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The Richardson Highway

Willow Lake Viewpoint: Drum, Sanford, Wrangell, Blackburn in the distance.

The Richardson Highway is largely known for as one of the most spectacular roads in Alaska.  We joined the Richardson from the Tok Cutoff, followed it down to Valdez and then backtracked to Glenallen where we turned North for Delta Junction to meet the Alaska Highway.  The Richardson diverges from the Copper River just after the Wrangell St. Elias Visitors Center and then winds through deep mountain valleys, following the Alaska pipeline in the distance.  We passed construction on multiple enormous drainage culverts, for what I imagine is a massive spring/summer runoff from the surrounding glacial mountains.

Waiting in construction

At the top of Thompson Pass Worthington Glacier watches over the Highway and Blueberry Lake hangs in the clouds.  We chatted with our flagger during a 20 minute road construction stop. She is a gymnast and snowboarder who lives in Valdez during the summer, takes advantage of great snow for the fall and spring but heads South, to the lower 48, during the darkest days. She said many Alaskans follow this schedule. So friendly!

Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site (pay)

No problem stopping here for Road Construction

Kenedy's bike trying to stay in Alaska. Tighten that baby up!

We passed many, many historic lodges and beautiful camp spots along the Richardson Highway, stopped for a pop at Tonsina River Lodge and thought long and hard about staying at The Lodge at Black Rapids, but ultimately opted to keep moving.  Why? Sometimes logic gets thrown out the window on long road trips. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Also, I think we were a little woozy after seeing Gulkana Glacier at the end of a rainbow. Yes, this really happened.

Gulkana Glacier

Two hundred pictures later, we stopped to touch the Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is a feat of engineering, but we all knew this.  Really, though, it can expand and contract with Alaska winter temps, flexs with soil constitution, crosses numerous active faults and has an earthquake detection system which worked in 2002 when the pipeline withstood a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. We also imagined the Galloping Glacier advancing three miles in one year, now melted out of sight. 

Pipeline Info

Galloping Glacier AKA Black Rapids Glacier (kids hiding in the brush, too)

Tall, rugged mountains made way to a flatter, hilly landscape as we passed "Donnelly Dome" and army and airforce installations before Delta Junction. We pitched our tent at Delta State Recreation Site Campground. Here we felt, first hand, the weight of Alaska fires under the orange, smoky sky as firefighting helicopters loaded and unloaded right next to our campsite.  Our campground was about half full with very nice, private sites, pit toilets and water that needed to be boiled.

Delta State Recreation Site 

Tomorrow we start the long journey back down the Alaska Highway. Still in front of us: Whitehorse, hotsprings, three huge lakes, cinnamon rolls, the signpost forest and one last stop through the Canadian Rockies.