Lake Louise to Palmer, AK
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Mostly cloudy, then sunny & back to overcast, 57 to 75
We were on road by 8:30, carefully traversing the heavy frost heaves back out to the Glenn Highway. The Glenn Highway is considered scenic through most of what we drove that day and it certainly is. It had great views of both mountains and glaciers.
Glaciers views included Nelchina Glacier and Matanuska Glacier, which we followed for many miles. There is a road that, for a couple of bucks, you can drive to the terminus of Matanuska. We decided to pass on that because we’ll get to see a few other glaciers along the way. We did stop at an elementary school poised just past the end on Matanuska and got to look directly at the four-mile wide terminus.
Another kind of stop was the Muskox Farm. Muskox really aren’t oxen and they don’t really have musk glands but who cares? Ice age survivors, they were wiped out around the early 20th century, they were reintroduced to the North American Arctic in the 1930s and 1950s. This herd is raised for their underwool called quivit. Quivit is and incredibly soft and warm fiber. It is combed from their coats in the spring when they naturally shed it, spun into yarn and knit into garments, mostly by Alaskans. Muskox love to butt things with their heads. For toys they are given spherical, hard rubber pipeline “pigs” weighing up to 500 pounds that they butt around their pens.
Arriving at our destination, Palmer, we found a car wash and gave both car and camper a quick wash. We weren’t thrilled with the commercial RV parks in the area and would up staying in another municipal park facility named Matanuska River Campground. It was a pretty good place with electrical hookups and showers. Best of all, it was close to town. Palmer is the town known for producing the best of Alaska’s giant produce. The town was started as sort of a New Deal commune setup to promote agriculture in Alaska. Farmers of northern European extraction were recruited from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, thinking they had the skills to succeed at farming in the region. While many families remain in the area, the grand experiment never really succeeded. Nonetheless, Palmer is an attractive, vibrant town.
Another campground coincidence: A woman camped next to us was originally from Christiana, PA. She came to the state as a traveling nurse who would fly to remote Alaskan settlements to tend to the medical needs of the residents. She now lives in Anchorage.
Diner was pasta with Italian sausage and a salad. Later the neighbors invited us for a dessert of homemade rhubarb crumble ala mode. Sandy couldn’t partake but Bill certainly could!
Palmer to Hatcher Pass & Independence Mine and Return
Friday, July 19, 2013
Overcast clearing later, high 60s
Sandy made delicious pancakes for breakfast!
Independence Mine State Historical Park is located along Hatcher Pass Road just east of Palmer. We followed the beautiful, fast-running, aqua-colored Little Susitna River up to the mine site. The Little Susitna is a gold bearing stream and as the placer deposits were depleted, hardrock miners took over in the mountain sources for the stream. Those now abandoned mines were located in a lush, green, tundra-covered mountain valleys that are wonderful to behold. Nearing the park, Hatcher Pass Lodge, with its steep roofed buildings nestled into the mountain reminded us of something we’d more likely see in Switzerland.
The Independence Mine that the park protects is only partly restored but it is really cool and gets lots of visitors. The mine was shut down for good in 1951 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. We visited the buildings under restoration and walked up the hill to where the lower tunnel entrances. There was even a good-sized snow patch on which several families were playing.
Bill spotted an American Dipper in a fast-moving stream running through the park. Shaped like a wren but a bit bigger, this bird finds its food underwater in swift mountain streams. It actually swims underwater for its prey and can literally fly out of the water, back into the air. It was really cool to watch; impossible for Bill to photograph.
Sandy’s ALWAYS befriending strangers. One of two guys she talked to lived locally and he shared an interesting statistic. Did you know that it takes about 400 quart jars to can a moose? The guy’s wife actually does so each year when he bags his moose. That’s a lot of moose meat to stew!
Leaving the park, proper, we continued up a short section of the gravel, Fishook-Willow Road to Summit Lake in Hatcher Pass above the mine. The views on the way up were spectacular but the clouds that rolled in rapidly behind us quickly obscured the views.
This was Friday so that meant Friday Flings, Palmer’s weekly downtown farmer’s market was in full swing. Yup, they had for sale really big tomatoes, really big cucumbers and really big zucchini and it’s only mid July! The nearby Visitors Center showed an interesting film about the colonizing of Palmer and the Matanuska Valley.
Dinner was a shrimp Creole dish purchased at market with rice and applesauce. (It was the end of the soup pot so we supplemented the shrimp with some additional ones from the grocery store.)
That evening brought some light rain showers.
Statistics: The average, single-home price in Alaska: Just under $300,000. The 2011 mean annual wage for all occupations: Just over $50,000. Just in case you’re considering moving up here.