Alaska offers so many unique experiences, and every time I get to know another little nook of this huge state, I’m amazed! The other night we had a true “glamping” adventure (that’s glamorous camping) and it helped temporarily satisfy my craving for camping. My list of places to explore and overnight this summer is expanding rapidly, and I’m realizing the number of weekends in the season will be shorter than the number of places I want to go.
Our time at the Johnson House cabin was perfect. We brought dinner from home and ate on the deck. The silence was incredible and so refreshing. A car occasionally passed by on the road far below, but mainly we heard birds, small aircraft flying up and down the valley, and a lot of blissful silence. The sun shone brightly on the Knik Glacier and the beautiful mountains around it. We fell asleep to the sound of owls hooting in the trees and woke up in the middle of the night to see northern lights in the sky right from our bed and from the porch.
The "camping" side of this wonderful retreat is the lack of indoor plumbing. But the outhouse, just steps away, had a view that quite made up for it! :) It was also equipped with a heat lamp for when the weather is chilly. The kitchenette had an ingenious system for potable water that made cooking and drinking easy.
From the fresh cinnamon rolls to the plush bathrobes, this cabin was full of special amenities and thoughtful details. The mini fridge was stocked with the makings of a hearty, mouthwatering breakfast. The world around us, still dominated by peaceful silence, made sounds of waking up. Birds happily chirped, helicopters and planes once again purred toward the glacier, and I contentedly sighed as I watched the sun first peek over the mountains and then overpower the sky until it boldly illuminated the beauty all around me.
After our stomachs were full and our tastebuds were savoring the last lingering delights, we settled in for a game of rummy. Between rounds we pulled out the big Alaska atlas that was on the nightstand, finding new places to go (that list keeps getting longer, I tell you!) and looking at just a tiny portion of the thousands and thousands of trails and creeks in Alaska.
We immediately felt a connection to this place, and I recommend it to anyone wanting a quiet, beautiful retreat without having to commit to fully camping! The beauty we experienced would only be magnified in summer, fall, or winter. The cabin is for two guests maximum, so it's perfect for couples. The owners were lovely and hospitable, and we felt completely welcome. It's also conveniently close to Anchorage (about an hour), so we will most certainly be back! You can find more information and make a reservation on their page here. (This isn't a "sponsored" post; I just loved this place and wanted to share it with the world!)
The conception of Independence Mine was proof of what thinking outside the box can do. Robert Lee Hatcher, who became the namesake of the area in which Independence Mine resides, wasn’t content to seek his riches from the gold-laden creeks in what became known as the Willow Creek Mining District. He knew there had to be a source for all the wealth many were pulling out of the creeks, and he searched the mountains until he literally struck gold. In 1906 he staked a claim high in the mountains, and I doubt he knew his discovery would become the most abundant and concentrated gold mine in Southcentral Alaska. That only came to be because many innovative miners wised up and realized their finances and energy would be far more useful together. One large company was created, called the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company, and its gold claims in the area covered over 1,300 acres of land. The weight of gold extracted from Hatcher Pass came to nearly 39,000 pounds. In today’s dollars, that would bring in over $300 million dollars.
What gets my curiosity going the most is wondering what daily life was like for the people living and working there. Were the handful of wives and mothers that lived in the small settlement near the mines excited to be part of such a grand adventure? What was school like for the children in a frenzied mining area? Did the miners consider their sacrifices worth it years later?
Did they look up at the mine shafts in wonderment or dread every morning after what was probably too short of a rest?
I will never know how these people felt and lived, but I can only imagine how thrilling and exhausting this lifestyle was. I feel privileged to experience this remnant of recent history in Alaska, and I'm already planning trips to more of the historic mines in the state! To read more about gold mining in Hatcher Pass (and read where I got much of this information), visit these sites: HERE and HERE. And check out Remembering the Gold Days, my first post in this series of two.
I was wearing two pairs of socks, insulated boots, two pairs of pants and a down skirt, five shirt and coat layers, a scarf around my neck, and three layers of headgear to keep warm. Two degrees Fahrenheit was warm enough for me to have an adventure. Putting one boot in front of the other, my faithful companion (husband) and I began our mile-long ascent from the parking lot to the old mine. On either side of us, sharp peaks stood tall and immovable in the brilliant sun. The biting wind had carved patterns in the deep snow that laid on the gentle slopes between the peaks and our little trail.
We were walking over what I like to call Styrofoam snow. Because the snow was so dry from temperatures well below freezing, and because many heavy winter boots had traveled over it and packed it down, its consistency was firm yet springy (when we weren’t falling through a soft spot up to our thighs). The path protested our disturbance by uttering strange groans and creaks, almost like sand barking under our feet.
We finally crested the hill and got our first good vantage point of Independence Mine. This beautifully preserved place always strikes me with awe and giddiness. Somehow the reality of gold miners living and working in this area during the first five decades of the twentieth century seems so distant. But this particular mine stopped operating only sixty-four years ago, in January of 1951.
We tromped around between buildings, crashing through packed snow every ten steps or so (we didn’t think to bring our snowshoes since we have virtually no snow at home in Anchorage). The sun, as it dropped toward the mountains, brought out the details of weather-beaten siding and cheerful red trim on tall, slender buildings. We were alone; no other hikers were enjoying the mine, and the silence was delightful. The mountains framed us in on three sides, and my husband laughed at his echo yelling back at him.
I studied the splintery wooden structures cascading down the mountainside from the mine shaft. I tried to imagine hundreds of men (and perhaps a few women sprinkled in) furiously working together to bring in their fortunes. Join me later this week as I share more photos and history of this fascinating 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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