We headed down the Richardson Highway on Monday, taking in some great vistas, waterfalls, and glaciers. It made me think how difficult it must have been for the Stampeders to travel Thompson Pass in their quest to find gold.
We arrived at Klutina Salmon Charters, whose campground sits right on the Klutina River in Copper Center. The campground is very rustic, but this place came highly recommended. The owner and his family are absolutely wonderful. They are friendly, accommodating, and just genuinely fine folks (and they have a cute golden retriever named Zeke, too). Furthermore, we were staying here for one purpose only: for King Salmon fishing! Copper Center is renowned for prolific salmon fishing. Dad figured making Copper Center our last stop in Alaska would be the crème de la crème of our Alaskan adventure. He booked his charter back in December 2015, building our entire Alaskan trip itinerary around arriving at Copper Center for the Klutina River’s peak salmon season.
My Friend, 3-year old Zeke
Our Site at Klutina Salmon Charters Campground
View of Klutina River from our campsite
Unfortunately, the King Salmon fishing moratorium is still in effect as we arrive at Copper Center. Ever the optimist, Dad is content to fish for sockeye (reds)—they are tasty, too, and are plentiful in this river. Alas, not this year! Apparently, the reds have not reached the Klutina or the Gulkana Rivers yet. The Alaskan fish counts for the last week (which are done by sonar) have less than 100 fish coming through these rivers per day. Typically, these counts are around 5,000 to 6,000 per day or more! They now say the late run will not occur until the beginning of August. WHAT! Are these fish screwing with my Dad? They certainly are causing havoc for charter services whose livelihoods depend on healthy and sustainable fish counts.
Dad, along with a few other diehard fishermen in the campground, tried fishing from the riverbank. An abundance of gulls and eagles joined them, searching the waters for a fulfilling meal. But there were no salmon to be had, although Dad did limit out on sticks and twigs! LOL
A couple of eagles competing with Dad to catch salmon!
On Wednesday, we took the deposit Dad made for the charter and applied it to a float trip. This was great fun! I had never experienced rafting along river rapids before—other than going on the log flume ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, that is. The Klutina River is Alaska’s fastest moving river at 17 miles per hour, though it is not the roughest. Our 14 mile journey was among Class 3 and Class 2 rapids—much more relaxing than most rivers. The water sure was cold at about 40F degrees. Along the way, we saw 2 moose, 2 kingfishers, and at least 2 dozen eagles, including several juveniles. So cool! What a ride! You can see for yourself from my youtube video when my assistant editor (a.k.a. Dad) gets around to posting it for me--you just can’t get good help these days.
Me and the gang relaxing at the front of the boat, Glenn doing all the hard labor, Dad sitting in back acting as photographer
View of Campground from float on Klutina River
We spotted two moose as we floated down the Klutina River
One of about two dozen eagle sightings from the float trip
While Dad worked on my videos, Mom and I walked through the town of Copper Center. Established in 1896 as a government agriculture experiment, it was the first non-native settlement in the area. Its role in the Gold Rush is documented in its local George Ashby Memorial Museum on Loop Road and is evident from the town’s many log cabins, some still inhabited while others lie in disrepair.
George Ashby Memorial Museum
Exterior of the historic Copper Center Lodge Cafe
Interior of historic Copper Center Lodge Cafe
A sampling of cabins remaining from the gold rush days
We stopped in the art gallery of Jean Rene, whose talents with watercolors capture the beauty and essence of this frontier land. Jean and her husband, Bob Sunder, have lived in Copper Center for more than four decades. Alaskans are very warm, friendly folks, and Bob gave me a tour of their beautifully-landscaped property, which included both flower and vegetable gardens. Perky sunflowers, colorful annuals, and snow white cauliflower adorn the area, all nurtured from seeds. Adorable wooden moose planters and a whimsical outhouse make the property even more magical. Jean has her works of art in various businesses throughout Alaska, including in the Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge. Since living in our RV provides limited wall space for pictures, we couldn’t buy any paintings (especially since we still have some from our sticks and bricks that we have not hung up!), but we did indulge in purchasing note cards that reproduced 10 different pieces of Jean’s work.
Jean Rene Art Studio
Small Alaskan towns actually have something in common with New York City—food trucks! “Mobile restaurants” are quite commonplace in Alaska, offering everything from pizza, Latino and Mexican foods, and expresso. Copper Center is no exception—it has the Copper River Grille, which touts “best burgers in the valley”.
Copper River Grille "Restaurant"
On Tuesday evening, we visited with RV Dreamers Trace and Lee, who are workcamping in Glenallen. Dad cooked up some of his halibut catch for us all to enjoy. It was great sharing Alaskan experiences with each other.
We visited the Princess Copper Center Wilderness Lodge to partake of a Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Ranger Program. The Park Service offers these programs each evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Princess Lodge. Because the flyer telling us about the program did not list the address of the Princess, we had to call the lodge to get directions (none of us had any Wi-Fi service). Hence, we arrived at 7:39 p.m. for a 7:30 program, only to be greeted by the Ranger as she is locking up the meeting room. She said she waited 5 minutes and no one showed, so she canceled the program. Waited 5 minutes—she should have waited at least 15 minutes. Anyway, what are we, chopped liver? We are here now, so give us the program! When Mom alluded to this, the Ranger claimed her projector was not working properly. Phooey! To think we pay her salary through our hard earned tax dollars!
Anyway, we took advantage of the great Wi-Fi at the Princess and hiked along several of the trails on the property. The bluffs afforded great views of the Wrangell Mountain Range.
Me venting about the Park Ranger to my friend, Ted. He's one big boy!
View of Wrangell Mountains
View of Copper River
Princess Copper Center Wilderness Lodge
Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest of all National Parks, and it is GINORMOUS! It is larger than Switzerland; its size is equal to 6 Yellowstones! It contains 6 of North America’s 15 largest peaks. Like Denali, it is mostly wilderness with few developed trails. There is limited access to the two points in the park (Nabesna and Kennicott) and it takes at least 3 hours traveling along unmaintained roads to get to these areas. The roads are so bad, the Park Service warns that it is “quite likely” you will encounter a flat tire or blowout traversing on them. Gee, thanks! Needless to say, we opted not to visit these areas. We did, however, go to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center and participated in everything that was available to us: we watched the film, perused the exhibits, visited the Ahtna Native Alaskan Cultural Center, and strolled along the short trails.
Claudia, Mom, and I also visited Chitina, whose heyday was during 1910-1938, when the railroad cars rolled into town with adventure tourists. Today, Chitina’s Main Street consists of 3 buildings: A quaint hotel, Spirit Mountain Art and Craft Center (which is currently for sale), and an out of business “emporium”. We glimpsed an old church tucked into the woods while walking about town.
One of only three buildings along Main Street in Chitina, and it is out of business!
"Shopping" at Chitina
Church in the woods
Quaint B&B in Chitina
We visited Liberty State Recreation Area for a peek at the Liberty Falls, which were quite lovely.
And we stopped for a quick tour of the Circle F Ranch and Tibetan Yak Farm. Bob and Barb Fithian have been in Alaska for 35 and 45 years respectively and have worked this yak farm the last 9. Again, Alaskans are very friendly, warm folks, so we had a great chat. And their lovable dog Jaeger befriended Mom after she gave him a doggie biscuit. (Mom is the only person I know who always has dog biscuits on her. This is quite weird, especially since we don’t even own a dog)! Yak is the most lean of ANY meat—about 98% fat free, and, amazingly, their fur fibers used for clothing and yarn are ultra soft!
Tibetan Yak Farm with Wrangell Mountains in background
Mom's Buddy, Jaeger
The Fithians have horses on their ranch, too!
Can’t believe this is our last evening in Alaska. Tomorrow we will cross over into Canada, where we will continue touring for the next few weeks. This Alaskan adventure has been the experience of my lifetime! Alaska offers a simplicity of life with a twist of adventure. It is a vast expanse of masterful creation, offering boundless unadulterated beauty. It is nature’s cathedral, providing me a spiritual oneness with my God. I thoroughly enjoyed this Land of the Midnight Sun!
Talk to you soon!