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.
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.
The Ukak River Valley was dramatically altered on 6 June 1912, when Novarupta erupted for over 60 hours. The volcanic blast was the largest of the 20th Century. Pyroclastic flows filled the Ukak Valley, which was followed by a dumping of volcanic ash. The intense heat, trapped by the ash, took decades to cool. Water, also trapped by the ash, became superheated steam, and escaped through a series of fumaroles, which inspired the renaming of the valley.
Kodiak Island had a somewhat unique Winter Warning on Thursday. Mixed in the fresh snow was some ancient volcanic ash. Ash from the Novarupta eruption of 1912 was carried across the Shelikof Strait due to some high winds, and the ash came down with the recent snowfall. The ash was not expected to climb above 7000 feet, but airlines were notified, and air quality on the island may have been diminished.
The Novarupta eruption started on 6 June 1912, and lasted three days. The eruption was the most powerful of the 20th Century. The ash cloud is thought to have risen to over 100,000 feet, which is incredibly impressive. An estimated 3.6 cubic miles (15 cubic KMs) of magma erupted. That’s 30 times more than the Mount St Helens eruption. As much as 600 feet of ash was dumped on the region now known as The Valley of 10,000 Smokes.
The ash kick-up does happen from time to time, when winds hit the area just right, and carry loose ash over to Kodiak.
All seven volcanos in the Katmai region, including Novarupta, remain at Level Green.
For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.
The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.
She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.
With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.
In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.
In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.
The neighbor stopped me one night a week or two ago. The beavers had broke through the fencing around his yard. I asked if he had stopped up the breach, but he said he wasn’t concerned as freeze up was almost upon us. I did issue a warning about the damage a beaver can do in a short time, but I left it at that.
24 hours later, I received a call. Is there any way I can help plug up the beaver portal? I went over to the new clearing and counted ten new stumps. Not ten trees necessarily, as most were hauled off through the portal to the pantry. The bigger ones were left behind for the next night, and two were hung up, which obviously caused some beaver irritation, judging from the chaotic pattern of wood chips.
An interesting map, showing the two routes into the “Klondyke” Gold Fields of “British America” and the “40 Mile” Region in Alaska. One could go overland via the Chilkoot Trail, or by water using the “Youkon” River.
The only established community marked on the map along the Yukon River within Interior Alaska was Fort Yukon, which started as a trading post under the Hudson Bay Company.
Circle City was a mining town that popped up with the discovery of gold in Birch Creek, which is a great float, by the way. Circle, was so named, because the miners thought they were on the Arctic Circle, but they were actually about 50 miles south. Circle City was a major jumping off point for both miners and supplies that had come up the Yukon and were heading out to the gold camps.
Intriguing that Dyea makes the map, but Skagway is left off. Dyea was the start of the Chilkoot Trail, and at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, was a thriving community with a large wharf. Today, only a few pilings are left of the wharf, and minimal signs of any structures, although it is home to the “Slide Cemetery”. Regardless, “Soapy” Smith would not be impressed with Skagway being MIA. Stampeders would hike the trail over the pass into Canada from Dyea to Lake Bennett. Most would then build boats to carry them to the famed Lake Lebarge and finally the Yukon River. All for the lure of gold.
National Park Week, Day VIII; Today’s Park Theme: Junior Ranger Day
The “Hottest, Driest and Lowest”:
I have been lucky enough to visit Death Valley a few times. I did skip this Park when I was traveling in the air-cooled VW, but the Land Rover has been here a couple of times, and I once tortured a rental car during a visit to Death Valley in August. I drove the rental here from Las Vegas after a wedding just to see how hot it would get. I watched the car thermometer hit +123F. So my personal variance is -63F to +123F degrees.
It was not over 100 when I drove the Rover through. In fact, I remember it being quite nice, weather-wise. Very cool at night, and above 80F during the day. At one campground, it absolutely poured rain. Gullies filled quickly, but I had the rooftop tent. I could see the rain coming across the desert from my site, and quickly popped open the tent, threw what I needed up into it, then set up a chair under the canopy to eat dinner. The rain came down in buckets, and the wind picked up, so I moved my chair into the back of the Rover, and watched the proceedings. Across the campground, I could see two poor souls battling a ground tent. They should have just waited out the rain, but they stuck to their guns, and kept on with the tent. It took forever, to the point that I was suffering just watching the show. The tent had to be as soaked inside as they were standing out in that downpour.
Death Valley was first established as a National Monument in 1933, becoming a National Park in 1994. The Park encompasses 3,373,063 acres across the states of California and Nevada. Badwater Basin, which I have done some hiking in, is the second lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282′ below sea level. Telescope Peak is the Park’s highest point at 11,049 feet above sea level.
The Valley is a hot and dry place to explore, so bring plenty of water. Hot weather tip: Any water jug left in your vehicle will quickly reach the temperature of the vehicle’s interior. So, if you don’t want to brew a cup of tea after a day out hiking, try to keep that jug outside and in the shade.
The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth happened at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in 1913: 134F. That is a scorcher. The record low for Death Valley is 15F. Practically balmy when you think about it. Badwater gets on average 1.5 inches of rain a year.
I did stop by Scotty’s Castle on one visit. It was named after a local gold prospector, Walter Scott, who neither lived in, nor built, the residence. Construction began in 1922, and the building costs were somewhere between $1.5 – 2.5 million. The history here is intriguing, and involves investments in nonproductive mines, as well as mistakenly building on government property. The stock market crash of 1929 also played a part. When the owners passed away with no heirs, the National Park Service bought the “castle”. It can be toured, during non-covid years, and I thought the tour was well worth the fee.
The castle’s water source was a nearby natural spring, which also powered a Pelton wheel which powered the house as well. Death Valley Scotty may not have lived in the castle bearing his name, but he is buried on a hillside overlooking the home. The family’s pet dog is buried next to him.
There is so much to see at Death Valley. The famed Racetrack is one location, but I did not witness any racing rocks, still it’s a phenomenon that is cool to document. The Eagle Borax Works, or more commonly known as the Twenty Mule Team of Borax fame has some ruins out in the Park, and there are several CCC works still being used. There are trails, and wildflowers galore when it rains, natural springs and arches, and petroglyphs out at Mesquite Springs.
National Park Week Day II; Today’s Park Theme: Volunteer Sunday
Wrangell-St Elias may very well be my favorite road accessible park in Alaska. Denali is closer, and I visit it the most, but Wrangell-St Elias is a trip of its own. First off, it is the largest National Park at 13.2 million acres. It starts at sea level and rises all the way up to 18,008 feet with the summit of Mount St Elias, which is the second highest peak in the United States.
Within Wrangell-St Elias is four mountain ranges: The Chugach, Wrangell, St Elias, and the eastern part of the Alaska Range. Mount Wrangell is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America, and nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in the U.S. are within the boundaries of Wrangell-St Elias.
If you prefer glaciers, Wrangell-St Elias has you covered with 60% of Alaska’s glacier ice within this park. It has the state’s longest tidewater glacier, North America’s largest piedmont glacier, and the world’s longest valley glacier.
The park offers an endless list of things to do. The hiking here is phenomenal, although established trails are few. The beating heart of this park is wilderness. I have seen the gamut of Alaska wildlife with Wrangell-St Elias.
The Edgerton Highway runs along the Copper River Valley to Chitina, where the McCarthy Road follows the old CR&NW Railway grade to the Kennicott River. For years, you had to stop there to take a tram across the river to the town of McCarthy and the mines of Kennecott. Today, the tram sits unused, and a walking bridge spans the river.
The Kennecott Mine and company town were named after the Kennicott Glacier, but they missed the spelling by a letter. It gets confusing trying to keep it straight. Copper ore was discovered here in 1900, and a rush soon started. Eventually, Kennecott would have five mines operating, but by 1938 operations had shut down. During that time span, the mines produced over 4.6 million tons of copper ore, and gross revenues of $200 million. I’m not sure what that dollar amount would add up to today. The Kennecott Mines are now a National Historic Landmark District.
The population of McCarthy in 1920 was 127. By 2010 it had dropped to 28.
Some of the mines like Jumbo can be hiked to, and the green of copper ore can still be seen in the rocks around the area.
Fishing the Copper and Chitina Rivers is an Alaskan tradition, going back millenniums. Dipnetting for salmon is restricted to Alaska residents, but I can tell you that it is an adventure like no other.
If you want a park that you can disappear into, Wrangell-St Elias may just be the place for you. 2018 saw only 79,450 to the nation’s largest park. Like Alaska in general, that’s a lot of elbow room.