Week Five (Part 2)
Today is the halfway point for my entire trip. Five weeks behind me, five weeks ahead. So it is kind of perfect that my parents chose this weekend to come visit. Actually, they had been travelling around Alaska for a week before they made it to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on Wednesday – the same day I returned from working in Kendesnii. We had a joyous reunion at the Visitor’s Center, and then I spent the rest of the day showing them around Headquarters and Boxtown.
Thursday, the Fourth of July, we headed down to McCarthy and Kennicott in a rickety old shuttle bus with bug-smeared windows. The first two hours of the drive was on a nice, paved road, winding through valleys, around mountains, and over rivers. But then we reached the infamous McCarthy Road, instigator of popped tires and cracked windshields. We bumped along at an excruciatingly slow pace for another hour until we reached a skinny, industrial footbridge, forcing the shuttle to stop and let us out. From there we followed the thin stream of people walking towards the center of McCarthy where the festivities were happening.
Turns out Independence Day is a pretty big deal in small towns, so this typically deserted main street was bustling with everyone who lives within a twenty mile radius. I even ran into four people from Boxtown that I didn’t know were going to be in McCarthy. They were all very excited about the parade, so we decided to stick around and see what it was all about. Before long we heard the Kennicott marching band coming down the street behind us playing a variety of patriotic songs. The band consisted of two mortified 13 year-old boys carrying a banner and a very enthusiastic leader with maracas in front of a banjo, clarinet, and snare drum. The parade couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes with five “floats” – crazy objects sticking out of trucks – in total, but the crowd loved it. My friend, Shelby, who works in Kennicott, told me that this was the most excitement and activity she had seen in the town all summer. I admit, a lot of time and creativity went into those floats and it was pretty cool to see.
Afterwards we hiked up to the old Kennicott copper mine and looked at the remains of buildings from the early 1900s. For being a century old, the bright red structures growing out of the sides of the mountains were surprisingly intact. It’s incredible that the second the mine ran out of material to work with, they shut all the buildings down and the town cleared out, leaving everything behind.
Friday I had to go back to work, unfortunately, but I was off again on Saturday, so we took the time to visit Valdez. Mom and dad had just come from there, but it was extremely cloudy and rainy (in typical Alaska fashion), so they were up to see it again. Of course, it was cloudy and rainy on the day we went too, but not to the same extent. Fog drifted down over the rolling hills on either side of our car and mist spewing from cascading waterfalls made the pavement glisten. The whole atmosphere created a sense of mystery and anticipation
We took a detour off of the highway to look at Worthington Glacier. After hiking across slippery rocks and chipped boulders, I found myself at the foot of a looming blue ice cave. When I put my hand out I could feel the ice melting beneath my fingertips and hear it cracking deep within the crevice. To my right gallons of water tumbled down, rushing by in a frigid river and covering the rocks I stood on with a thin layer of ice. It’s pretty easy to grasp your own insignificance when you are in the presence of a structure that is thousands of years old.
When we finally made it to Valdez it was clear that you make the trip for the drive up: Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier, Bridal Veil Waterfall. The city itself looked like any fishing town you could find on the east coast or in Northern Minnesota. We stayed for a while, looking at boats, fishermen, and tiny gift shops, before returning to Boxtown to cook up some salmon from my supervisor. I took this opportunity to show off my skills at filleting and preparing fish (with a lot of help from my fellow Boxtown residents). I think the salmon turned out fabulous, despite my initial apprehension.
Mom and dad leave today for Anchorage and fly out Monday morning, so as soon as I post this we are going to head out for one last hike. Dad is determined to get a glimpse of Mount Drum before we leave because the top has been engulfed in clouds this whole week. I’m very sad to see them go, but it was nice to be able to actually show them the park I’m working in, for once, instead of coming home and just showing them pictures of where I spent my summer.
Next week the YCC kids and I head out for a field trip around eastern Alaska with Glenn. We are going to stop by Denali, Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs and Tok. I’m very excited to see all these places I haven’t been to yet.
I hope all is well at home, and I will write again soon!