Smoke, Glaciers, Pit Toilets and the Raw Beauty (and Roads) of Wrangell-St. Elias

IMG_6302Monday July 30 , 2018

Last night was the first time I was up and out in the middle of the night for this entire trip!!! The special treat was a bright beautiful moon shining on the lake. And we awoke to warmer am than we had anticipated at 57 degree.  The sky was a cerulean blue, the sun bright (yes at 5:30 in the morning). I anticipated a wonderful day.  I was packed and ready to go around nine after a conversation with the next door campers.  They mentioned that there was a large forest fire in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve.   Within five mile, heading toward that National Park,  I began to see smoke shrouding the mountains in the distance.  I had such a sad feeling that more and more acreage of wilderness was going up in flames even tough I know it is the cycle of nature – not to mention impact of climate change.

Before I knew it I saw the signs for the US/Canadian border approaching and it was quite an exciting moment to think not only that I had come this far ( probably 6500 miles from Florida) but I was now entering what would now be my new home state. Of course it was monumental to take the obligatory picture at both the sign and in front of the demarkation line.

The next stop was  to find out more about the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, a landscape made up of forests, wetlands, tundra, lakes, mountains and glacial rivers against the backdrop of the  snowy peaks of the Alaska Range. My main interest was in the nesting trumpeter swans.   Prior to getting to Snag Junction yesterday, I had seen a pair nesting in a lake, thought about stoping for a picture but opted not to. Since I never saw another pair there, I wished I had stopped, but the reminded myself, I may well have disturbed them.


I decided to take the one road through the refuge to Northway, a small town within the refuge. It was a pretty decent gravel road and the first part it was mostly bordered by rivers, swamp, ponds etc.  When I reached Northway I was quite taken aback  to see such a very poor community. Folks in gated communities with deed restrictions would be horrified.  It seems that anything that ever came in via that road never left and the town was strewn with rusting out cars, machinery, broken furniture , houses cobbled together with what wood was available etc.  I was quite surprised to see a good sized school and perhaps even if the community does appear broken in the level of maintain a clean environment, they make up for it in friendship and helping others.

I headed back out and was on the road again and had a couple hundred miles ahead of me.  Gradually the sky became bluer and the smoke disappeared.  The road in general was good but there were many rough, gravel, and heaved sections.  So we heaved, and dipped and bumped along. I find it quite a lot of fun to drive as there is no risk of getting bored nor a glazed feeling from miles and miles of flat smooth surface. I am glad that I wasn’t planning to drive mega miles because it is not possible to maintain a steady speed and even the speed limit at time. Most of the other people I talk to in the campgrounds put in 7-8 hours of driving each day, making the grand circle.  That does not seem particularly enticing to me. 

I was now headed to Wrangell-St. Elias NP, designated as a Work Heritage site because of the natural owner of the largest aggregation of glaciers and mountain peaks  above 16,000 feet. Imopted to take the Nebesna road down to the town of Nabesna in Wrangell-St. Elias NP. .  This trip into the preserve and refuge would be 40 miles each way on varied surfaced road.  The first part was chip sealed and then relatively smooth gravel. But as the miles wore on and I had to drive slower and slower as it became rockier and narrower. 

At a couple of points there were stream crossing the road to drive through.  Lady Spitfire was so excited.  It was the first time she went into 4 well drive and she was ready . Poor deceased Pretty Priss Prius, my faithful work horse of a car that managed four coast to coast trips,  would have loved to attempt this, but had she had any miles left in her by now it would definitely done her in.  But Lady Spitfire was up to the challenge.

As we got further in, the snow and glacier decked mountains were getting in closer range.  The scenery during every hour  of the drive today just got more and more breathtaking. The road deadened at the town of Nebesna. Several of the homes/buildings had planes parked in the front yard with a grass take-off and landing tip along the road. This clearly is by far the best option to get anywhere given the 40 mile arduous drive in.   

After the drive out and a stop at the ranger station I headed back down Alaska 1 and continued to ooh and ahh every inch of the way.

The stop for the night was at Glenallen and I had made a reservation for a tent site at Norther Lights Campground and RV Park.  Well the fears that I had about the previous park had been unfounded and the campsites were lovely, BUT in this case they were well founded. The sites are not all in a row in a parking lot because  the have a very few skinny trees between them, but there is not much privacy.  My tent site overlooks the cell phone tower storage lot with its many cable spools and other equipment.  All the picnic tables are yellow and things all a round are painted “cutesy.”

One can hear the traffic whizzing by quite clearly. Since I was not sure about wilderness camping in the area I did not want to go into a park where there is active bear activity etc. especially with my two dogs. The one  campground in Wrangell-St. Ellai does not allow tent in the summer months so I thought I would play it safe and stay near town.  Bad choice.  However I got through the whole routine of camp setup though opted not to use the squeaky sagging plywood tent platform. But the six previous campgrounds were great so I guess, I won’t dwell too long on this one. I however do think I will steer clear of these private RV parks in the future. All of the pit toilets elsewhere are far better the chemical toiled across from my site  (and yes it is painted yellow also!)  Now for my photo gallery of the pit toilets along the way.  that had a more tolerable aromas and dean features. The worst was this night.  


The best was at McCarthy, Wrangell- St. Alias.

The rest of the cast!


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