Driving to Alaska Day 13: McCarthy & Kennecott Mine

Welcome to post 13 of 18 in our Driving to Alaska series. We hope you enjoy the stories from this unforgettable 4,000 mile road trip.

In a half-awake state we both crawled out of the truck bed with full bladders and were met with a scene so perfectly picturesque that we may as well have been dreaming.  The stillness of the lake allowed for a flawless mirror reflection of the mountains and pines.  Fog rose from the water, adding to the ethereal scene.  The sun’s whereabouts couldn’t be determined due to the cloud layer, but sunrise was either nearing or had happened recently.  It was 2:30am.

2:30am at Moose Lake

We went back to bed and a few hours later began the day at a more normal-to-us hour.  It started with coffee and hanging our bedding out to dry.  The condensation inside the camper shell had dampened the outer edges of our sleeping bags and blankets.  While I was retrieving our things from inside the camper, I caught Mark trying to get my attention with a whisper.  He pointed towards the water and as I looked up a cow moose waded past us, not 20’ from the truck, in what we could only guess was water that was between five and six feet deep and came up to her chest.  She gazed at us with a hint of curiosity, we returned her gaze with gaping awe.  In a minute’s time she quietly appeared and disappeared from our view. 

The moment caused a sense of joyous wonder and an ear to ear grin that I couldn’t explain.  I spent the morning pondering why that fleeting moment made me so profoundly happy.  What I eventually concluded is that I have always felt grief for the fact that the human race is a direct threat on all other living things.  We leverage the natural world for our benefit and it costs the lives of so many other beings.  Seeing this moose so undisturbed by our presence, and surrounded by millions of acres of protected land that would allow it to thrive, brought me a moment of relief from that grief.  

Had we done nothing more with our day I would have been perfectly satisfied; but the day was just getting started.  After breakfast we packed up and made our way to the end of McCarthy Road.  The terminus of the road was met with two options 1) a free bridge for pedestrians or 2) a toll bridge for vehicles with a $300 annual fee.  The two bridges crossed the Kennicott river that was fed by the many glaciers that rose above it and connected tourists and residents to the tiny town of McCarthy as well as the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark.  We crossed the bridge on foot and meandered into McCarthy, a town indicated by a tiny dot on the map that was 60 miles removed from services, via a bumpy dirt road.  I had assumed the place would be nothing but a ghost town but a bustling general store, a hotel, two restaurants, and locals all around tending to gardens and home repairs indicated otherwise.  A large, handmade sign in the center of town read “SLOW free range dogs and kids at play”.  I was fascinated to see people thriving where I’d least expected it. 

After taking a look around the Kennecott cemetery, we spontaneously decided to hitch a ride in an old school bus turned shuttle.  For $5 we rode five miles to the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, an elaborate and well-preserved piece of history dating back to 1900.  Kennecott is considered the best remaining example of early 20th century copper mining.

From the mine we followed the Root glacier trail for a mile before finding a nice little overlook to enjoy our snacks.  Since we knew nothing about the area before arriving, we didn’t get started early enough in the day to hike all the way out to the glacier but the view overlooking it was spectacular nonetheless.  While I had thought it was the glacier I was eager to see, Mount Blackburn was what held our attention for the majority of our snack break.  Reaching 16,390’ into the sky, it was a captivating sight.  

The Root glacier in the foreground with the 16,390′ high Mount Blackburn in the background.

A few hours later the shuttle returned us to McCarthy where the aroma permeating from “The Potato” drew us in for dinner.  It was the only place serving food for probably a hundred miles and was bustling with locals and tourists alike.  We sat at a table beside a window and watched the town dogs saunter around the patio accepting any affection that was offered.  Between the dogs and the good vibes I felt like we were back in Baja.  The food was fantastic, the atmosphere even better.  Every now and then the stars align during our travels and a day presents a kind of magic in a way that we never could have planned and won’t soon forget.  This was one of those days.

The rain had returned by the time we stepped out of the restaurant.  We put on our rain gear and strolled across the bridge and back to the truck.  In a state of blissful contentment we turned on some tunes and began the return trip on the one way road back in the direction of civilization.  Thirty miles later we saw that our campsite from the previous night was vacant.  Being that we had no idea where we were headed, it was an easy decision to end the day right where it began.

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We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.


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