I didn’t know how refreshing being off the grid for a few days would be until we did it. As we drove back into town, I felt some sort of sadness to be back to “easy” life in civilization. I got a glimpse of the hard work required to live so far away from modern conveniences, but I admire those who live that way daily. You experience a special peace when you get away from life’s noise and fast pace.
For those of us Alaskans who don’t live a total subsistence lifestyle and have jobs that require us to live in town, we are fortunate enough to have these kinds of places to drive, boat, or fly to. A couple weeks ago my husband, his parents, and I got to enjoy an off-the-grid retreat via the historic McCarthy Road, located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
What a trip! The scenery of the Glenn Highway northeast of Palmer is incredible. I’m blown away every time. The road winds through a canyon, following a river that begins at the gorgeous Matanuska Glacier (a fun place to hike!). Tall, rugged mountains hug you from both sides as you drive. The greenery this time of year is lush and beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get pictures of this drive, as I was preoccupied just staring out the window! Here’s a shot of fireweed, one of our beloved Alaskan wildflowers. You can see just a bit of another glacier in the background coming down between the mountains. I took this once we got out into more wide-open land.
After a quick stop at The Hub of Alaska in Glennallen, a quirky place to stop for gas, snacks, and random Alaskan souvenirs, we stopped at Circle F Ranch to see the yaks, and this country girl LOVED it! My husband knows my dream is to move out of town and have at least a couple acres but still live close enough that he can commute to work. I learned from this rancher, who supplies starter herds to people all over the state, that we could have a few yaks with just a couple acres! Hmmm…
Supposedly they have tasty, lean meat, and their fur is soft but strong and can be made into a yarn similar to but not as expensive as qiviut, a luxurious yarn made from musk ox fur. The man who runs this hundred-acre ranch has worked hard to raise a tame herd. We walked right in among them and even got close to their newborn calves!
We continued on toward the B&B we were to stay at and stopped to look at the fish wheels set up on the Copper River. New fish wheels aren’t allowed anymore, so only the existing ones that have been grandfathered in are still standing on Alaska Native corporation land.
After the sleepy but charming town of Chitina (pronounced “Chitna”), we turned onto the famed McCarthy Road. The current road was built over an old railroad created to haul copper from the Kennecott Mine in the early 1900s. The road is still rough, so you have to drive slowly the whole way, but we were pleasantly surprised at the current condition it’s in. Here’s some interesting info about the road.
We pulled off on a small dirt shoulder high above a canyon so I could get a few photos of the beautiful Chitina River. I scrambled down fifteen feet, and I could only see wilderness all around me. We saw no cars on the road for quite a while, and at this part of the road there were no visible buildings anywhere. What refreshed me the most, though, was the smell! Almost all of Alaska’s air is really fresh, but Anchorage’s air has nothing on the wild air of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the United States' largest national park! I dragged myself back to the car after deeply inhaling the pure oxygen, and we continued on.
A little later, we came around a bend toward an old, high bridge that my father-in-law recognized as the Kuskulana Bridge, which they’d walked across when my husband and his brothers were young. He drove the car down a muddy path and parked underneath the bridge, and then we hoisted ourselves up onto the concrete base and then the metal-grate walkway.
I would not call myself scared of heights, but walking on this thing made my body involuntarily shake! I enjoyed looking down at the rushing river 238 feet below me, and I made it out to the middle point (the whole bridge is over 500 feet long), but it was a pretty crazy—and memorable—experience.
Stay tuned for more of our off-the-grid adventure! Next up, the bed-and-breakfast with million-dollar views and a hike on a magnificent glacier! (Read it here!)
No, it's not Disneyland. A Gallup poll released last week revealed that Alaska is the "happiest" state in the nation. In honor of this recognition, I am going to share with you an essay I wrote in school almost TEN years ago about my "happiest place" up here, along with some photos I've taken there.
Fist-sized rocks crunched under the truck tires as we drove along the rugged beach. Miles of sparkling blue water stretched to my left, and three conspicuous volcanoes rose straight out of the water across the inlet. I cracked my window and was hit by a blast of chilly Alaskan air tainted with the pungent aroma of fish. The truck suddenly turned up a steep, short driveway, and I thought we were going to flip. When we were level again, the aged sentinel of the beach sat in front of us—my uncle’s cabin.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the truck was the variety of sounds. Two playful dogs welcomed us with happy barking, my cousin’s horse clip-clopped its hooves on the rocks, my uncle revved the engine of his four-wheeler, and my aunt’s sweet voice drifted down to us from the expansive wooden deck. I closed my eyes to drink in the familiar sounds. Then I was barraged with a mixed smell of fish, salty ocean spray, and wildflowers. The breeze tousled my curls, and the salty airborne droplets tingled my tongue with their savory flavor.
When I opened my eyes again, what I saw warmed me despite the temperature of the enveloping air. The cabin stood elegantly and proudly on the hillside, smiling at me with its wide wooden grin and light-reflecting windows. The firepit to my right sat empty, inviting me to roast marshmallows in its coals, and the rough-hewn wooden benches circling it seemed to shout, “Come, sit and feel the warmth of fire and family!” It all brought laughter and loved ones to mind.
I opened the door and stepped inside. Furs, skins, animal heads, and enormous fish were plastered to the walls and affirmed that this cabin was right at home in the Alaskan wilderness. The humble kitchen stood to my right, and the smells of homemade salsa and oven-baked halibut overwhelmed my nose. But I had yet to see my favorite part of the cabin: the staircase.
The circular staircase, made of fine wood and carefully carved by a skilled craftsman, was created especially for this place. I ran my hands along the smooth, pale wood and planted one foot firmly on the first step. Just as I had suspected, it whined and groaned under my weight. I took another step. I went up the winding staircase to get a perfect view of all the goings-on in the cabin. Before long, I marched off the last step and was in the loft.
The overstuffed couches in the loft circled around the TV that didn’t get any reception. Therefore, a stack of movies sat nearby for nighttime entertainment after long days of outdoor fun. I sank down into a cushy chair but was up in a moment because I still had much to see. I walked to the railing and peered over at my family bustling around downstairs. I sighed and smiled to myself, and I wished I could spend my whole life in that cabin.
It was the closest thing to heaven that this earth could offer. Here, all worries ceased to exist. This was the place where peace prevailed.
I couldn’t help but smile as the familiar surroundings captivated my senses. I took the porch steps two at a time and spotted the hot tub at the end of the deck. I could already feel a blast of bubbles massaging my back as I soaked in the warm, steamy tub. The strong aroma of chlorine wafted to my nose and made me want to dive right in. But that could wait. Before I stepped through the cabin's glass door, I grabbed a can of thick fruit juice from a worn blue cooler. The sweet taste always delighted my tongue and reminded me of this place.
I'm a mom of twins, published author, editor, amateur photographer, and nature enthusiast with an unlimited supply of curiosity. Come discover the little wonders I find during my everyday life in Alaska.
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