Matanuska to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Day 71: August 22nd

This day marks the point in our journey where we “turn around” to return back east to New England. (Of course we still have much of Alaska and British Columbia and the upper tier of the US to cover.) We briefly entertained the notion of taking a ferry down the coast to save a little time; but after taking a few hours to compare ferry rates, vs. fuel costs, food, camping fees and all that we came to the conclusion that the ferry was much too expensive to consider. We would head southward through Anchorage and then on the Glenn Highway back toward Tok and continue on the Alaska Highway into British Columbia.

Traveling south on Alaska Route 1 (the Glenn Highway) out of Anchorage, we first encountered the Matanuska River Valley. This valley was settled with winter-hardy souls from the lower 48 who were good at farming. It has rich soils and farmers here are able to grow super-sized veggies in the long days of summer. To the west of the road winds the Matanuska River…

Matanuska River Overlook

Matanuska River Overlook. Don't think this embankment will survive the next earthquake!

the Matanuska Valley also has its own premier glacier, the Matanuska Glacier…

Matanuska Glacier

The brittle zone and carved edge of the Matanuska Glacier. The glacier feeds the Matanuska River with loads of silt.

Matanuska Glacier heads in the beautiful snow- carved Chugach Mountains and trends northwest 27 for miles…

Source of the Matanuska Glacier

Source of the Matanuska Glacier - the snow covered peaks of the Chugach Mountains.

After visiting the glacier and traveling onward we began to glimpse the looming snow-covered peaks of the Wrangell  Mountains as we traveled toward the town of Glennallen.

Wrangell Mountains as we approach on the road to Glennallen.

Wrangell Mountains as we approach on the road to Glennallen. Mt. Drum is center, Mt. Sanford is to the left, and Mt. Wrangell (an active shield volcano) is to the right.

OK, so it’s really hard to imagine more impressive mountains than on the Kenai…right???  Perhaps it was just that the clouds had lifted and we were able to see more of the mountains. Don’t know….guess we will just have to come back here again to compare the mountains on the Kenai with the mountains in Wrangell- St. Elias National Park.

This park has active volcanoes, glaciers galore and is the largest national park in the US, (the size of New Hampshire and Vermont put together). It has the largest concentration of glaciers on the continent and the greatest collection of peaks over 16,000 feet. This view below is just the tip of the iceberg – literally. There are four “waves” of mountain ranges, one after another, in the park.

The Wrangell Mountains

The Wrangell Mountains, well, some of them at least. View from the Wrangell-St.Elias National Park Visitors Center. There are likely to be Lynx, and Bear and Moose in the forest in the foreground.

Like Denali National Park, most of it is unreachable except on foot. Unlike Denali it is not as heavily visited and controlled and doesn’t have buses and the like to truck people into the interior. A short, 10-mile side trek toward Valdez brought us closer to the mountains and to the visitor’s center, where we spent several hours learning more about the local native culture (especially the fish wheels), watching the park’s movie and attending a ranger talk on Lynx.

Native Made Wooden Fish Wheel

Ric converses with a native interpreter at the park about this wooden fish wheel made by local elders.

More than any other place in Alaska so far, this one feels like a place we really need to return to in the future, when we have much more time to explore. A real exploration of the area would take a month and require some serious backpacking under challenging wilderness conditions. Someday.

1 Comment

Filed under Alaska Journal, Been There Done That, Uncategorized

One response to “Matanuska to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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