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|July 20, 2014, Day 1: Camped on the Archangel Road near Hatcher Pass|
I have a bit of personal history with the Highway too. During my first summer in Alaska (1983) I traveled with a new friend, Ed Berg, and his daughter Tanya to Denali Park. In those days, one could actually drive into the park and camp for an extended time. We spent three days traveling the Denali Highway in my '69 Ford Econoline van, Ed collecting plant specimens for his botany studies while I collected bird sightings for my life list. It was an idyllic introduction to Alaska, the state I had chosen for my new home. Unfortunately, I didn't own a camera at the time and have no photos of that trip. I traveled it again a couple of years later with my friend Cindy, in 1990 with my buddy Kirk, in 1994 with Alice and Mako, and then in 1997 with my wife to be, Lora. I have also traveled it several times with my son Tuli when he was quite young. Each of those trips had been momentous in one way or another — I was curious to see if the Highway held any new adventures for me. I anticipated doing lots of bird watching and seeing fields full of colorful wildflowers.
|Seward Highway near Portage|
|On the road to Hatcher Pass (click on photo for full size view)|
|Last light on Archangel Road — July 20, 2014 (N61.79937° W149.19922°)|
|Archangel Road scene - morning of July 21, 2014|
After leaving the Archangel Road camp I hit the Glenn Highway near Sutton, where I stopped for breakfast. The Glenn follows the Matanuska River valley east and upstream, wending its way toward Glennallen. The valley is very scenic, the road smooth and lined with turnouts offering fine views of the beautiful country it passes through. As the sun warmed the air, I was able to shed my jacket and ride with the windows rolled down.
On such a fine, warm day naturally my thoughts turned to contemplating how enjoyable this ride might be from the seat of a motorcycle. However, as I am well aware, biking in Alaska differs quite a bit from biking in Thailand. Morning and evening temperatures demand full fairings for the bike and lots of warm, windproof clothing for your body. It's a constant fight to stay warm and getting wet could turn into a minor disaster. Here in Thailand, it's the other way around — warm clothes are seldom needed and getting wet can be a good experience.
|Glenn Highway scene|
|Glenn Highway — the silt laden Matanuska River|
|Glenn Highway — view south|
|Glenn Highway — View west toward Glenallen and Mounts Sanford (16,200 ft) and Wrangell (14,100 ft)|
I stopped in Glenallen for gas and asked the gal running the pump if a guy could get a decent burger anywhere in town. She quickly pointed to the Caribou Restaurant next door. For about $15 including tip I had a most excellent cheeseburger and marked it as a place to visit next time I get this far north. It can be tricky to find good food in these parts so I felt lucky to have discovered it. (Of course, I added it as a POI to the OSM later.)
The Glenn Highway ends here at its junction with the Richardson Highway (AK 4). Constructed in 1898, the present day Richardson Hwy runs north to Delta Junction and Fairbanks and south through the Thompson Pass to Valdez, the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the port from which the ill-fated Exxon-Valdez had departed March 23, 1989 just before spilling 10-20 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. The pipeline parallels the highway for most of its length. After scanning the Wikipedia article I learned that this was the first road ever built in Alaska, developed as an "all American" route to the Klondike gold fields. I must confess, I did not know that until just now.
|First car to drive the Richardson Highway - 1913 (Wikipedia)|
Some of the lakes I added to OSM along the Glenn Highway are: Lost Cabin Lake, Bug Lake, Bench Lake, Bonnie Lake, Hundred Mile Lake, Index Lake, June Biffle Lake, Long Lake, Rush Lake, Tatondan Lake, Weiner Lake, Game Trail Lake, Trail Lake, Knob Lake, Hunter Lake, Shallow Lake, Tahneta Lake, Salmon Berry Lake, Buffalo Lake, and Tex Smith Lake. This is a picayune list when you consider that Wikipedia tells us Alaska has over 3,000,000 natural lakes! Of those, only about 3,200 have names. I quickly glanced at Wikipedia's list of names and found neither Bug Lake nor Buffalo Lake on it. I stopped looking immediately and purposely didn't save the URL. <g>
It was about 8 pm when I finally turned west onto the Denali Highway.
|Denali Highway — 8 pm|
Next day was another perfect day for a drive. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s again encouraged me to ditch my jacket for a short sleeve shirt and get the windows down. I really poked along, seldom driving more than 15 mph, rubber necking the scenery. I stopped and hiked up to a low rise just east of the Tangle Lakes area and got this photo looking north.
|View of Tangle Lakes from Swede Mountain Trail|
|View north from Denali Highway|
|Denali Highway scenery|
|Denali Highway with the Susitna River in the distance|
I introduced myself, and they in turn did the same. They were retired, from Michigan, and had been traveling for several months in their nicely fitted out Roadtrek van, a vehicle I have long yearned to own. They were very friendly and seemed not to mind in the slightest that I was there. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes exchanging travel stories and discussing their Roadtrek until I went to have some food. After supper I took a short walk down to the lake shore where I partook of the oderiferous herb and stood for a while, gazing at the darkening clouds moving our way. Rain coming, I thought. Beautiful clouds, and such dramatic lighting! I decided I should take some photographs. I strolled back to camp.
They were gone!
Just as the old adage would put it, they had packed up their tent and stolen away. I couldn't believe it. The fire had been hastily doused, the awning rolled in, lawn chairs packed, wine drunk(?). How they could have been so friendly while they were surely railing inside over their misfortune at having to share the campsite, is beyond me. Some people are strange. I promptly moved the Explorer into the primo spot, put the tea water on, fanned the fire until the sparks again danced overhead and settled down for the night. My thanks go out to you Michiganders, Michiganians, or whatever you call yourselves, for giving me the perfect campsite that night.
|Evening clouds at Swampbuggy Lake (N63.05497, W147.41556)|
|Denali Highway bridge on the Susitna River|
I had passed a lake a couple of miles back that wasn't on the USGS Topo maps, which is very odd because they are the definitive reference for geographic features in the United States. I stopped to fish in the feeder stream for a short while but nothing was biting so I headed back to the Highway and crossed the Susitna. I stopped for pie and coffee at the Gracious House diner a while later and that's where I learned something about the lake and the mine.
|Lee Lake and Valdez Creek|
I say supposedly because after trying unsuccessfully to verify his story I wonder now if he wasn't just pulling my leg. The only bush pilot I could dig up who's associated with Gracious House is a fellow named David "Butch" Gratias, the owner of Gracious House. Here is a link an Alaska Dispatch article about Gratias, who recently survived a plane crash on the Susitna Glacier. I can find nothing about Lee Lake or Lake Lee except for one on Kodiak Island. I did however see references to the diversion of Valdez Creek to fill an old strip mining excavation. Mining began in this area in 1903 and the ancestral Denali Highway, at first only a rough track from the Richardson Highway (see above) west to Valdez Creek, was built to serve the mines. The genesis of the lake's name will probably remain a mystery for a while, at least to me. At any rate, the ride up the Valdez Creek Mine Road was a high point of the tour.
|Cow moose grazing in a bog - Denali Highway|
|I picked up the pace on the last miles of the Highway|
I camped overnight in a little pull off and left early next day. I had lunch in touristy, bustling Talkeetna and then drove a few more nearby roads, taking photos for my mapping work later, before turning south on the Parks Highway for Anchorage.
The trip was good overall. I was a bit disappointed because I saw few wildflowers and no interesting wildlife or birds other then the two loons. In looking back in my journal from 1983 I see that the trip with Ed that was so memorable because of the cool flowers and birds we saw was made earlier in the summer — I had missed the peak of both seasons. Yet, I did get into some gorgeous country and it has inspired me to make a similar trip next summer. I've never been to McCarthy or the Kennecott mines and that area would be interesting. We'll see.