to jump off the opposite side of the bridge.

It was quite exciting to be so close, but also a bit concerning if the bear took offense with all of us humans. Whew! 

We finished checking out the General Manager's Office and then headed up the hill for our hike to the waterfall on National Creek. Our senses were on high alert and we talked and made noise to let the bears know we were there. We did not want to surprise any. 

A short way up the hilll, we turned right to the bridge over the creek and found the waterfall. 

More mining equipment on the hill.

Matt and Margret on the way up
to the waterfall.

National Creek

Bob and Matt on the 
bridge overlooking the falls.

Margret, Bob, and Matt.

Matt and Margret decided to return down the way they came. Bob and I continued around the loop trail. We found a geological marker.

Private homes above the lodge.

Gorgeous columbine.

Yarrow, maybe?

Our pilot took our photo at the 
McCarthy airport before we split up
for the flight back.

We had 360-degree views of mountain
ranges upon mountain ranges in the distance.

Spectacular views on our flight.

Our morning views disappeared by this afternoon. The mountains make their own weather and rain was in their forecast. Our flight back to the airport was bumpy!

It was rather cozy inside the six-seat
Cessna 260. Matt and I were in back.

A beautiful rainbow on the right
side of the plane.

There's the airport and down we go.

These Apache helicopters had
stopped by the airport. Wow!

An Apache flying away.

The restaurant at the RV park was serving elk, bison, or beef burgers tonight, along with pizza and chili. Bob and I got beef burgers. Some of our fellow campers opted for pizza, chili, and bison or elk burgers. Dinner was very good.

Tom, Joan, and Joe. 

A great sign on the wall of the lodge.

Kathy, Rocky, Bev, Russ, and Joe.

The lodge has a big rock fireplace.

Our campground for three nights.

A cache and a moose.

Ranch House Lodge RV Resort is
spread out over a few acres. A number
of sites overlook the creek.

We circled the wagons in
some of our sites.

It has taken me two nights to write this blog. Our internet here is awful. Photos took forever to load last night. It was a little better tonight.

Tomorrow, we are headed for Cooper Landing, Alaska. It's definitely not Switzerland, but there are definitely more big mountains here! It's simply incredible.

Good night, all. Have a great weekend. We will for sure.

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