Another post from the Alaskan Traveloque Series. If you are just joining or want to re-read any of the posts, here are the links. And now for our feature presentation. . .
(Old rotting bridge aWillow Creek. Another beautiful day).
We slept decent after Andrew woke up for a bit to get us situated for the night. This morning we got up and pretty much duplicated our breakfast from yesterday morning, except we had scrambled eggs instead of fried.
I took some pictures of a cool old bridge that was getting fairly rotten and Andrew used his metal detector for a short time. Good thing it was only a short few minutes and he didn’t see anything because as we pulled away from willow creek, I ran to the middle of the main bridge to take a picture of the old rotten bridge and noticed a sign on the bridge that said, “Claim, NO MINING” and provided the claim number. Yikes.
Good thing we were done with that, although I don’t exactly know who was supposed to be able to read that sign since you can’t walk out on that bridge and from my vantage point on the other bridge, I had to use quite a zoom on the camera to be able to read it.
Andrew took a shower and so did I. After yesterday, I decided that while makeup might just be for me, I was going to use it today. Just for me. It just makes a girl feel better. So I did. I also found a hairstyle that worked without a straightner or blow dryer that did not consist of a ponytail with bangs pushed back by sunglasses. That was SO yesterday.
Andrew read a chapter from Timothy about the love of money and earthly possessions. Makes a girl think. The people out here in the middle of nowhere might be a lot closer to taking hold of those verses than I am in West Michigan. It is the exception, not the rule, from what I have observed here to have a perfectly manicured yard and landscape. The real estate is not often high class, and people smile all the time. I’m guessing the year-round residents save their energy for surviving the winter, and their money for vehicles that will get them through snow, or at least enough money to survive the winter months where apparently some of them “bundle up, grab the remote, and don’t move”.
As Danelle said, “this is God’s country”. Man is she right. I realize we are here in August, and from what I understand some of the best days of the entire summer are occurring while we are here, so I probably have a tainted view. But it is beautiful, simple, peaceful, rugged, and HUGE. While gazing at the never ending mountains, Andrew and I wondered how many times the square miles of Alaska would multiply if the mountains were squashed down flat. More math than my mind can handle at this point. I am NOT a geologist. Or whatever kind of “ologist” figures that stuff out. Topographologist? Is that a person? Microsoft word doesn’t seem to think so.
After everything was cleaned up, we headed away from Willow Creek towards Independence Mine. The first few miles we traveled along slowly looking around for wildlife, enjoying the peaceful rushing Willow Creek, and I stared incredulously at the people who were camping along Willow Creek. Not camping like we were in a fancy camper. They were tenting. Crazy! Don’t they know about bears? I am going to have to realize not everyone has an irrational fear of bears like I do.
Besides. I haven’t even seen one yet. If there are THAT many bears, you’d think I would have seen at least one by now! To quote Danelle, “You know, you just deal with it. More people die from bee stings each year than from bears. And you don’t say to those people, oh my goodness! You went out to your GARDEN without your EPI pen? You mean you didn’t take your phone to call 911?” She has a real zest for life, that I think is contagious. I wasn’t around her long enough to see if her casual approach to living with bears would rub off, but I’m guessing in time it would. S
he was running, or hiking, not long ago and came across a bear. She just raised up her arms and said, “Hi bear” and the thing turned tail and left. David informed me that 85% of the time you get charged by a bear it is a false charge. “Yea”, I said, “That is exactly what I will be thinking when a bear charges at me. This is probably false. “ Uh huh.
(Beaver house underwater)
We observed some neat beaver dams and houses in our first few miles and also places where the dams had a terraced effect on the pond. They were really neat. The water is very clear here. It was easy to see a beaver house in the water. I was even able to take a good picture looking through the water. We traveled on a few more miles and the landscape changed. The views were breathtaking. I should add that it is also another very nice, fairly clear day.
I learned that breathtaking has at least two meanings. One, the view was breathtaking in a good way. Looking around at the vastness, which is the only word that comes to mind to describe the expanse of mountains. Green in the forefront and white behind, we could see for many, many miles. The winding Hatcher Pass road, blazing through almost nothing. There is nothing. Hardly any people, no animals (that we saw), certainly no houses, and a minimal amount of other traffic. The second kind of breathtaking is literally, breath-taking. Yikes.
As mentioned before, I don’t think I am terrified of heights, but we were climbing at some pretty steep grades along a road cut out of the side of a mountain without even a guard rail. I know yesterday I was thinking guard rails were probably useless, but at least they were something! We had nothing between us and a very, very steep drop off. It was very reassuring to look down one time and see a vehicle of some type that had obviously not had the proper respect for the road. It is hard to really explain the combination of natural, pure beauty, vastness, emptiness, and treachery.
(Summit lake. This picture does a horrible job of showing the color. Unreal.)
I’m sure a picture would help, but still, you had to be there. We stopped along the “summit” and took a few pictures. The elevation is about 3800’. There is a beautiful lake that isn’t very big, but an intriguing shade of teal and very clear around the edges. The water colors are different here. First of all, they all look freezing, and I think the sense of temperature carries over to the color.
So far we have seen crystal clear water, running through creeks so quickly they create “white-water”. (White water rafting did not get its name by accident, nor was the person who came up with that name a genius for calling it that.) We have seen water an interesting shade of gray. Still, very clear, but gray nonetheless. This is probably the color that looks the coldest. Last but not least, is the magnificent shade of teal that we witnessed at Summit Lake.
(Independence Mine-some ruins, some restoration)
We left the “summit” area, and continued on through winding steep roads, some downhill grades very steep. Enough to make the brakes start to burn. We were just about to pull over and let the brakes cool down a bit and we saw the Independence Mine. It was up a very steep grade, so we guessed we wouldn’t be using the brakes much to get there. Independence Mine is a fairly popular spot to go. It is in the process of restoration, and that has been ongoing for several years. You can take a tour through the mine, although I did inform Andrew I was not going on that.
(Andrew near the summit and lucky shot gold mine. Not in operation.)
Another of my irrational fears I guess. I’m not a fan of bears, going under the ground, swimming with sharks or crocodiles. Call me crazy. What if the thing caved in? Yikes. He asked if I would let him go, and I said I suppose…. As it turns out, we arrived at the mine before 11 and the tour wasn’t till one. While we did stay there for a while, we were gone before 1 so he didn’t take the tour.
This gold mine was one where they mined quartz that is laced with gold. We never did figure out how they got the gold out of the quartz once they mined it, but shortly after WWII the mine shut down for good because it was costing $45/oz to mine the stuff with operating costs and the gold was only worth $35/oz at that time. Only several decades later gold had skyrocketed to over $800/oz. There was a rugged path around the mine for hiking and we took it. It felt good to do something other than sit in the camper- driving and eat. J
We left Independence Mine and drove a bit, mostly downhill (at times in low gear to preserve our brakes), and eventually pulled off near a creek and ate some lunch and sat for a bit. On the other side of the road was reinforced chain link fence “protecting” us from falling rocks. We enjoyed the sound of the rushing creek for a while and then got on our way. We were hoping to get at least to Anchorage. Sometime around this point in our adventure, Andrew turns to me and asks, “do you want to go to the zoo?” Zoo, zoo, what on earth are you talking about? I asked him. “you know, so you can see a bear. You could probably take the picture just right and people would think it was in the wild.” Oh boy. I hope we see a bear so I don’t have to go to the zoo just to take a picture of one!
We ended up driving through Anchorage and stopping at Wal-Mart for a few things. There was still no coffee mug and Andrew wasn’t super impressed with his tea-bag coffee. I thought I was smart, and cheap, and decided we’d buy a red mug that nearly matched our kitchen and it was only 1.68, so who cares? Andrew says, “if you are going to buy a mug you could buy one that says Alaska on it.” Man, I never know whether to be cheap or not! So I put the red one back and found a really cool one with a three dimensional moose on it that says, “I moose have coffee”.
I had one serious thing I needed at Wal-Mart. I feel like a fool. A few weeks ago, in preparation for this trip, I took all the SD cards for our camera and emptied them onto our laptop. Wouldn’t you know, the card that was in the camera when we left was the 256MB card. Hardly adequate for high quality photos of a 9 day trip to Alaska. So I was emptying it onto the laptop, but what if something happened to the laptop? That scared me. Pictures are irreplaceable. They are pieces of frozen time. So I bought a thumb drive to save all the photos I’d taken so far, as well as the pictures I’d loaded onto the computer a few weeks previous. Whew. Much better now! I also bought a postcard for each one of our kids, and wrote on them. We found a place that would sell me a few stamps so we could send them out.
We drove as far as Girdwood. A little place 30 miles south of Anchorage heading towards Seward/Homer. We are pretty sure we met David as he was coming back from a fishing trip near Seward, and upon texting him, more or less confirmed that.
We stopped at a gas station where we had read in our book was a spot to dump and fill up with water. We were shocked to find out that both were free. I think we pay for almost everything in Michigan. There isn’t really sales tax here either, which is nice. If your purchases are $16, they are $16, not 16.96. Nice even numbers. There are some interesting and somewhat hefty city/government taxes on certain things, such as RV rentals. We discovered that when we first started checking into renting an RV.
After we filled up with water we decided to drive the 3 miles into Girdwood and eat at a restaurant called Chair 5. Girdwood is a ski resort town home to the Alyeska Resort. It is huge and expensive and has a tram ride that would probably make me shiver and ski slopes that look scary even when they are green.
Right after we left the gas station though I heard what I thought was a train whistle. I was right and we were on top of a bridge with a fully loaded coal train going under us. I snapped a few pictures for Drew (my son) of loaded coal cars and then got a couple of the engines in the rear.
I know we have trains in Michigan but I thought this one was cool. First of all, the Engines said ALASKA on them. Secondly, due to my brief research on Healy, I knew where exactly that coal had come from, and even what port it was headed to. That was cool.
We found Chair 5 restaurant and had a delicious dinner. I forced myself to branch out and eat something that isn’t easy to come by at restaurants we would frequent at home. Aka Wendys, Steak n Shake, or Quiznos. J I ordered Halibut Chowder, and it was delightful. I attempted to act like a chef and tried to dissect some of the flavors. There were potatoes (those were obvious) and straight green herbs, which my best guess would be dill, and bacon on top. After a few bites I realized it was fairly hot, and not just temperature. I’m pretty sure there were jalapeños in it as well.
I was excited because we were planning to do a halibut fishing charter and for $5 I was well on my way to figuring out a use for all the halibut I planned to catch. I have never actually fished in my life and I don’t even know if my husband knows that. I actually think it is a little gross, and I don’t look forward to watching the charter people-not sure what the technical term for them is-chop the heads off the fish I catch. That’s how they kill them, right? I mean, the hook in the mouth doesn’t do the job….I’m pretty sure of that because I have seen people walking off the pier with buckets of fish and they are still moving.
We left the restaurant and drove just a couple miles toward the Crow Creek Mine. This is one of the few mine areas that are recreational and for a small fee you can walk back in and look for gold. You can pan, metal detect, or sluice box. Sluice box. Probably one of the first words I ever asked Andrew how to spell. Usually it’s the other way around. But he was right, it passed through Microsoft word without so much as a red squiggle. (The word squiggle, did not.)
A sluice box is kind of a washboard idea with places to catch the gold flecks as the dirt is poured through and water rushes over it. Gold is apparently very heavy, so it very quickly falls to the bottom as the water is washing over it and it gets caught in the washboard part. That is my vast knowledge of a sluice box. Oh, yes, and when you are finished running your material through the sluice box, you are not done. You still have to pan what is in your sluice box. This process has more of an art to it than you realize.
We parked our camper in an unlevel area off the road right up from Crow Creek Mine Thursday evening. We tried another sleeping arrangement with Andrew on a mattress on the floor so he could stretch out better. I guess it was ok, except I was cold all by myself and we weren’t level, so Andrew was fighting all night to stay put. Maybe next time…..
Another full day. I just wish I could taste that Halibut chowder, and breathe in the cool Alaskan air. The tally says, 0 = bears, 0 = gold, 0 = comfortable ways for Tall Guy to sleep in a camper. But let’s get to bed early as we are going fishing tomorrow.