Alaska Day 16 - Visiting the Root Glacier and going into the Kennicott Mine buildings
Kennecott Copper Mine - AK Travel Blog› entry 725 of 1090 › view all entries
Since our stay in the Kennicott Glacier Lodge was for two nights, we had the whole day to spend in this magnificent part of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park. Right after breakfast the waitress gave us our packed lunches, the heaviest lunch we ever carried with us during any of our hikes so far! We had two main topics on our list today. Visiting the Root Glacier and doing the Kennecott Mine Tour.
Root Glacier is one of the many glaciers in the park. Like other glaciers it is rapidly shrinking due to the higher temperatures. At the time the mines were still open the glacier reached as far as the mine site and beyond.
The glacier reaches technically seen still until the mine and the lodge. There is, however so much debris that it looks like huge piles of sand and rocks. So, our first kilometers gave us views on the moraine hills. Although no white and blue ice, still pretty impressive. At the border of the moraine and the real ice slab the ice became blackish. Many little brooks of melting water had curved themselves a river bedding into the ice plates. Even at the ice slabs, the ice was still dirty so it looked like walking on grey ice. We did not go too far, because we had to get back in time at the lodge where we would join a tour trough the mill buildings of the great abandoned Kennecott Copper Mine.
You may have noticed I am using both the name Kennicott and Kennecott.
The basis for the Kennecott Copper Mines, was the discovery in 1900 by two prospectors. They discovered copper ore that contained about 85% copper (while 10% was a normal standard for ores). Stephen Birch, a freshly graduated mining engineer picked up the news and managed to interest wealthy investors to invest in a mine at the site.
The mine grew steadily. Besides the 14-story mill building it encompassed two aerial tramways, 5 mines (high above in the mountains), several bunkhouses (both at mill level as well in the mountains), a hospital, a power house, a complete chemical plant (for the processing of the least rich ores), a sauna, a post office, houses for supervisors and the 20 families, a station, and a school. Where Kennicott was a company village with structure and rules, the nearby boomtown McCarthy was the opposite.
The mine was a huge commercial success. It yielded lots of copper and generated millions of dollars profit. The end of the mining era started in 1929 with the first of the five mines being closed. On the 10th of September 1938 the last mine closed and so did the mill and the railway. Everything was left behind and decay started. An effort to revive the mine in the 1960s failed. A destruction company, which was hired to tear down the abandoned structures, fortunately failed to do their job. So the ruins were spared and only the elements did their destructive work. But, the mine did not decay as fast as the Independence Mine (see earlier blog). In 1980 tourists discovered the charm of the ruins, in 1986 the ruins were declared a National Historic Landmark. In 1998 the National Park Service acquired almost all the lands and property of the mine, and is currently still busy restoring or stabilizing certain buildings.
The tour was pure joy for me as a ghost town-o-holic. I wish I could have spent twice the time we had in the structure. Despite the fact that the mine was stripped over time the mill's rooms still looked like people had been working there yesterday. The views from the mill were brilliant as well. After the tour we walked a bit more between the other old buildings, like old personnel houses and the hospital that was recently flooded by the river.
So, is the Kennecott mining activity completely gone forever? The answer is no! The Kennecott Copper Mines took ownership of a mine in Utah. This mine is still open and currently still know as the Rio Tinto Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation!
For the fans, here some great links: NPS info on the mine, an NPS map of the mine lands, the story of the mine (NPS), a nice picture of the mine with the aerial tramway, and a really cool movie on the mine's history.