Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sun, Sept 13: Tonsina River Lodge, Richardson Highway Mile Marker 79

Well, I have to laugh when I type the sounds much more than it is! We are sitting in an overgrown grass field, granted with full hook-ups, but, on one side is a bunk house that has seen better days ...20 years ago; and on the other is the grass air strip (runway) and the “Lodge”. It is no more than a string of log, prefab-looking, buildings with green metal roofs and several more of the “North Slope” buildings, painted green, tucked in behind the wooden ones.Then, kind of connecting the “RV Park “ to the Lodge area, is a three story Hotel/Roadhouse that was moved here from Valdez in 1928.It is all boarded up, but was probably pretty nice in its hay day. The whole set up is off the road some along side the Tonsina Riverand the road sign announces they are the last services for 79 miles (until Valdez); gas, food, bar, lodging and, most importantly in Alaska at least, a liquor store. Also Russian food served here! In fact, the woman/wife of the man who took our money speaks Russian and English with a Russian accent. They had a steady stream of customers last night and again this afternoon; all very local looking!

We slept well. The grounds were totally dark. They even turned out all the neon beer signs. We awoke to another winter sky, but it does not really look like rain so we elect to stay one more night and explore as planned.

About 10:00AM, we head back several miles to the Edgerton Highway.The sun is trying to come out and we can see part of Mt. Wrangell so we stop for a picture.It is small world...there is a lady there taking pictures too and we visit. She is from a small town in NE Louisiana and is a friend and neighbor of a doctor we know who used to live and practice in Brenham, Tim Spires!

As I said, we are going to drive to the end of the paved section of road; to the Copper River Bridge. The road continues another 60 miles on the old rail road bed, but Dick has no desire to tear up another tire in this remote section of Alaska; especially since the season is over and there is very little traffic. The road goes through the farming community of Kerry, which was one of the last areas to be homesteaded in America.There are very few homes and less farming, but we pass a church that has a full parking lot this Sunday morning. We also find another cemetery.This one, judging from the crosses, is a European Christian group. The oldest grave dates from 1942 and the newest from 2006.

The pavement ends at the community of Chitinaon the Copper River. Chitna was a rail head supply community for the gold mining industry just like Eagle, McCarthy and Talkeetna and they all have a special character, quite a different look from the made over tourist towns. From Chitina we drive through the rail bed cutand on down to the river where there is a really good bridge across the river. But, from there on it is rough, gravel, one lane and has surprise railroad spikes every so often just waiting to ruin a tire! These were left from taking up the rails. McCarthy, 60 miles further in, is at the end of the road and across the foot bridge is Kennecott Mines, all in Wrangell-St Elias National Park. This is now a remote...translate fly in lodge, but some brave soles do drive.We are just exploring and want to see the fish wheels.These are homemade, water driven, fishing machines that are used by the Native Americans of the area to catch salmon. The Copper River Area is the ancestral home of the Ahtna People who depend on the salmon for a large part of their food. There are some wheels that are slowly turning,but we see no salmon. Copper River is a very popular salmon fishing area.

We drive back toward the Richardson Highway stopping for pictures of One, Two and ThreeMile Lakes; that is the distance the lakes are from Chitina! Then we stop for lunch at Liberty Falls.This is a nice lazy drive and the river viewsand fall colors are great.Back at Richardson we continue north a little farther to Copper Center, a small community also on the Copper River.One of the system of Roadhouses was built here in 1898 to supply the miners and is still operating.These roadhouses sprang up every 10 miles of so along the trails that became the main highways of today. We have seem a few of the roadhouses that are still standing on this trip, but they were not still run as roadhouses. Copper Center's roadhouse was built across from an Ahtna village. The Ahtna's were great traders and made arrow heads and other tools from the copper they found in the area. Today the Ahtna village is gone, but there are signs of both the Indianand the minerculture in Copper Center.
Carolyn finds another of the area's unique cemeteries beside a small community church. It is the largest one we have seen and has a mixture of Roman and Russian Orthodox Cross on the gravesand a few, very old, spirit houses also.While we are there we visit with two young men, their father and grandfather, who are visiting family graves. The appear to Ahtna and have driven up from Anchorage for the day.

It has turned into a pretty afternoon so we head back to the rig, making one last stop for a picture of the pipline, still marching beside the highway on its way to Valdez.Back "home" we get everything packed, the food issues sorted out and cook up the fresh things not allowed into Canada. We do some grilling and just enjoy the rest of the day.

We want to get an early start tomorrow. We will have a long day if we can reach Haines Junction by tomorrow night. We plan to spend a few days in Haines and Skagway before heading South.

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