Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We've Been Blessed

When we started our Alaska trip, I certainly didn't expect to spend as much time as we have in our son and his family's driveway, but we've been blessed to spend time with them while still dealing with Turk issues. In fact, our departure has been pushed back at least one more week. It's nice that they have a nearly level driveway and they haven't kicked us out yet!

We've been blessed to meet a number of their neighbors and friends including the annual cul-de-sac potluck party.

We've been blessed to be in the area when some long time friends came to visit Alaska and we had the opportunity to see a friend I hadn't seen since high school a couple times now.

We've been blessed to have a washer and dryer just steps away and a son and grandson who insisted on changing the oil in the truck.

We've been blessed to watch our grandson develop new skills

resulting in a pretty tight pattern, even if a little bit south of the target.

We're both looking forward to the dog's incision healing (he's on yet another different course of antibiotics) so we can get back on the road. It's not all what I anticipated, but we've been blessed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stuff I Didn't Expect

At the suggestion of one of the ladies in the Visitor Center, I'd pointed my rental car south on Chiniak Highway and then turned onto Pasagshak Bay Road headed for the views at Surfer's Beach, but the road kept going and so did I - headed towards the end of the road at Fossil Beach.

The map mentioned it, but I didn't expect the road to go through the middle of a state owned missile launch complex.

The gate was open, so I kept going. The last part of the road to the beach was clearly not designed for rental cars but I didn't require a tow truck to get back up the washed out hill, so it's all ok!

Turns out the launch complex - "The Other Cape" - has been developed as an economic development project by the state. It currently has two launch pads used to place payload into polar orbit patterns.

The other surprise was back in town at the float plane basin. These planes are now quite rare in military form and especially when titled with the very rare (they only made two) civilian model number. I'm going to have to check my old log books, but I'm just about positive I towed gliders in this specific plane when it was on wheels in the Northwest. Small world!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ring Those Bells

When I have the chance, I try to get pictures of Russian Orthodox Churches because they sometimes have interesting architecture and they're so connected with Alaska's history. The church in Kodiak surprised me because it obviously wasn't as old as I'd anticipated. Turns out this building was built in the 1940s after the previous iteration burned to the ground.

This building is the 4th since the parish was established in 1794. Yes, that's right - 1794. And there's more to the story.

Off to one side of the church is a collection of broken bells and a cast plaque that tells the story. When the church burned in 1943, the only thing that remained were the broken bells.

Some of the bells had been cast in Kodiak between 1794 and 1796. Others had been added at various times.

When the church was rebuilt after WWII, there weren't enough funds to replace the bells, so for over 35 years the belfry was empty.

In 1979, members of the parish and others donated funds to buy eight new custom cast bells from France. Not just parish members but members of the community including the local newspaper -

another example of Alaskan spirit!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Alaska's Emerald Island

One of the advantages of having a child who is an airline pilot is the opportunity to fill an otherwise empty seat on a flight. Accordingly, it worked out for me to make a day trip yesterday to visit Kodiak. Their marketers have rightfully dubbed it "Alaska's Emerald Island." Let's just get it out of the way - it was beautiful!

As expected, the harbor was full of working boats

and lots of related color around the area.

The Coast Guard has a large presence utilizing a former Navy base with history going back prior to WWII.

I had not anticipated the amount of timber export. There was a wharf stacked full as well as this other area down the road. During my drive around, I met at least three logging trucks coming out of the woods.

The drive out to the end of the road to the south cut through several farms where the animals were allowed to choose which side of the fence they preferred. (This one's for you, Ellen.)

The number of very nice, apparently seasonal homes near the beach about 40 miles south of town was unexpected

as was the potential for beach camping. Turns out the Coast Guard Station has several 16' bare bones Scamps available for rent to service members.

There was even classic rust to be found!

More Kodiak tomorrow ...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Best Laid Plans

When we first arrived in Eagle River this summer, I spotted a derelict wooden boat hiding in the trees north of town. At the time, I told BJ that I wanted to come back for pictures. A couple weeks later, the boat was featured in a Saturday issue of the Anchorage Daily News, providing more background.

Built in 1912, the 82' Chacon worked in Alaska for most of its life before being left on the beach in Homer.

The current owner purchased it in 1984 and had it moved to the current location with the intent of repairing it and then using it to sail around the world.

It appears that little has been accomplished in the ensuing 40 years, although the trees have grown.

Lots of character to the boat, but it doesn't look like the owner's dreams will be realized.

Our plans have changed some as well, but not as drastically. Turk is scheduled to get his stitches out on the 30th after his second surgery. Assuming all is well, we'll leave Eagle River on August 2nd to start working our way south. Valdez, Haines, and Skagway are off the list for this trip, but I'm hoping we'll be able to do Chicken, Dawson, and Hyder on our way.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sutton, AK

Sutton has a small, interesting historical museum alongside the road if you don't blink when you go by. In 1900, coal deposits were noted in a couple areas near Sutton and Chickaloon. The US Navy funded development of the mines as a source for coal for Naval ships in 1916, the coal washer facility was built in Sutton, and then in 1922 the Navy declared the mines unnecessary and they were shut down and the facility dismantled.

Some of the machinery remained and has been collected for outdoor displays at the museum. This Buckeye shovel proudly uses

Timken tapered roller bearings.

Several of buildings on the grounds are from the mines or otherwise associated with the history of the area. This building served as a service station office and the local post office (at the same time.)

One of the buildings was dedicated to honoring past and current residents of the area who had/have a part in development of the area. Over 170 people are honored - pretty impressive for an area with a population of about 1,400.

The bunkhouse from the Chickaloon mine features displays about the short coal mining history of the area.

Next door is a very nice library and a parking lot making easy access to the museum by RVs.

No fee, but donations are encouraged.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kennicott or is it Kennecott?

The Kennicott glacier and the resulting Kennicott river were named after Robert Kennicott, the chief scientist on an expedition to find a telegraph route from the US to Russia. Most people believe that the mine and mining company names are an inadvertant misspelling. The town is spelled the same as the glacier.

The high grade copper deposits were discovered in 1900 but the logistics made mining the deposits very expensive. The Kennecott Copper Corporation was formed in 1903 by the Havemayer and Guggenheim families and J.P. Morgan to fund the development of the mines, mill, and the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad used to haul the ore from Kinnicott to the sea at Cordova.

The ore was shipped from Cordova to the smelter in Tacoma, Washington. The mine closed when the deposits ran out in 1938. Some high value items were removed but the buildings and most of the furnishings and equipment were left behind.

Quite a few of the houses are private property, purchased before the National Park was formed in 1980.

The iconic mill and concentrating plant, after years of neglect, is now the subject of efforts to stabilize it and replace some of the rotting log foundations.

Parts of the power plant have been stabilized and repaired while work continues on other parts.

Inside the powerplant was a telling artifact. The railroad started hauling ore to Cordova in 1911. Note the patent date on the boilers. The mine and mill were using the best and most modern equipment available to them.

Other buildings wait their turn for repairs

while some are already gone.

Just foundations of others remain.

It's possible to stay right in Kennicott at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. Meals are also available there or at the "pizza bus" on the lower level of the town.

Given the years, things aren't as plumb and level as they once were

but I found it awe inspiring to think about the challenges of weather, available technology, and location that these miners had to overcome in order to be successful.

Had to get a rust picture in - they're hangers for tramway buckets.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Located about 4.5 miles downstream from the Kennecott mine, McCarthy grew up with the mine, providing services that weren't available in the company town. After the mine closed, it almost died out, but now has 15-20 year around residents and around 300 summer residents. Access to Kennicott is via McCarthy, and it's well worth a visit. No public motor vehicles are allowed - access is via a modern foot bridge.

The town has lots of original buildings, some of which are housing popular businesses. Ma Johnson's Historic Hotel has attracted lots of very positive national press. There are at least three different places providing overnight lodging.

Not all of the buildings are as well maintained. In fact, this one comes complete with a feathered visitor

sort of front & center, above the faded word "meat" on the face of the building.

Some of the buildings, although looking pretty tired, are still actively used as summer residences.

There are a number of businesses that support outdoor activities from hiking the local trails and glaciers to running the area rivers. (This one's especially for our friend Helen who owns a kayak & canoe livery.) There are two charter flight providers in town including one that provides scheduled service from Chitina.

There are vehicles of various vintages hiding in the grass,

and at least three places in town where you can find something to eat.

The flower baskets throughout town were profuse,

and some of the baskets were unique.

There is also a museum in town but I didn't visit it. I thought visiting McCarthy was worth the effort even if Kennicott was ignored. Don't forget, it is a minimum of 3 hours each way from the Richardson Highway so it's not a trivial effort.