Alaska Camping 2008
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Days 12-13:   July 21-22, 2008
Return to Anchorage via Wrangell Mountains
Large areas of wild forest around Delta Junction were cleared and settled to create farms just in the last 30 years.  The frontier still lives in Alaska!  We had a promising view of the snow-capped Alaska Range over a farm field as we drove back to town from our camp on Monday. Delta Junction itself is a very small town, famous only as the terminus of the Alaska Highway, where it joined the pre-existing Richardson Highway from Valdez to Fairbanks.  We made the obligatory stop at the visitor center to pose for photos with the local “wildlife”.
From Delta Junction, we turned south on the Richardson Highway, back towards the Wrangell Mountains, hoping that our good weather there in the previous week might be repeated.  The road crosses the Alaska Range at a low pass.  Heading up, the clouds thickened and lowered and started to sprinkle.  Not a good sign.  But on the other side of the pass, we saw streaks of blue off to the south in the sky.  Head that way!  At Gakona, we turned northeast on the Tok Cutoff to reach the town of Slana and the start of the Nabesna Road.
The Nabesna Road is a good gravel road that penetrates the northern half of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to an old mining area.  There is a national park visitor center in Slana, where the bored looking young ranger was happy to have some customers!  He offered us free coffee and setup their park video for us to watch.
We were able to drive in about 25 miles on the Nabesna road; beyond that, it was closed due to washouts from thunderstorms earlier in the summer.  Although the weather was not as good as the previous week, we did have some good views of the northern side of the Wrangell Mountains.  There are no developed campgrounds on this road, only pullouts with picnic tables and occasional outhouses where informal camping is allowed.  We picked the pullout with the best view of the mountains and setup camp in late afternoon.  Surprisingly, there was no other traffic on the road the rest of the afternoon and evening.  We had complete solitude, only 30 feet from the road.
The rain returned Monday night.  Tuesday was our last full day in Alaska, and frankly, I was ready for it to be over already.  Too much gloomy clouds and rain for this California kid.  We just had to get back to the Anchorage area so we could catch our flight home on Wednesday.
We took the Glenn Highway straight back towards Anchorage.  The weather improved near Tahneta Pass to reveal large glaciers in the Chugach Mountains.  We even had some sun while walking the nature trail at the Matanuska Glacier state recreation area.  It was fully cloudy when we reached Palmer, where we stopped to camp at the nice city campground along the river.  We had time to hike up to the top of Bodenbourg Butte, an isolated peak about 1000 feet high in the middle of the valley, which gave us a good view of the Knik Glacier.  
The area around Palmer was settled in the 1930s as Alaska’s first real agricultural region and has that “messy sprawl” look you can find throughout rural America.  I was struck by the contrast between soaring mountain peaks and run-down buildings with broken-down cars, and took my very last vacation photo of such a failed Alaskan dream.
The rain started in earnest - heaviest of the trip - about 7 pm on Tuesday.  It continued all night and the next day as we drove to Anchorage, returned our rental car, and got shuttled to the airport.  It was still raining as the plane took off for San Francisco.   It felt like we had traveled back in time to a wet February storm in Palo Alto.  We were happy to be returning to sunny California!
2893-Alaska Range over Delta Junction farm
2894-Phil finds the end of the Alaska Hwy in Delta Junction
2895-Phil makes friends with the local wildlife in Delta Junction
2900-Wrangell Mtns from mile 17 on the Nabesna Rd
2902-Twin Lakes on Nabesna Rd
2903-Mentasta Mtns from Nabesna Rd
2908-Wrangell Mtns from camp at mile 17, Nabesna Rd
2910-Karen at camp on Nabesna Rd
2913-Nelchina Glacier in Chugach Mtns from Tahneta Pass, Glenn Hwy
2914-South from Tahneta Pass, Glenn Hwy
2922-Knik Glacier from Bodenburg Butte
2923-Fireweed on Bodenburg Butte
2927-Karen admires an oversized dandelion at Bodenburg Butte trailhead
2928-”Alaskan Dreams” in the town of Butte
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All materials Copyright Phillip Farrell.
Last revision August 10, 2008.