Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

Independence Mine

high rise

mine panorama

rail bike trail

equipment

hilly

dorm

collapsed

dead salmon

Williwaw campsite


Since Homer was at the end of the road on the Kenai Peninsula, we've spent the last few days retracing our route back north into Alaska proper. I hate to jinx it by mentioning it, but the weather has improved considerably and it almost feels like summer. We've stopped to enjoy some spots that were unenjoyable in the rain. At Williwaw Campground we rode our bikes on the Blue Ice Trail beneath glaciers and snowy peaks. Considering the fact that it's the middle of August, it seems like most of that snow should be gone. After this cold, rainy summer, some of the glaciers may grow a bit this winter.

We've been salmon watching much of the trip and at Williwaw we finally saw the end of the story. Up until now we've been watching the salmon enter the freshwater streams from the ocean and bears and people trying to catch them. At Willawaw as the salmon swam up the river to spawn they stopped eating and their jaws evolved into what looked like pincers. Then they spawned, turned bright red and died - a natural death here. When the fish are bright red they are much easier to spot in the water.

We zoomed through Anchorage and are camped in Wasilla, a town made famous by she-whose-name-I-won't mention. The town itself feels like an Anchorage suburb full of strip malls and urban sprawl Alaska style, but the snow capped mountains provide a spectacular frame to it all. The local Walmart is the biggest in the state and sells more duct tape than any other Walmart in the nation. That tells you something.

The campground provided a free salmon dinner tonight, the fourth free dinner we've enjoyed on this trip. The locals know how to prepare salmon all different ways. I picked up some cooking ideas, although deep fat frying does take away from the healthy benefits of my favorite fish.

The Independence Mine State Historical Park is nearby in the mountains. The park is restoring a gold mine that produced 34,000 ounces of gold in the 1930's. It was still doing well when it was closed by the government during World War II because gold production wasn't essential to the war effort. After the war the price of gold was fixed at $35/ounce and the mine was no longer profitable. The buildings sat idle and vulnerable to the weather. A heavy snow in 1986 caused many to collapse. Mining is an important part of the Alaska story and the historical park staff is restoring buildings on the property as time and funds allow. There were aspects of this park that reminded us of the copper mine we visited at Kennecott, but Independence was far less remote and more modern. Mining is a dangerous, uncomfortable pursuit no matter how you do it, but the men who worked here had comfortable dorms and were provided with entertainment like movies and had paid vacations. The setting in a bowl of rock and alpine tundra was spectacular.

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