Tag Archives: driving

Alaska Time

A landslide across Lowell Point Road, outside Seward, Alaska

A landslide blocked Lowell Point Road in Seward over the weekend. Workers began to cautiously clear the road on Monday. Lowell Point is outside Seward, and the narrow gravel road follows the shoreline of Resurrection Bay out to the point, where there are several campgrounds, lodges, resorts and B&B’s. It’s a pretty area, dominated by the beauty of Resurrection Bay. As of Tuesday, there were at least 40 cars trapped on the “wrong” side of the landslide. No word on how many travelers, who were trying to get out to Lowell Point, and now can not get to their destination.

The landslide view from the air

This post is less about the landslide, and more about giving yourself extra time when visiting Alaska, and accepting the unexpected.

This is Alaska, after all.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints online about the slide from tourists, and I know several housing accommodations have taken some flack for the road closure. No matter where you are in Alaska, and this includes Los Anchorage, you are never very far from wilderness. That is the main draw of the place.

Our infrastructure is minimal when compared with the Lower 48. Many communities have one way in and one way out. In my time in Alaska, I’ve probably seen it all: Roads closed from landslides, wash outs, beaver dams, ornery moose and/or grizzly, avalanche and wildfires. Flights delayed or rushed because of blizzards, volcanic eruptions, and pilot strikes. Sometimes, all you can do is take a deep breath, open a cold refreshment, and chill out for a day… or two…

We all have deadlines, but sometimes we find ourselves dealing with forces that have no interest in flight departures. So, if you visit Alaska, by all means, get out and explore the state, but leave the time planner at home. Enjoy both the view and the ride.


Denali Road Droop

Denali Park Road at Pretty Rocks; August 2021

The above picture is of the Denali Park Road at the Pretty Rocks formation last August. That was the last time any gravel had been dumped in this section of road that is dropping due to melting ice under the roadbed.

Denali Park Road at Pretty Rocks; Spring 2022

This spring, maintenance crews discovered that the road had dropped as much as 40 feet at the troublesome section near Pretty Rocks. It had already been decided that the park road would be closed for the 2022 season due to the roadbed situation, but the drop was more impressive than forecast.

A new bridge will be installed over the section with the melting ice formation, and will be secured into solid rock on either side of the great melt. I expect that the road into the heart of Denali Park to remain closed through the 2023 season.

Pictures credit: Denali National Park & Preserve


Hockey in Beantown

What is a group of Puckheads to do while visiting the city of Boston for the D-1 Hockey National Championship? Prior to the games on Thursday, we visited the rinks for all the teams that play in the annual Beanpot Tournament.

Boston University:

Agganis Arena; Boston University Campus

First stop was Agganis Arena on Commonwealth Avenue. The home of the Boston University Terriers. The rink seats 7200, with plush theater seats. I hate to get in the middle of Boston rivalries, but it was arguably the nicest arena we visited. It was also the newest, having been built in 2005.

Hobey, Hardware and Beanpot

I believe it was an assistant coach who gave us directions to get into the rink, after we tracked him down. Nice guy.


Boston College:

Conte Forum; Boston College Campus

A quick trip down Commonwealth brought us to Conte Forum on the campus of Boston College. The home of the BC Eagles. The Forum seats 8606, and opened in 1988.

Just a few of the banners at Conte Forum

Quite a bit larger than the BU rink, as well as older. Major construction was going on around the complex, but we had no trouble finding an open door. A pick up basketball game was taking place on the floor, and someone was even popping popcorn in the concourse.

Showing off the Hardware

One thing we all agreed on was that BC has a beautiful campus.

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Harvard University:

Bright-Landry Hockey Center; Harvard University Campus

Harvard University was our next stop, but the doors were locked to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center at Harvard Stadium. Luckily, a student with a key card approved of our Quest, and opened a door for us. Harvard had the only rink with the ice still in.

The home of the Crimson

The Hockey Center seats 3095 for hockey and opened in 1956.

We did not tour the campus, but did poke around Harvard Stadium a bit, where the football team plays. The Stadium is an early example of building with reenforced concrete. Harvard Stadium opened in November of 1903.

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Northeastern University:

Matthews Arena, Northeastern University Campus

Our final stop on the Quest was Northeastern University and Matthews Arena. We saved the oldest for last. Matthews Arena, which opened in April 1910, is the oldest ice arena still used for hockey, and the oldest multi-use athletic building still in use in the world. Sadly, this is all we saw of it. There was no sympathetic coach or approving student to allow us past the locked doors. In theory, the arena seats 6000 for hockey. We all agreed that the arena does have a nice arch.


Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark

National Parks Week: Day Five

Kennecott

Within Wrangell-St Elias National Park is the old mill town of Kennecott. In 1900, two prospectors, “Tarantula” Jack Smith and Clarence Warner, spotted a green patch in the hills, but thought it was an odd location for a meadow. It turned out to be malachite mixed with chalcocite (copper glance). It was the beginning of the Bonanza Claim.

Kennecott Mine in its heyday

A group called the Alaska Syndicate, which included Daniel Guggenhiem and J.P. Morgan, was formed. Kennecott had five mines: Bonanza, Jumbo, Mother Lode, Erie, and Glacier. Between 1909 and 1938 over 4.6 million tons of ore was processed, which produced 1.183 billion pounds of copper.

Gilahina Trestle Bridge, CR&NW RR; Camera: Rolleiflex

To haul the ore out of the remote location of Kennecott, operations needed a railroad. Michael Heney received the right of way up to the Copper River, and started to build the Copper Line in 1906. Meanwhile, Myron Rogers received a four year contract from Guggenheim to build the Northwestern Line, which he started in 1907. That same year, Heney sold the Copper Line to the Alaska Syndicate.

The Million Dollar Bridge

The Miles Glacier Bridge, more commonly known as the Million Dollar Bridge, was one of many obstacles that the Kennecott Corporation faced in building the railroad. The bridge, completed in 1910, came with a whopping $1.4 million dollar price tag. A small nugget when compared with the $100 million profits the mine provided investors.

The last spike, a copper spike, was driven on 29 March 1911, and the first load of copper ore soon traveled down the tracks. The Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, also known locally & affectionately, as the Can’t Run & Never Will, was in operation.

Looking up at the CR&NW

Today, the road to McCarthy and Kennecott is the old CR&NW railroad bed. For years, the drive out to Kennecott was an adventure in avoiding railroad spikes. Many a tire was punctured by an old leftover spike from the Copper River & Northwestern.

I have been out to Kennecott many times. Currently, the mine ruins are undergoing a stabilization. Some buildings, like the post office, are being restored, but for the most part, the National Park Service is just trying to keep them from complete collapse. The new roofs on the buildings are obviously a great start.


The Alaska Hi-way:

An Alaska Highway postcard, circa 1949

I have driven the Alaska Highway at least a dozen times now, and even today, one asks a similar question.

Much of it is paved now, but anyone who says the entire road is pavement is lying. Entire sections remain gravel, whether due to nostalgia, construction or sadism.

But, in all honesty, I sincerely hope it remains that way.


Inverting the temp

Map credit: NWS-Fairbanks, @alaskawx

One of the many quirks of Fairbanks is the temperature inversions that takes place in the Tanana Valley and the surrounding hills. The temperature difference, as the map shows, can be quite substantial. Those living up in the hills, will leave relatively moderate temps, and drive down into increasingly chilling temps and the growing murk of ice fog.

It was -36F at the cabin on Monday morning, which does add to the motivation to return to life in the hills. But the firewood bin is full, the stack robber cleaned and throwing out heat of its own, and overall, life is just fine.


The Pupmobile

A dog team pulling a pupmobile on the Seward Peninsula; Library of Congress

Mostly used out of Nome on the Seward Peninsula, the pupmobile, was a small railroad car that was pulled by a team of dogs. It was common practice in the first 2-3 decades of the 1900’s, as most of the railroad tracks had been abandoned, and sled dogs were the main mode of transportation.


The opening of the Al-Can

The first truck through, November 1942

The anniversary of the first truck to travel the Alaska Highway was on Saturday, 20 November. The truck was the first to drive from Dawson to Whitehorse, and then from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. In 1942, that must have been one chilly ride.

The Alaska Highway Guide; 1948

In 1948, The Alaska Highway Guide was published, which listed the scant accommodations and services along the route. The Milepost, which today is the bible of Al-Can travel, would be published for the first time in 1949.


Sourdough Wisdom

A rear-wheeled drive GMC Adventure

Overheard the other day:

An elderly resident was asked what’s the best rig for Interior Alaska. He replied, “A two wheel drive pickup.”

There was some shock, and surprise in the answer, as well as a few snickers.

The Sourdough went on to say, “In a four wheel drive truck with a winch, you will get stuck 40 miles away. In a four wheel drive rig, you’ll get stuck 20 miles away. In a front wheel drive vehicle, you might get stuck 10 miles away. But in a rear wheel drive pick up truck, you’ll get stuck at the end of your road, and you can walk back home and have a beer while waiting for the road to get plowed.


Bug Humor:

Courtesy of the Knoxville Kiwi

This image was brought to my attention by my friend in New Zealand. It gave me an immediate laugh.