Welcome back to the seventh installment of the Bucket List: Alaska series. If you are just joining us, you can go back to read the start of our Alaska adventure in Anchorage at this link. There will be links at the bottom of each post to take you to the next one.
We were excited to arrive in the Copper River area after a long day traveling the Denali Highway. We were continuing to venture deeper into the “off the beaten path” portion of our land tour, and the reduction in tourists and crowds was refreshing.
This much less traveled area is on the east side of Alaska, and includes the largest U.S. National Park, Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, which at 13.2 Million acres, is bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined, and borders the Yukon Territory and Canada’s Kluane National Park and Preserve.
The Copper River Wilderness Lodge was just what we needed after the hustle and bustle of Denali and Glitter Gulch, the commercial area near the entrance to Denali National Park. The Copper River lodge has one wing of rooms, a couple of low-key restaurants, and an incredible view of the mountains from a two-story gallery with a wall of windows.
You may have heard of the tasty Copper River Salmon, one of this area’s major claims to fame. The King and Red salmon are legendary for both sport and dining, and the Copper and Klutina rivers provide ample opportunity for fishermen to ‘extend’ their fish tales. LOL
We did not fish, however, during our stay. The evening of our arrival we enjoyed a brief walk around the grounds and then a nice dinner in the lodge restaurant. We left a wake-up call request with the front desk should there be a glimpse of the Northern Lights, and lo and behold, we received a call around 2 AM! We scrambled into our previously laid out clothes and coats and literally ran outside. We were delighted to see a brief otherworldly green glow to the northeast. Sadly, with only our camera phones, the photos are not worthy of sharing, but we will always remember the sight. By the time the rest of the guests, including Pam and Eric, made it outside, the glow was gone. We shivered out there for a while, but there was no repeat appearance of the aurora borealis that night.
The next day, we took a brief, 4-mile bus ride to the Visitor’s center for Wrangell-St Elias, arriving just in time for a tour with an engaging National Park service intern that included a bluff talk and nature walk.
One of the views from the bluff talk, where our guide talked about the history of the park, and the formation of the 2000 square mile Wrangell volcanic field over the last 5 million years. This area contains some of North America’s highest peaks, as well as, Mount Rangell, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It last erupted in 1900.
After the bluff talk, we walked the Boreal Forest loop trail, as our guide pointed out interesting flora and fauna, including a type of parasitic growth on the spruce forest called witches broom.
After the nature walk, we explored the outside exhibits around the visitor’s center, including some interesting historical displays.
Since we were not able to venture farther into the national park without a formal tour, we headed back to the lodge for lunch and then a walk around the lodge grounds. The weather had changed from moody clouds to brilliant sunshine so we took full advantage! The views from behind the lodge of the mountains, fall color, and river in the distance were breathtaking!
That afternoon, a tour to a viewpoint for the Trans-Alaska pipeline was offered. The weather had again turned cool and overcast, but it made for dramatic viewing of the engineering feat that is the pipeline. The Trans-Alaska pipeline’s 800 miles of 48″ pipe were constructed between 1974 and 1977 and convey crude oil from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield to Valdez. It was one of the first major construction projects to have to deal with permafrost and frozen ground, not to mention environmental, legal, and political challenges.
That evening, the sun again made a brief appearance, just long enough to glimpse a spectacular view of the Wrangell Range, and then top it all off with a rainbow!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to Alaska’s quiet side. Join us next time when we travel south to the historic town of Valdez, with its sad oil spill history, and then catch a catamaran across Prince William Sound to meet our cruise ship in Whittier.
You can go directly to that post at this link.