Inger and Jeff Latreille
~Thursday, July 7, 2022~
Day 17 of Alaska Trip
Are people ever friendly here and about as down to earth as you can be. From the tourists to the seasonal workers to the locals, this is a pretty awesome location to be in. The people in this part of Alaska (the very southeastern territory) are truly minimalist, earthy, genuine, no nonsense types; the pace of life…...slow. Then you add in the scenery. It’s off the charts beautiful. Let’s put it this way…..the bar has been set VERY high in many ways, especially when you’re at the toe of a very stunning glacier, only 10 miles away from your campsite.
Nice to have a relaxed morning filled with reading, coffee and pancakes, instead of breaking down camp and driving another 7 hours. Sadie is happy about it too. With the push in getting to Alaska, you could tell that she was becoming more reluctant with getting into the car each day. This is the perfect spot to unwind and recharge.
There are 2 tiny towns (both bigger than Chicken) nearby. One is Kennicott (about 5 miles) and the other…McCarthy (a half-mile). There is a free shuttle service or you can ATV, walk or bike a pedestrian walkway that crosses the turbulent Kennicott River
which flows from Kennicott Glacier to the Nizina River. The walkway was built in 1997, replacing the old cable tram method of bringing travelers across. Let’s start with McCarthy.
On our walk, there was quite a hubbub of activity between people walking and ATVer’s buzzing by.
Then there were the occasional trucks kicking up dust, making their much needed deliveries. In the ½ mile we found a very wrecked abandoned car
on the side of the road (we’ve actually found quite a few of these on the trip so far), with its tags reading May 2022. I don’t think they’ll be renewing that registration. But how in the world did it get here? It probably costs more to haul these out of such an isolated area than it does to just leave them as folly for curious tourists. As we came around a bend we could see a good size pond with very clear water, where a number of swimmers were enjoying the day. About a 100 yards up the road from there was a natural spring surrounded by lush vegetation, with the clearest, coldest water. Ah!! A water source if we become desperate. Then we’d have to figure out how we’d transport a 5-gallon collapsible bottle back to our campsite by bike. Maybe we could hitch a ride from a friendly ATV’er, since there seem to be quite a few of them around. There was a clearly marked detour to get into the town, taking us across a few streams on a few rickety boards, surrounded by dense trees and intoxicating wildflowers.
Upon our arrival, our first introduction was Ma Johnson’s Historic Hotel which was noticeably refurbished. There are a surprising number of dining establishments and comfortable accommodations. In fact many of the structures have been restored or rebuilt housing a variety of businesses that serve summer visitors and its small number of full-time residents. After all, it would take a very hearty individual to endure those frigid winter temps….-24 degrees F. McCarthy’s population of 34 may equal Chicken’s number, but not its size. McCarthy is 3 or 4 times as big, offering way more services. Generators provide power, they have a huge incinerator for their trash and water is supplied from a well. The mail plane arrives twice weekly from Glennallen. But why is it here? McCarthy sprang up to provide the miners in Kennicott, more housing, saloons, a newspaper, stores, hotels, restaurants and even a red-light district back in the day.
Our first stop was a cafe/deli where they had some delicious coffee selections. Upon entering, there were signs everywhere that ask you to leave backpacks and bear spray outside. This would be a common thread we’d see throughout the day. I ordered an iced mocha for the warm summer’s day and being the only patron, had time to strike up a conversation with the young clerk (I know, shocking!) Anyway, she and her boyfriend are in their 2nd season of working here, living in a very modest cabin before their November exit. Then they’ll continue on to Bali and work there for the season. Ah, the joys of being young and free…..no kids, no mortgage, very few commitments.
We also walked through the town’s small, residential neighborhood with their VERY small, rustic homes and one very intriguing building……the Wrangell Mountain Center. With the “open” sign in the window, we walked into what was like an old funky barn (one of the oldest buildings in McCarthy), full of paper collages, activism signs and trinkets found from around the area (i.e. bones, skulls, even neatly displaye animal skat), all covered in a layer of dust as if everything had been there a while. A man finally appeared from a back room to greet us and said he was about to leave but that we were welcome to look around. At least he gave us a little introduction to what they’re all about before his exit. Their purpose is to foster understanding, appreciation and stewardship of wildlands and mountain culture in Alaska, through Scientific and artistic means. Whew…that’s quite a statement and would explain what we were looking at. We stayed all but 2 minutes, though the community garden was lovely.
On a mission to find a good beer, we stumbled on The Potato, which was quite busy. Originally thinking we would just have a beer, the menu looked amazing and yes, we were hungry. So we ordered 2 items to share….a falafel wrap and a hummus/spinach wrap. Thank you honey for giving into my pescatarian ways that afternoon.
While we enjoyed our delicious meal outside with a number of outdoor enthusiasts, we were occasionally greeted by the free-roaming domestic dogs in the neighborhood. They’re not in any way annoying, but just hope that you’re going to drop a morsel or two.
Feeling revived, we then walked down to the McCarthy/Kennicott Historical Museum. The young volunteers were very friendly, giving us a slight introduction. As we started to look around next to their office, I couldn’t help but notice what they were doing and politely asked what they were doing. Obliging, they showed us the plastic models their 3-D printer had produced and what they were currently working on. Many were scaled down models of the buildings in McCarthy with the ultimate goal of producing a model of the mining town itself. The machine is quite amazing. Above it is a plastic spool of thread that feeds microscopic layers of plastic into the machine to produce the actual piece. Fascinating. Even in design school, we never saw anything like it. The museum was fascinating with its historical artifacts and photos from the early mining days. What a fun day we had exploring this cool town.
Later, we came back to enjoy the breathtaking scenery from our campsite. Jeff is deep into his Ken Follett book while I finished up a section on my stitching project. All short lived, since Sadie was eager to have some playtime. So, we hiked over to the freshwater pond, a residual water feature that stems from the town’s natural spring, located between our Base Camp campground and McCarthy. When we arrived, there were a number of people with the same idea, but by the end, Sadie would have the entire “pool” to herself.
The campground seems to be fuller than last night….a mix of tents and small “ish” RV’s. We definitely hold the record at this campsite, where in most cases we're the shrimpies. Around 8:30, one of those tall HUMVEE looking vehicles (they look military style or like they would belong on Mars or something), was trying to find a campsite at 8:30 at night. Even though it’s still light out at that hour, that’s really pushing it. Nothing our way. Hopefully they found something in the other section, closer to the Kennicott Creek which is currently more like a river. A little too loud for our taste. Though a river view would normally be lovely, we think our quiet, peaceful plot in front of the glacier is just perfect. Scored again!!