Driving to McCarthy

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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Trip End Oct 14, 2010


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Where I stayed
Driving to McCarthy

Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, August 13, 2010

I checked out of my hotel in Fairbanks and ran a few errands before leaving town.  I'm going to be away from civilization a lot in the next week or two so I stocked up on food.  When I was at the grocery store I noticed a sign advertising flu shots.  It seemed like a good idea since I'm going to be around a lot of people when I go to the Telluride Mushroom Festival and Burning Man so I got one.

Then I headed for McCarthy, a small town in the middle of huge park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  Some of the parks in Alaska are so big they brag that they're bigger than Connecticut or Massachusetts.  Wrangell-St. Elias is so big they brag that it's bigger than Switzerland and, with nine of the 16 tallest peaks in the US, it has bigger mountains as well.  There are two roads, both unpaved, that penetrate into this huge area.  McCarthy is at the end of one of them.

There were a lot of private property owners already when the area became a park in 1980.  The federal government bought up some of the land but most of it has remained in private hands.  McCarthy is an area where most of the land is privately owned.  There are a few hotels near the end of the road.  At the end of the road there are two foot bridges you have to cross to get to "downtown" McCarthy, which is a tiny little town with no paved roads and a small number of mostly rundown buildings that house a couple hotels, a couple restaurants, some private homes and some tourist services, such as companies offering flight-seeing tours or guide services.

Four or five miles further down the road is Kennicott.  There was a copper mine in Kennicott that closed in the 1930's.  Most of the buildings in town are from the mining days but there is some newer construction.  Many of them are owned by the park but there are a number in private hands there as well.

There's a Visitor Center outside the park.  I stopped in there and found out that one of the bridges on the way to McCarthy is undergoing emergency repairs and is closed from 9pm until 9am.  Since it was nearly 6:00 I needed to hurry.  I'm sure glad I didn't stop much on the way there or I would have been in trouble.

I made it over the bridge before 9:00 and found my hotel.  Actually, hotel isn't the most appropriate word.  It's actually a collection of cabins that don't have electricity or running water.  There's a bathroom in a common area that also has a kitchen and electricity.

After seeing my room I walked over the bridges to the town of McCarthy.  It's certainly a motley collection of buildings but the town has an interesting atmosphere.  It reminded me in some ways of the Christiania section of Copenhagen and also of Key West in some ways.  I wandered around town and wound up talking to a number of people until after dark.  I then needed to find my way back up the rain-soaked dirt road with puddles everywhere to my lodge.  Normally, it's been reasonably light at 11:30 since I've been in Alaska but I guess the combination of the later date, being further south and the heavy cloud cover all worked against me.  I eventually made it back to my cabin with only slightly wet feet.
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