Early on while researching Alaska I ran across an article that named three things the locals like to do that few tourists know about. One, coincidentally, was the train ride we took to the glacier, but the second was Hatcher Pass. I had talked to a few people who had done it this summer and the general consensus was “beautiful but scary road”, well ok then we are in. Unfortunately with all the other plans and the fact that the weather really needed to be good for this activity it just didn’t happen and I was half convinced we would need to wait until our next Alaska trip. But then Saturday was absolutely beautiful and Lee, who was originally going to a HAARP open house, changed his mind and suggested we take a drive instead.
Now those of you who know Lee may be surprised that he passed up this super techie thing to go on a drive with me, heck I was surprised, but seriously it has been raining a lot and the desire to get out into the sun was pretty strong in both of us. So off we went with minimal information towards Hatcher Pass. Hatcher Pass runs between Palmer and Willow and is the location of the Independence Mine State Park. Really that is all I knew so we were pleasantly surprised when right away the road started to follow a glacier river. Now we have seen several of these, but this one was very special and the water was really cold. You could feel the cold air coming off of the river and I understood why there were sign postings cautioning people that they could get hypothermia in July.
After stopping at the stream the road started to climb and became really beautiful very quickly. There were fields of fireweed, blueberries, and other grass covering along with amazing hill views, Plus hardly any clouds in the sky.
The road is well maintained until you got to the Independence Mine State Park and it was only a $5 day use fee to see the mine area. Honestly I was not that thrilled about exploring the mine, but it was a good place to stop and eat our packed lunch and Lee loves this stuff. Well it turned out as is often the case that the mine location was very interesting. Plus we took the .25 mile outer loop trail (steep climbs in a couple of places) and the views were spectacular. You may not want to walk all the way to the top, but trust me it’s worth it.
There was something about the place. It had tons of walking trails, was large and open, and the picture opportunities were great.
It was somewhat crowded and there were lots of kids but because it was such a large space it didn’t feel like there were that many people there. Lee and I also speculated that this was one of the few places we had seen that was meadow and maybe that’s why so many people were here hiking. You could walk without worrying about bears.
Next we came upon a long mine cart and Lee got really excited about it. It was cool because it was complete and available for anyone to touch or sit on. I like that about Alaska parks, they let you touch things.
After we walked the mine, we went on the unpaved road through the pass. The road was rough in places and I certainly wouldn’t take a large RV or trailer on it, but we have seen worse. Again there were lots of people on the road but because the area was so vast it didn’t seem crowded. We saw blue berry pickers, gold panners, ATVers, and a few folks parasailing. Plus lots and lots of hikers.
Don’t get me wrong that road was no joke, but again we have been on worse and it was really beautiful. I can certainly understand why it is closed in the winter though. When we eventually got back to level ground the road started to follow the water again and we had some beautiful views of trees which had changed colors.
We got to the end of the road around 3:30pm (took roughly 3-1/2 houses to tour the mine, eat lunch, and drive the road) and were going to head for home when Lee said isn’t that Denali. I turned to the right and said “Yes, that’s the road to Denali,” then did a double take. There, clear as a bell, was Denali Mountain in its full glory. What!! I seriously did a double take, because I wasn’t 100% oriented on where we were and we never saw Denali this clear before.
Lee said, and this is seriously why I love him so much, “Let’s get closer” and off we went. The mountain played peek-a-boo with us on the 45 mile drive to the Denali State Park Viewing Southern Viewing area and I was sweating it. The weather changes quick and the vantage points change the view as well, plus we could see some clouds rolling in. I was on pins and needles until we got there and although these pictures are not 100% clear views I think they are very special.
So we got our shot and then to celebrate had Chinese buffet on the way home. It was a long day, but just the kind we like and I am so glad that Lee not only changed his plans but is the kind of guy that will always go that extra mile, both literally and figuratively.
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