Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heading to Wrangell - St. Elias

September 7. The weather this day was a driving and steady rain, as we left Fairbanks to head to Kennicott in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States. As the day progressed, the rain slackened and then we had dry periods interspersed with more rain. During times when the rain lifted, the scenery was often spectacular as we crossed the Alaska Range through a pass. We drove much of the day, because we had a plane to catch that would take us to McCarthy, population about 60. From there, it would be a five mile drive to Kennicott Glacier Lodge, where we had reservations for three nights. Along the way, we kept crossing the Alaska Pipeline, which we had seen so much of the day before on the trip to the Arctic Circle.
We spent a little time in Delta Junction at the visitor center. This town is the northern terminus of the Al-Can highway, constructed in about a year in 1942, an amazingly short time to build a 1,422 mile long road. It is too bad we can't respond as urgently to peacetime problems as we can in times of war. Delta Junction is where I was attacked by the giant mosquitoes. It is where I should have gassed up the rental car but did not. It turned out to be over 100 miles to the next functioning gas station, and if that one had been closed, the next one would have been about 65 more miles in Glenallen. I am not sure the car would have made it to that one.
We saw our last Alaskan moose south of Delta Junction. I felt bad about spooking her when I got out and crossed the road to take her picture. But a minute later, a car full of hunters came down the road, so this cow probably would not have wanted to be visible at that point.
It was raining or there was no place to stop for a lot of the spectacular scenery along the way, but now and then, we managed to get a shot.
Evenually, we reached the visitor center at Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, and had an hour or so to spare and see the exhibits. Mount Drum, a stratovolcano in the park, was beautiful and could be seen from just outside the visitor center. It rises to a height of just over 12,000 feet.
We left the visitor center, and headed for the airstrip near Chitina, which was about an another hour or so away. Along the way, we often had more nice views into the park, which is larger than New Hampshire and Vermont combined.
When we got to the airstrip with about 30 minutes to spare, it was deserted. We wondered if Wrangell Mountain Air had forgotten about us, but we found a pay phone and called their toll free number. As it turned out, the pilot was on his way with three returning passengers, and would be there on time. This winds had been gusting all day, and we wondered how the 65 mile flight into McCarthy would be. I am not afraid of flying but Mary is, and I could see that she was increasingly nervous about the whole thing.

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