The Hope of a Gold Rush Town
~Wednesday, August 10, 2022~
Day 51 of Alaska Trip
Saw a mama black bear and her cub (the other cub must have already crossed the street) cross the street about 50 yards in front of us.
Met a Baptist woman handing out pamphlets at one of the lookout points on our way to Hope. She was interested in where we were from and said anytime we’re back in the Anchorage area to check out their parish. She also informed me that the weather we’ve been experiencing is not normal…..an insane amount of rain.
An earlier start for us today. We wanted to take full advantage of a break in the bad weather with a visit to either the town of Hope or Kenai, and settled on Hope since we had had so many recommendations from locals and tourists to add it to our list. On the way out of our campground, we spotted, just barely, a mama black bear and her cub. There have been signs posted at Hidden Lake about a black bear and 2 cubs so we wondered if the other cub had already wandered into the forest by the time we got there. So cute! Those moms sure work hard to make sure their babies stay safe…….crossing roads safely, and getting plenty to eat. Kudos to moms everywhere!
The drive to Hope takes about an hour from Cooper Landing……a beautiful drive along the Sterling Highway until the Hope Highway (it’s so cool how they name all of their highways, not just a number). It was so nice to be back in this section of the Kenai Peninsula again, however this time, Hope places us on the opposite side of the Turnagain Arm (water channel) from where we recently stayed in the town of Girdwood. And it kills us that if our much needed part had already arrived in Anchorage, we could be there in 5 minutes by boat instead of the 2 hour drive it’s going to take us on Friday. Missing the town of Hope is easy to do, as the entire downtown encompasses only about 2 blocks. Though tiny, its population is bigger than we thought…..125.
It is the true essence of an old Alaskan gold mining town with preserved wooden cabins, gathering halls, and relics from the past. The town rests right alongside the Resurrection Creek and the water channel of Turnagain Arm.
Just before that is the small RV Park/Campground of Seaview, which also has a small cafe adjoining it. This was the RV Park we were supposed to stay at on what was to be a 3-day visit in Hope, starting last Sunday, before the axle debacle. But unless you’re really into fishing, a 1-day stay would have been plenty since the town is so small. Right next to the RV park is a small section of public parking where we decided to park Hank for the day and were immediately enthralled by the numerous fishermen taking their catch very seriously. And they were all having success! I guess Pink Salmon is big here and with 2 weeks left in the salmon run, if that, everyone’s trying to score theirs. Some were doing catch and release while others were filling their coolers, supplying tonight’s dinner.
From there, we made our way “downtown”, looking through a few windows of the bar we were told to visit by our friends Katie and Wayne.
They had quite the good time when they were here over a month ago. It really did have the cool, funky vibe to it, but sadly this would be as far as we would get since they and a few other eateries close their doors on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We’ve actually come across this numerous times. It seems many service oriented businesses shut down on Tuesdays/Wednesdays rather than Sunday/Monday like it is where we come from. Anyway, it was too bad we wouldn’t be able to experience the fun there, but our concern was more about taking advantage of the lovely, warm, sunny weather than making sure things were open for business.
Since lumber played a significant role in creating their town, it was fascinating to read about their woodworking skills. Remember, no electric tools back then. “Whipsawing” was one such technique which was apparently
brutal work, summoning the best and strongest workers in town. To create the logs for the siding of their cabins, it required 2 men, one on the bottom and one on the top, holding a saw vertically. The strength came from the guy above as the guy below helped pull down and guide the blade, also collecting huge amounts of sawdust in his face. It was surely a test of skill, endurance and coordination between the two sawmen. The small number of cabins in the town have been restored, and are now occupied residences. Though there are signs noting “private residences”, for the curious tourist, they have plaques labeled with the original owner as well as the year it was built….the oldest we found was 1898. As we continued on, we stumbled on a VERY fascinating outdoor museum named the Hope/Sunrise Historical Society Museum complete with old relics from the past, and more restored cabins that had been moved to this location for the purposes of educating any of those interested. The museum was put together in 1994 and relies solely on donations only to keep things going. A very nice young man greeted us at the door. He had only been 2 days into his job and didn’t have much to offer in the way of educating us about what we were seeing, but enjoyed our conversation about what brought him to Alaska. He’s definitely a vagabond of sorts, originally from Humboldt County. Hah, what do you know? I’ve never seen so many interesting artifacts compressed into such a small space. Much of what we were seeing had been donated by families of residents who had passed on.
It was fascinating to read about just how far back the history of the area began. Way before anyone discovered gold here, the Cook Inlet of what is now Turnagain Arm, was occupied by Alaskan Natives for over 10,000 years. Moving down from the Alaskan Interior, the Dena’ina Athabascans were one specific people who occupied the area for over 1,500 years. Tragically, between 1837 and 1840, smallpox killed over half of their people. Those who survived came to accept the Russian Orthodox Church and even took Russian names. By the time Russia sold its interest in Alaska to America in 1867, few Dena’ina had remained to see the day. Their numbers would dwindle even more after the 1884 influenza epidemic leaving their numbers so small, they stood no chance in defending themselves once the onslaught of American prospectors took hold of the area in 1888.
It’s hard to imagine this tiny part of Alaska would attract over 3,000 stampeders so many years ago……the first gold rush in Alaska, even before the Klondike Stampede or the gold rush at the beaches of Nome; even before Anchorage was founded. Those wanting their “slice of the pie” arrived by boat, many rowing in the dangerous Cook Inlet of Turnagain Arm. One of the prospectors was a 17-year old named Percy Hope (thus the name). I’m sure there’s more to it than that. But before you knew it, the community was soon a thriving commercial center with a store, hotel, social hall (see photo), post office, saloon and school. In its 3 short years, it made quite the mark before miners packed up for “greener pastures” of the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Today, Hope is a reminder of the struggles and tenacity to create something out of nothing, and offering us a glimpse back through time. And we are so glad we paid it a visit.
After our tour of town, we set up a tailgate in the parking lot looking over the creek, and enjoying the day’s offering of sun. A father and son had just pulled up next to us, enamored with Sadie. Having had 2 of his own labs, one chocolate and one yellow (also hunting dogs), he was shocked that our pups was 8 years old. “Wow, I’ve never seen a lab look that good at 8 years old”, he said in his southern drawl. Yes, she is one beautiful girl who has had one spoiled life. Nice to get a little validation from a fellow dog owner. Our pleasant conversation soon turned over to the attention of a little disruption in the campground. Evidently a new guest had just arrived to get into their new site and unbeknownst to the owner of the campground, a Class C RV was already parked there taking full advantage of a “free” campsite and “free” electricity. It took some yelling and firm talking to, to get them to move. “You are not welcome here”, she said repeatedly. It didn’t help that there was a bit of a language barrier with these unwelcome guests. I felt sorry for the new arrival having to wait with their rig to get in their spot. Evidently, while the father was fishing, this family had decided they could just park anywhere I guess. They clearly knew what they were doing. It just ticks me off when people take advantage of situations like that.
Back to our tailgate enjoyment. Not only did we have the entertainment of the giddy fishermen with their catch of Pink Salmon, but the views were simply divine. It was the perfect place (with cell reception) to catch up with my mom and hear all about her recent trip to Oregon. While I was on the phone with her, Jeff was on the phone with our son Shane. Good to hear all is going great in California.
After a delicious leftover dinner of gnocchi for Jeff, spaghetti for me and an arugula salad for the both of us, we walked down to the lake just steps from our campground and witnessed one of the best sunsets we’d ever seen I even have the photos/video to prove it! Don’t you just wish you could freeze frame these? At least we were able to catch it before it faded away.