Alaska Day 6 - Northbound: Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine

Independence Mine State Park Travel Blog

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Seward's Resurrection Bay looks different with clouds

We woke up with the type of weather which is way more common for Seward than the weather we had so far: heavy clouds and ditto rain! Boy were we lucky, today would be another travel day,  if we had had this type of weather in the past days, we would not have seen anything we saw. We went to buy our famous take out breakkfast in the local Safeway, the supermarket that sells almost anything: hot breakfast, fresh salads, huge marshmallows, and..... even the 2012 Sarah Palin Calendar!

Seward granted us one more or less dry breakfast at the shore of the Resurrection Bay in one of the covered activity halls of the camp site. Even with clouds the bay looked beautiful. With that in mind we set off for a 295-km (184-mile) journey, back to Anchorage and then on to the north to the Hatcher Pass.

The main lodge of the Hatcher Pass Lodge

The Hatcher Pass is a 64-km (40-mile) long dirt road from the Parks Highway (see tomorrow's blog entry) to the Willow Valley near the city of Palmer. We headed for the Palmer part of the pass, and only for the very last 10 miles of paved road at an altitude of about 1000 meters (3500 ft). Here we had booked us a cabin in the Hatcher Pass Lodge. The lodge is located in the middle of nowhere in the Alps-like meadows of the Talkeetna Mountains. My description middle of nowhere, is not completely true. Only 60 years ago, the area just one mile away and 150 meters uphill housed hundreds of men and some families. All working in the Independence Mine.

The Independence Mine was one of Alaska's most successful gold mines. It all started in1906 with Robert Lee Hatcher discovering scattered gold patches in quartz veins of hardrock found in the brook running below Skyscraper Mountain.

Independence Mine
It turned out that Skyscraper Mountain and nearby Granite Mountain conatined the so much wanted metal. Two mines came into existence: the Alaska Free Gold (Martin) Mine, and Independence Mine. Further exploitation of the grounds needed much money and efforts so, in 1938, the two mines merged into the Independence Mine. The mine had several aerial tramways that terminated at the site's mill building. Workers were lodged in two state of the art bunk houses which were, with good facilities like washing rooms, billard rooms, and even a theatre, an example for many other modern mines. Others lived in Boomtown a small site of little cabins just downhill. The mine operated until 1943 when it was forced to close because of World War II. And from 1946 to 1951 when it closed forever.

In 1974 the site made its way into the National Register of Historic Places a few years after that the lands were donated to the Alaska Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation which established Independence Mine State Historical Park.

Independence Mine, One of the family houses' interior
Unfortunately the impressive mill, which spans a whole side of the hill, has mostly collapsed. The parks devision has, however, managed to save the other structures, like the two bunk houses, the mine manager's house, the mess hall, etc. The manager's house has become a nice little visitors center.

Our journey from Seward to Hatcher was a make up for the good weather we had so far. We were treated on a lot of rain and a lot of clouds! A quick stop was made in Anchorage to refill the car's tank with relatively cheap Achoragian fuel and our stomachs with some junk food. When we reached the lodge and checked our assigned cabin we found out that the cabin had not been serviced yet. While the staff took care of that we briefly visited nearby Summit Lake on the dirt road section of the Hatcher Pass. 

Dinner in the Lodge was expensive but pretty good. Sitting in front of a coal powered stove we overlooked the tundra like valley. Dinner was early and sun set is late and, to our delight, the rain stopped so we decided to head out to the mine site.

Independence Mine, Mill and Mess Hall
 

We reached the Indepence Mine site walking a small trail through what once had been Boomtown. Some rotten fundaments of the cabins and rusted barrels were silent evidences of the town's existence. The site of the mine was very impressive. The restored houses looked higher than I expected. The collapsed mill structure was indeed in a very much evolved stage of decay but it still gave a pretty good idea how it looked like. Surprisingly enough the fragile Indiana Jones like rail tracks of the carts delivering ore into the mill were still standing. While the twilight set in, we were the only two persons in the ghostly site. Very spooky, but so cool!

Some nice historic pictures are in the Alaska's Digital Archives, they are copy righted so I did not add them to my blog. Just follow the links here, hereherehereherehere, and here for some of them.

Independence Mine, The "Indiana Jones" like railway to the mill

More (of my own) pictures below! (Some of them were taken the next day, but were added here for completeness).

dahling says:
Very interesting blog..I hope I'll get to see it one day..
Posted on: Sep 24, 2011
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Sewards Resurrection Bay looks di…
Seward's Resurrection Bay looks d…
The main lodge of the Hatcher Pass…
The main lodge of the Hatcher Pas…
Independence Mine
Independence Mine
Independence Mine, One of the fami…
Independence Mine, One of the fam…
Independence Mine, Mill and Mess H…
Independence Mine, Mill and Mess …
Independence Mine, The Indiana Jo…
Independence Mine, The "Indiana J…
Seen in the supermarket: The Sarah…
Seen in the supermarket: The Sara…
Sewards Resurrection Bay looks di…
Seward's Resurrection Bay looks d…
Sewards Resurrection Bay looks di…
Seward's Resurrection Bay looks d…
Summit Lake
Summit Lake
You reporter sitting at the dinner…
You reporter sitting at the dinne…
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine
Independence Mine
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, One of the fami…
Independence Mine, One of the fam…
Independence Mine
Independence Mine
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Mill
Independence Mine, Bunk House
Independence Mine, Bunk House
Independence Mine,Bunk House in th…
Independence Mine,Bunk House in t…
Independence Mine, The Indiana Jo…
Independence Mine, The "Indiana J…
Independence Mine State Park
photo by: Manu32