HayDee and the Geezer Invade McCarthy

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Alcan Rider, Jul 24, 2011.

  1. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    Previous adventures in which HayDuchessLives (a name which is so long, if spelled out throughout a rr, would occupy two-thirds of the ride report by itself – and why anyone would choose such a handle is beyond me, but most things HayDee does are beyond me :norton – has been shortened by yers truly to HayDee, and more often to just “her” or “she”, sometimes “Amy” and occasionally “what'sername”) and I :gerg (upon whom HayDee has bestowed the moniker “Geezer” for some unfathomable reason :dunno) have taken place along, en route to, or coming back from – the Dalton Hwy/Haul Road. We both enjoy riding, and just being on, that particular highway. But having taken a ride north to Atigun Pass earlier in the season (as related here: You Don't Have To Go All The Way) HayDee was ready for a somewhat shorter ride less distance from her home in Anchorage. Despite offering bribes of her delicious homemade banana-nut bread, no other suckers could be induced to accompany her on this little weekend jaunt, but not being blessed with a surplus of common sense, and because she was coming through Glennallen on her way to McCarthy, the dimwitted Geezer agreed to go along in a vain attempt at keeping her :wings acting in a somewhat civilized manner. Talk about a hopeless task! But someone has to protect the innocent, unsuspecting citizens of McCarthy. Thus we came to be riding from downtown Glennallen south on the Richardson Hwy toward the Edgerton Hwy intersection and, ultimately, to the quaint, historic, Wrangell Mountain hamlet of McCarthy and neighboring Kennecott, here in beautiful Southcentral Alaska.

    Blessed with beautiful weather for the first day in a row, with temperatures soaring to the rarely experienced height of 83° F before we could escape from the busy intersection of the Glenn and Richardson Hwys, we were glad to be moving and enjoying the cooling effects of wind blowing across our overheated Alaskan bodies. Being that summer is the traditional season for fillling in frost heaves with a loose gravel and sticky asphalt mix (Referred to as sealcoat in some circles. Other, more descriptive and profane terms in others.) that is guaranteed to turn into paved potholes before the next frost has time to do any damage, it was not long before we encountered the ubiquitous warning signs... that we chose to ignore, being on bikes that were destined to see far worse conditions in short order -
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    Southward we rode, with blue skies and cloud-capped mountains surrounding us on all sides -
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    As usual when the weather is like this, the Wrangell Mts looked beautiful, looming above Willow Lake -
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    Soon, we had made the turn onto the Edgerton Hwy...
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    ...and were about to begin the long descent to Kenny Lake -
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    The combination restaurant, hotel, RV park, laundromat, and convenience store appeared, announcing our arrival the the center of downtown Kenny Lake -
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    A quick glance at the Kenny Lake Mercantile, and we were headed back into the suburbs :lol3
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    The agricultural center for the Copper River Basin, hay seems to be the main, and perhaps only, crop these days -
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    Golden Spruce restaurant & cabins would have looked much more inviting had we not just stuffed ourselves at the Copper Center Lodge, where HayDee pointed out that I should have brought my camera inside to capture visions of food porn. Hmmm... she has a camera, why am I the one at fault?? Oh well, traveling with HayDee. At least she didn't play with her food this time. :evil
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    Zipping along the Edgerton, with Chitina as our next destination, we passed many widely-scattered driveways leading to homes generally out of sight behind a screen of spruce trees. As in most rural areas, people value their privacy. Soon we came to Bill Sutton's farm, no longer a bustling operation, with much of the equipment unmoved from one year to the next -
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    Across the road, more farm land leading to the steeper slope down to the Tonsina River, which runs along the bottom of the far ridge -
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    Almost entirely hidden behind dense foliage was Fithian's herd of Siberian Yaks. Maybe next time in the area I can get some shots of those interesting beasts.

    Another curve or two, and then the descent to the crossing of the Tonsina River, an area known locally as Lower Tonsina -
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    Next installment: Chitina and the McCarthy Road
    #1
  2. ColininKodiak

    ColininKodiak (not in Kodiak)

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    I'm not sensing any kind of impending doom on this ride report, is it safe to assume you rode something other than the KLR with HayDee?:lol3 This is one of the trips I wish I had done while in AK. HayDee has graciously offered me use of one of her DR's while I am traveling through the Anchorage area this fall. I don't think riding to Tangle River is in the cards, but I still owe you pie, You had better be where I can find you in early September. :deal I'm looking forward to the next installment of this RR.
    #2
  3. HayDuchessLives

    HayDuchessLives Loquita

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    Luckily for Alcan Rider, his KLR seems mostly impervious to any doom associated with riding with my DR, except for electrical problems on our Dalton Hwy trip, which occurred BEFORE we met up in Fairbanks! (I remember his Concourse also developed electrical problems after we rode together in Kodiak, before the big brawny brown bear attacked our bikes...)

    FYI - you can ride to McCarthy or Tangle Lakes (Denali Hwy) in a day from my house and return the next day. The Gregarious Geezer and I are looking forward to riding with you before you leave! It will be interesting to see how my new DR fares after riding with my current DR. Hopefully nothing goes wrong! :rofl If nothing else, I can make a pie for the two of you to share, and you can play your guitar for me in exchange.

    The Geezer forgot to mention one important thing that occurred at the beginning of our ride. I called him when I arrived in Glennallen and he said he had to take a quick shower before riding over to meet me. Well, it took him a long time to arrive and the temperature was so hot I had to keep unzipping clothes and shedding layers while waiting for him to "look presentable." It's a good thing he finally showed up when he did as I couldn't remove any more clothing and remain decent! :lol3
    #3
  4. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    "Decent" is relative.


    :hide



    :lol3
    You'll notice she didn't mention the problem she had with her DR after riding it in close proximity to my KLR. :rofl
    #4
  5. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    After crossing the Tonsina River bridge, the road makes some gentle S-curves and begins the climb back up to the top of the bluff where there are great views across the Copper River -
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    And then back to the twisty road through rock cuts and forest until we reach the Liberty Falls wayside, to take a photo break there -
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    Chitina. An historic, somewhat rundown, little town in a ruggedly beautiful setting
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    We gassed up both bikes at the Chitina One-Stop (with lower prices than in Glennallen, even though it comes from there), rode through the railroad rock cut and down the hill to cross the Copper River bridge. The river is very high and wide for this time of year, and fish wheels, normally connected to the shoreline by short walkways, now have to be reached by boats -
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    Once across the bridge and up onto the McCarthy Rd the top of Mt Wrangell is visible under the nearby clouds -
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    Looking upstream over the Chitina River, the blue sky beckons us onward
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    After crossing the road bridge and climbing back up to the railroad grade, a short side trail on the old railbed leads us to the east end of the Gilahina trestle. My suggestion that HayDee walk the plank so I can get some action videos was not met with enthusiasm. :shog In fact, I don't believe it was even given much consideration. Sometimes she's just not in a cooperative mood. :bluduh
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    After this little photo interlude, it was back down the side trail and out onto the “highway” for more sightseeing.
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    Lots of peaceful scenes along the road -
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    And then, along both sides of the road, we came upon these little creations. A field of cairns?
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    A close-up view. Some of these structures are dependent upon delicate balance
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    Getting closer to the river now, and the terrain is changing. A scrawny-looking moose browsing across a small lake -
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    The mountains ahead are on the far side of the Kennicott River – a good sign that we're nearing our destination.
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    Soon, we are checked in, find our campsite, have set up our tents...
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    ..and are ready to go forth and eat, camera close at hand (I learn quickly) -
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    Mine might not look like much, but it was by far the best tasting saurkraut hot dog I've ever eaten. HayDee indicated pleasure with her meal as well, commenting on how fresh the vegetables tasted. The dining area on the deck was nice as well -
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    There were also four tables under a screened canopy in case the mosquitos or rain was too much for the clientele. The owner was also very pleasant and friendly.
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    Since we enjoyed the meal so much, it is only fitting to give the place a plug and help others enjoy a similar experience. The menu (And don't be surprised at the prices, everyone has to generate their own power there for refrigeration, and it's a long way from any grocery stores
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    Root Glacier, a view of which gives the business its name -
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    After dining, HayDee cruelly forced me to walk all the way to McCarthy :pierce, slowing down for possible centaurs...
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    Then stroll through the town, and walk all the way back. As we crossed the footbridge back to our campground, she even had the nerve to smile at the torture she had inflicted on yers truly's tired old body. :jack Not a compassionate bone in the woman!-
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    Thus ended a beautiful day of riding, sightseeing, eating, and enjoying good company.
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    Next installment: Exploring Kennecott, and Hiking Mountain Trails
    #5
  6. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    As always, such exquisite moto photo journalism, Jack!

    Sure do hope to ride with you some day.

    Thank you for sharing, Mark H.
    #6
  7. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    Well... HayDee finally got off her... uh, duff... and posted some photos. And this installment will finish those of this Geezer.

    Saturday morning, about 5:30 AM. The sun on the other side of mountain ridges to the east illuminated the inside of my tent, but at that point did little to provide warmth. Nevertheless, bright daylight meant sleep was over, and it was time to get active. Walking around a little to relieve the stiffness that comes from sleeping in one position for too long, the stillness of the wilderness morning was certainly enjoyable.
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    Soon, the sun rose to peer over the mountains and its warmth was appreciated.
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    At HayDee's tent, however, all was still.
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    Finally, she arose and tended to domestic chores, as I had hoped would be the case -
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    After breakfast, we hopped on the bikes to do a little exploring downstream, but on our side of the river. This allowed for some photo ops with the mountains providing scenic backdrops.
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    Just over and to the right of the DR's taillight, about 5 miles away, the buildings of the Kennecott Mine appear on the mountainside. Here they are with a telephoto shot from the same spot -
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    That would be our next destination, after HayDee played in the water and we finished our morning exploration ride. First things first, however, for this Wyoming hillbilly. Any excuse to take off her shoes and run around barefoot -
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    It didn't take long for her to realize the water was colder than it looked :vardy



    Pointing at the huge blocks of ice just a few miles upstream from whence the water came...
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    ...I suggested that the cool temperature should have come as no surprise. As usual, my comment was unappreciated.

    After getting geared up for riding once more, we headed across the river to expand our tour of McCarthy with some more photos.
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    And then on to Kennecott to visit and photograph the mine and mill buildings. The road from McCarthy up to Kennecott follows the old railroad grade, which, in many places, was pretty steep for rails, but the trains were going up pretty much empty -
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    The peak of Mt Blackburn was just peeking over the intervening clouds, and the glaciers were being shadowed by those same clouds, but were still quite visible and attractive.
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    Kennecott Glacier Lodge has been renovated and presents an attractive picture, nestled among the spruce and aspens on the mountainside.[​IMG]

    Our bikes, parked below the lodge, were also the subject of close inspections.
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    Many of the buildings on the old mill property have been renovated, but the largest ones are still awaiting major work.
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    A footbridge along one of the trails crosses over one canyon above the buildings -
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    Signs? Who reads the signs? Guess nobody's home (at the building or the blond) :rofl.
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    The irrepressible HayDee trying out her horn blowing talent (or lack thereof). Suggested she might look for a lighter instrument.
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    And you can only squeeze so much into a small space, y'know
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    A few more views of old, decrepit buildings and tramways
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    Some statistics on mine production
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    Inside the NPS Visitors Center a movie gives a brief bit of history of the Kennecott Copper Mine so we took that in -
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    And then, to energize ourselves for the afternoon's activities (a long hike up a mountainside trail for HayDee, an afternoon nap for the Geezer) we partook of some sustenance in the Lodge's dining room. Pretty posies at the foot of the stairs -
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    And the promised food porn
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    Plus dessert (for the Geezer) – a delicious cheesecake -
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    Then the ride back down to McCarthy...
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    ...and out to the airport from which location there is a great view of the mountains,
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    the mine buildings (telephoto, of course)
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    and an old Ford truck
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    as well as a Pilatus Porter airplane
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    Having a bit of business to attend to in McCarthy, the nap was postponed while the Geezer visited various sites in the small town. Hidden away in a corner was this NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) – a late 90's Bombardier electric car, the only one this rider has ever seen -
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    We had been warned of a storm system headed for McCarthy that was due to arrive by Sunday night, so we agreed to get an early start toward Chitina Sunday morning. Hence, at 4:00 AM a small voice outside my tent announced “It's only 4 o'clock, but it's starting to sprinkle.” So by 4:45 we were on our way westward on the McCarthy Road, and at 6:30 AM had arrived in Chitina to air up our tires and hit the pavement. A stop at Copper Center Lodge for some sourdough blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs, washed down with piping hot coffee, left us ready for a few more miles.
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    By this time HayDee's restraint, which had been admirable to this point, was done for, and she couldn't resist playing with her leftovers -
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    (That's supposed to be a salmon, so she told me.)

    Now it's up to What'sername to finish this report with her photos from the vantage point of the trail to one of the mines. She has some really nice ones. Photos, that is. :lol3
    #7
  8. fltclark

    fltclark Adventurer

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    really nice rr, Jack...........hope to do this ride next June

    fletcher clark:clap
    #8
  9. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    Don't let Tim or Alan help plan your route - they tend to take the long way to get here. :lol3

    Y'know... I need to come up with a special tour for MTF'ers when they come up. Hitting McCarthy, Valdez, and Cordova - places that a lot of riders miss but are well worth the travel to see. For the last two a street bike is all that is needed.

    Let me know when you'll be up, and I'll try to schedule a guided tour.

    Jack
    #9
  10. fltclark

    fltclark Adventurer

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    thanks, will do..........
    #10
  11. ClearwaterBMW

    ClearwaterBMW The Examiner

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    awesome ride report
    incredible photography
    you really took us on a wonderful journey with you..... thank you so much for sharing all of this with us
    #11
  12. HalcyonDaze

    HalcyonDaze The Great Unwashed Mass

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    It does my soul such good to see that things have actually gotten better up there. 25 years ago I worried that a lot of those buildings at the mine would be collapsed by now. Didn't see any pictures of the power plant, is it gone? So glad to see people are taking care of things.

    Really flips me out to see the Gilahina trestle still there, I've got a picture of me standing on it.

    Unbelievable to see sidewalks in Chitina! And the road into McCarthy used to be the actual rail bed, complete with ties still in place in a lot of places and the rails just laid off to the sides. Had to carry multiple spares and patch kits for all the flats from old spikes!

    I've thought a lot about going back for a visit by bike. Your article is really inspiring. Thanks for the pictures.
    #12
  13. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    Glad you enjoyed it. Seems like we have had quite a few from your sunny state come through here this summer. The scenery isn't always on display as well as we'd like to have it, but at least we can provide a respite from your summertime temperatures. :lol3
    #13
  14. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    Still there, and it is being renovated, too. Most of the machinery has been moved out of the way, and the floor is being repaired. When I took a tour of the mill buildings back in '83 everything was still pretty much in place, just as it had been left way back when. But little by little they are cleaning buildings out, repairing what needs to be repaired or rebuilt, and putting things back in place as they were when the mines and mill were operating.

    It has deteriorated quite a bit in the past 25 years, but most of it is still structurally stable. Afraid that some day someone will start a fire in the vicinity and that will be the end of it.

    It was pretty much like that when I made my first trip in in '73. The "guardrails" on the Kuskulana trestle were only lengths of rail welded onto short pieces of more rail and standing about a foot above the decking, which was only rough-sawn planks placed for the tire tracks, with a space in between. Didn't make it all the way to McCarthy back then, as the approaches to the Lakina River bridge were washed out (as frequently happens).

    Recently scanned some my old slides from the '83 trip, including the old cable car crossing the Kennicott River. Will have to get them uploaded to Smugmug.

    It's a great trip by bike, and each year it seems to get better. Or maybe I'm just finding more to enjoy each trip. :D Glad you enjoyed the rr.
    #14
  15. HayDuchessLives

    HayDuchessLives Loquita

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    While the Handsome, Intelligent, Charming, Illustrious, Debonair, MODEST Geezer and I were enjoying a tasty, leisurely lunch, "Andy from Anchorage" (who rides a nice yellow BMW 800) dropped by to say hi. He said he was going to hike up the Jumbo Mine trail since he had hiked up to Bonanza Mine a couple weekends ago. Then he mentioned the trail was open to motorized vehicles, including motorcycles. I looked at Alcan Rider to see if he was interested in possibly riding the trail, but he wasn't interested that afternoon. I didn't want to ride up the trail by myself as I didn't know how difficult it was, so I stuck to my original plans to hike up towards the Jumbo Mine. The trail is 10 miles RT from the trailhead with over 4,000' elevation gain if you go all the way to the mine. I got a late start so I wasn't sure how far I would get, but I turned this into a scouting trip for a future ride up the trail on my Dependable and Reliable bike. She's built to ride on dirt: I just need to improve my skills and confidence by riding on more trails like this.

    The trail starts out basically as an old roadbed and is wide enough for 4X4s. The trail climbs rather incessantly but it isn't too steep and up to the intersection I didn't see anything worse than what Jack and I rode over on the old section of the Haul Road that we rode on Memorial Day Weekend. I feel pretty confident that my bike and I could ride up this trail by ourselves (at least to the intersection), if I can't find anybody to ride with me.

    Here are some photos of the trail going uphill to the intersection.

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    Here's the intersection where you turn left to go to the Jumbo Mine buildings or go right to go up to the Bonanza Mine. From here the trail narrows down to a double-track and started out with yucky, deep, sloppy mud for about 30' to 50'. After that there were a few muddy patches and some fun roots and rocks, up until the creek crossing.

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    You can barely see a red "rehabilitated" mine building up on the hillside. That was my stopping point for the day.

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    I came to a creek that would be pretty difficult for MOST motorcycles to get across and the trail across the creek was rather steep with stone steps to help hikers get up the trail. I decided this is "HackeyMoto" territory! I'm dismayed to report that there was a paper plate hanging on a tree branch on the other side of the creek that had this handwritten note: "No ATVs allowed" and somehow one of the strings holding the paper plate up came loose when I touched the plate. Oops!

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    Some views on the way up after crossing the creek.

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    An official notice:

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    The Bonanza Mine is located somewhere below the cirque in the distance.

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    Some views going down.

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    I hope this encourages some riders to go check out these trails when you visit McCarthy and Kennecott! I don't know what the Bonanza Mine trail is like, but ATVs go up there all the time.

    :wave
    #15
  16. HalcyonDaze

    HalcyonDaze The Great Unwashed Mass

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    Is the state funding the work or is it by private means?

    Glad to hear about the power plant. When I was there in '85 you could go into the administration area and papers were laying about on the floor. You could pick one up and it might be a work order from a day in the 1920's.

    Everything else you describe from years ago is exactly the way I remember it. Especially the Kuskulana bridge. I remember what a BIG first step it was gonna be if you weren't careful getting out of the truck when out in the middle of that thing.

    I was amazed a while back to read about the repair of the Million Dollar Bridge. Never dreamed that would be. Any news about re-opening the road out of Cordova all the way to Chitina? Talk about an adventure ride!
    #16
  17. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil Supporter

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    NPS (Nat'l Park Svc) purchased the mill property and is rebuilding all the historical stuff. Pretty convoluted, with McCarthy and Kennecott surrounded by Wrangell-St Elias NP, but the mines, mill, railway right-of-way, the town of McCarthy, and various properties along the railroad (now McCarthy Road) all being private inholdings. It can be difficult to tell if you're on private land, federal land, native land, or maybe even a bit of state land.

    Right now there is just a little platform with a railing around it in the doorway so you can at least look down onto the floor of the powerhouse. The boilers are still in place, but the generators have been removed. Hope they can get it all put back as it was. Considering the time the mines and mill were in operation, it was a pretty modern facility, even by today's standards.

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    EDIT: Here's a slide I took of a mill building back in '83 -
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    And here's the same building 28 years later (from this report). Despite the ravages of time - sunlight, rain, wind, heavy snowfall, etc. - the building has changed very little.
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    The fellow with me (we were on a fall moose hunt) refused to look out the side window of my pickup. He stared straight ahead when I stopped in the middle to shoot some photos. :lol3

    The "repair" was only to replace the ramp from the fallen span to the far end, as far as I know. I had driven across the bridge several times back in the '80's, and some time after that the ramp was taken out by some natural occurrence that slips my mind right now. Haven't been back there for over 20 years, so it looks like someplace I need to plan on visiting again soon.

    It's pretty doubtful that the Copper River Hwy will ever reach Chitina again - at least not in the next 50 years. Cordovans are split about 50/50 on the idea and I would probably be against it if I were living there. They like their little town the way it is. Can't say that I blame them, either, when I see what tourism and ready access to cities like Seward, Skagway, Homer... most cities along the ferry route in Southeast... has done to the formerly quiet fishing towns. :hmmmmm It's a mixed blessing, for sure.
    #17
  18. HalcyonDaze

    HalcyonDaze The Great Unwashed Mass

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    Location:
    High Lonesome, Moran Nation
    I think that if I were a Cordovan i would not want the road. I would live there because of its isolation, and I'm sure many there feel the same way. I saw an article somewhere in the last couple of years that reported on the state needing to do something about that span that fell in during the '64 quake- either re-build or demolish and scrap- and it turned out that it was cheaper to re-build. At the time of the article someone was running a hunting lodge on the far side (maybe it was always there?), I got the feeling that the lodge was enjoying the prosperity that the newly repaired bridge was bringing. Figured in time people would start pushing goat trails out from each end 'till they meet in the middle, then things would progress from there.

    Thanks to you and HayDee for a great article and really great pictures. It has been thrilling to ride along.
    #18
  19. jwalters

    jwalters Farkle Proliferator

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,578
    Location:
    Little Marais, MN
    Great RR. I love the pictures!

    I flew in that Porter you have pictured last year, we traveled from McCarthy and landed on a glacier for a few days and then detoured to Ultima Thule b/c of bad weather. Great airplane and fun trip! I wished I had my bike up there!


    (Glacier Taxi)
    [​IMG]

    (Campsite somewhere in the bush)
    [​IMG]
    #19
  20. thegraydog

    thegraydog 2 wheels X 6 ways

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2004
    Oddometer:
    843
    Location:
    the Coconino
    We visited Brittannia BC last summer, a similar effort to conserve a mine and mill that retired recently. An older but substantial site is Bodie CA.

    Buildings last as long as effort keeps water out of them. The old mines seem to have required as many carpenters as miners, especially if the floods and avalanches kept wiping them off the mountainside.

    The parkies are gonna have their hands full. Meanwhile it makes great dualsporting! Thanks for the ride report.
    #20