Places to Visit Before Heading South
Returning from our sojourn in Homer we passed through Anchorage on our way to Wasilla, where we stayed at Bob and Sharon's home. Omar had met them during his travels and got an invite to stay with them when we returned from our tour of the Kenai Peninsula. Bob and Sharon live in forested area near Wasilla with their two dogs and lots of memorabilia. As we turned into their driveway, they were there to warmly welcome us. From the very first moment we arrived, they made us feel like we were family. I guess in a sense we really were family because of our shared love of motorcycles and exploring. You see, they have a BMW motorcycle like mine with an exceptionally well designed and built sidecar. Needless to say, we had lots of motorcycle adventures to share with each other.
Later that evening Tommy arrived, another motorcyclist from Italy, who was also staying at Bob and Sharon’s. Tommy pulled in from a day ride around the area, over nearby mountain passes and through small villages. The next morning Tommy headed north to Fairbanks where, if the weather held, he hoped to make a run to Prudhoe Bay.
That day we also went on a ride Bob and Sharon highly recommended to Hatcher Pass and then on to Talkeetna. They were right it was a terrific ride, made even more enjoyable because they joined us for the first half to an old gold mine just below the pass. Bob worked there before his retirement and had many stories to tell about the mine, the men who labored there, and the work he did as the lead electrician supporting the mining operations.
Over dinner that night Bob and Sharon shared details of their many adventures riding motorcycles, camping and mountain climbing around Alaska. They have lived such a full life, that I can only hope to do just a few of the things they have already done. They are living the dream.
Next, we headed east and then south to the coastal fishing village of Valdez, Alaska. To say the ride to Valdez was spectacular would be an understatement. However, I have used up all the superlatives I know and am having to reuse them again and again. Along the way we passed big beautiful mountains, wild rivers, and snowy white glaciers. At Bob’s recommendation, we also stopped at the Long Rifle Lodge for breakfast where we were treated to a view of a glacial valley surrounded by tall mountains.
Our destination, Valdez, was just what everyone had described. A small fishing village situated at the back of a channel leading to the ocean. In addition to fishing, Valdez is also known for being the termination point of Alaskan Pipeline. Across the bay from Valdez are the storage tanks where the crude oil is temporarily stored waiting for the next thirsty tanker to arrive. Although the storage complex is large, the bay and surrounding mountains dwarf it. As a result, I hardly noticed the complex was even there.
Our last significant destination in Alaska was the town of McCarthy and the nearby Kennecott Copper Mill. To get there we had to pass through Chitina. Someone had advised us that the residents of Chitina can be a bit strange. If they don't like you, they might just burn your house down when you go away for the weekend. Nevertheless, we mustered our courage and had breakfast at the Chitina Hotel. Although they may be odd, the hotel staff served up a mighty fine breakfast.
After breakfast, we made a left hand turn down the sketchy 60-mile road to McCarthy. The first 17 miles were on pavement that was in desperate need of repair, and the remainder was a washboard dirt surface. After almost two hours of riding we were glad to arrive at our destination, the foot bridge across the river leading to McCarthy.
Before we got across the foot bridge and headed to McCarthy, we needed to find a place to camp. We rode through what appeared to be a campground and found an acceptable spot to setup our tents. That is when we met Jim, the campground manager. Jim told us that at this campground there are no rules. Camp anywhere, he said. But then warned us not to create any new fire rings. Since we weren’t sure if he was packing heat, we obeyed his menacing warning. I am sure Omar will have a lot more to say about Jim, as he was quite a character.
In my opinion, McCarthy is nothing you would ride down a crappy 60-mile road to see. However, the old Kennecott Mine and the enormous glacier beyond it were definitely worth the effort.
As our tour guide told us the mine was abruptly abandoned many years ago when the managers told the workers they had just a few hours to gather their belongings and get on the last train leaving Kennecott. The result of this rapid depopulation was that Kennecott was left more or less intact. Today, the mines and milling operations are cared for by the National Park Service who maintain the facilities so that future generations will be able to see what it was like to live and work in such harsh conditions so many years ago.
Two miles beyond the milling operations is the Kennecott Glacier. It is an enormous sheet flowing down from a massive ice field this lies above the valley. When I first observed the glacier from a distance, I didn’t realize that the rubble mounds at the base of the ice flow were actually part of the glacier itself. According to our tour guide what appeared to be rubble mounds was just debris covering hundreds of feet of glacial ice below.
After McCarthy we rode back down the dirt road, had another breakfast at Chitina Hotel, camped at Tok and finally rode into Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory the following day.
While in Whitehorse, I contacted Linda who I had met during my stay in Eagle Plain when I was riding the Dempster Highway. Linda had offered to give me a tour of the Territorial Assembly Chambers when I passed through Whitehorse again. During the tour, Linda shared some interesting facts about the Yukon Territory and its government. The government is modeled off the British parliamentary system. Although smaller, the assembly chambers are also similar to those of the British parliament. When in session Linda and her colleagues sit at the table in the center of the chambers, and make sure that parliamentary rules are rigorously followed when debating and voting on bills.
The main industry in the Yukon is mining, but tax revenues from that sector only pays for a small portion of the territorial budget. Instead most of their funds come from the federal government to maintain parks and roads, and oversee the territorial natural resources. Without federal assistance, the 37,000 residences of the Yukon simply couldn’t afford the facilities and infrastructure they have.
Thank you, Linda, for the excellent tour and the wealth of information you shared with us. It was great fun.
After Whitehorse, we had one more destination to visit in the north country before turning south. Our last stop was the Liard Hot Springs, which are about 120 miles east of Watson Lake. Omar stopped there on his way up the Alaskan Highway, and strongly recommended we take a detour there before we start our long ride home. As soon as we arrived I realized that the campgrounds and the facilities at the hot springs were exceptional. And I could not imagine a more beautiful setting than the wooded area that surrounded the steaming pools. Hopefully the pictures I included give you an idea what the hot springs are like.
After two days slowly simmering in the hot mineral waters, I was so relaxed that I honestly contemplated spending the remainder of my days soaking. But alas, Omar suggested we pack up and start the long ride home. The picture below was taken at the junction where Omar headed to Prince George and home, and I rode to Stewart.