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Friday, August 9, 2013- Chitina, McCarthy and Kennecott

We left the motor home at about 8:40, starting east on the McCarthy road. The road is 59 miles long and is gravel all the way. There are only two roads into the park, and this is the main road.  There are multiple warnings about driving the road and we had checked with both Ranger Stations to make sure that we could travel the road safely. Since it has been so warm ( that is relative!) this summer, the road is, according to the Rangers, in really good shape. The road is built over a railroad bed and occasionally the railroad spiked pop up causing flat tires. There are tire repair places along the road, but no gas stations.

The first ten miles of the road were really washboard. Very rough, and we kept hoping that the road was not going to be like that all the way to McCarthy! It was not. I had to drive the first ten at 10-20 mph, after that it was 30-40 mph. The speed limit is 35.

We turned a corner and this black bear was in the road! He was a little nervous, but we stopped for pictures and he decided to continue walking up the road. One of the shuttles pulled up in back of us and he took off.

Bear on McCarthy Road

Bear on McCarthy Road

At mile 17 we had to cross the Kuskulana Bridge.  This was described as a “spectacular achievement, the Kuskulana Bridge was constructed during the winter of 1910. Imagine riding high in a heavily loaded ore train across the two icy rails. Perched 238 feet above the raging Kuskulana River, this single lane bridge still remains, for many, the most hair raising part of the entire drive”. We had no problems driving across the bridge.

Bridge

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We continued on our very long trek. It took us about two hours to reach the end of the road. We paid our $5 to park, and walked across the foot bridge. The shuttle had just left, so we decided to walk the 0.6 miles to the village of McCarthy. When we arrived, we did a quick visit through the Museum ( free) then caught a shuttle to Kennecott. It is five miles uphill to Kennecott, although some people were riding their bikes!

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We started the walking tour of Kennecott. In 1900 two prospectors were exploring the area and noticed what they thought was a green pasture. What they were actually seeing was one of the world’s richest concentrations of copper ore called chalcocite. Most copper ore is 10% copper, this copper was 80%! Developing the strike would require tremendous effort, ingenuity, and money. Money was how the Havermeyer’s, Guggenheim’s and Morgan families became involved. The three formed the Alaska Syndicate and created a monopoly, owning all aspects of the mining operation, including the mine, mill, railroad, and ships to carry the ore to Tacoma WA, and the mill in Tacoma . They made a $100 million dollar profit while supplying the world with copper for electrification, utilities, industrial development and munitions.  By 1938 there were over 100 buildings in Kennecott. The mine closed in 1938 after producing $200-$300 million dollars in copper and silver. The mine became a National Park in 1998 and is a National Historic Landmark/ Industrial site.

We stopped and ate lunch at a bus that has been converted into ‘roach coach’. We had freshly baked pizza. We continued to the National Park Visitor Center, were we talked with the rangers.  We strolled over to look at the mill. Saw the old hospital and Managers office.

Kennecott Mill

Above is the mill. Below is the hospital on the left and a bunk house on the right.

Kennecott Hospital(l) and Bunk rooms ( R)

We returned to the NPS Visitor Center, located in the old General Store, to ask why all the buildings are red. They are not sure, but think it is because ‘barn red’ was cheap paint and wore well. It is now called Kennecott red, if you see it anywhere!

National Park Visitor Center in old General Store

Kennecott General Store

We watched the movie on the mill. The mill is divided into three areas. The ore arrived at the mill from five remote mine sites via tramway at a rate of up to 1,200 tons of ore per day. From the tram, the ore went through a series of crushers and sorters using gravity and water to move the rock from one process to the next.  Once the tailings were removed the ore was loaded into burlap bags and stacked on open rail cars to be shipped to the coast.  The top level was where the ore was crushed. The obvious copper was sent directly to the train. The next lower level was where they again crushed and sorted, with the next biggest pieces going to the train. The lowest level they were either washed with ammonia or floated in a foam, then dried and sent to the train. The train then went to the coast and the ore went to Tacoma for processing.

The mine and mill worked continuously 363 days a year, only closed on Christmas and the 4th of July. The Kennecott workers became like family as they had to be close. There were 20 families and the rest were single workers. There was a school with 20 children and 120 adults attending in the evening to learn English and citizenship. There was a hospital and general store.

We took the shuttle back to McCarthy. ( $5 each way, each). We walked through the town of McCarthy,

McCarthy Golden Saloon

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Horse on the loose in McCarthy

The visitor guide states"” if you wish to bring your pets, please keep them on a leash. There are loose dogs and livestock in the area.” Well, here is livestock This horse was just wandering around. I asked the shuttle driver who he belongs to and he knew. He just wanders and they come find him when they want him! We also saw lots of dogs running loose. We did not bring our dogs with us!

We returned to the car for the ride back home. It took another two hours of travel. We decided to count lakes, there were 38 lakes, that we saw, as we might have missed some which were behind the trees. We arrived back at the motor home a 4PM. It was 60 degrees and very windy. We ate dinner, watched a DVD and went to bed.

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