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!)
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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