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The Copper River Basin

We monitored The Milepost closely along the Tok Cutoff to Glenallen and learned about the black spruce forests and drunken trees that grow in permafrost, fishing spots for salmon and Arctic grayling and where to watch for bears and caribou (though we didn't see any).  

Mount Sanford

A nice, wide pull out at the Christochina River bridge (GJ 35.2) offered an outhouse but we couldn't figure out how to get to the huge, braided river. Instead we drove further and found vistas of the Wrangell Mountains, including Mount Sanford and Mount Blackburn which are 16,000+ foot volcanoes.

Gakona Junction

After a long segment of gnarly construction, we landed at Galkona Junction: left to Valdez (129 miles), right to Fairbanks (235 miles). So many choices. Left would take us down the Richardson Highway, largely deemed one of the most scenic in Alaska. Right would take us to Denali where we had a reservation at Riley Creek campground. We chose left and caught the Richardson Highway South: take us to Valdez, that place of earthquakes and oil, and where prospectors headed deep into the mountains to find the Klondike goldfields.

Dry Creek campsite

But first, a stop in Glenallen to consider how to tackle Wrangell St-Elias National Park. In Glenallen we toured the very nice cabins at Northern Lights Campground and RV Park (tent sites were full) but ended up camping at Dry Creek State Recreation Site. Dry Creek is ten minutes from town, has a large cistern of water (needs to be boiled) along with very clean pit toilets. We watched snowshoe hares dart across the road, depleted our water reserves and enjoyed the quiet.

The Copper River Valley with the Wrangell Mountains

Wrangell- St Elias National Park is dauntingly undeveloped and with Kris back at work, days spent in the remote backcountry were not an option.  McCarthy Road and the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark were very appealing: beautiful, remote, and historic with glaciers you can walk to and walk on. But, McCarthy Road follows a 1909 railroad bed for 59 miles to Kennecott; an old road complete with old railroad spikes and we need our car with tires intact to drive 3,000 miles back home!  As a compromise we were SO CLOSE -a click away- from splurging on the Kennicott shuttle.  Regrets?  Probably. That said, time was getting surprisingly tight (Glenallen: July 16th, Amy back to work: August 5th, Kenedy soccer tournament: August 8th) with so much left to see and we were really, really excited about getting to, and spending as much time as possible in Valdez.

Soooo... we stopped through the Copper Valley IGA for raisin bread, peanut butter and jelly, grabbed an Americano (Yes, Kaladi beans!) at Trailside Espresso, filled up the gas-guzzling, trailer-towing XC60 and planned for a short stop at the Wrangell- St Elias Visitor Center.

PB&J on raisin bread outside the Exhibit Hall

The Visitor's Center was surprisingly busy. We joined a nature walk where Kenedy and Tucker tasted pumpkin berries and walked through the boreal forest looking for signs of animal activities from winters past.  The Visitor's Center lays on the old Valdez Trail, a wagon road from the turn of the 19th century.  Our walk on the old narrow road, through the dense forest, drove home just how hard it must have been to construct wide, paved highways that crisscross Alaska and keep them open winter after winter, year after year.  

Kris took advantage of connectivity at the Visitor's Center and spent the afternoon working at a lovely picnic table in the courtyard of the complex. We all made about 200 trips back and forth to water bottle refill station to replenished our water supply.  Ready. Onward!