Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #10

America from the earliest days was built upon tenacity and determination. Each place has its stories of the men and women who were the first-comers, the settlers, the pioneers, those at the front lines of the frontier. Driven by myriad reasons, but driven nonetheless, men and women trekked through the harshest conditions to pursue and fulfill those dreams. It is amazing to what lengths mankind is willing to go, to expand, to explore, to pursue freedoms and wealth and opportunity and stability and adventure. And the further west and north in the United States, the more recent those stories are.

The Independence Mine was a hardrock gold mine, formed by the joining of two mining companies in 1938, and was worked until its closure in 1951. It was the second most productive Alaskan gold mine, producing nearly $18 million by today’s standards. This is an informative article, briefly outlining the history of the mine. IMG_0035eIMG_0026eIMG_0045eIMG_0053eJenny and I, along with a friend of Jenny’s, visited the mine on Friday, after we hiked Hatcher’s Pass. If we hadn’t been starving and a little pressed for time, we could easily have spent more time walking the trails around the park, taking pictures, and taking in the scenery. Run-down and tumble-down buildings, in various stages of dilapidation, hugged the mountainside, giving quiet testimony to a time when the area was alive with industry. It is amazing to think of the men who first came into this area, in spite of – and maybe because of – how remote and rugged it is. The camp buildings in particular were fascinating to me, as someone who loves old buildings, but also because of how out of place they seemed compared with the rest of the mine buildings. The bunkhouses, cookhouse, and other camp buildings, according to the informational signs, were painted with aluminum paint and red trim, “giving the camp a clean, cheerful appearance.” The manager of the mine wanted to keep his miners happy, and the accommodations were known as the best in the area. IMG_0081eIMG_0127eIMG_0118eIMG_0114eIMG_0002eIMG_0014eIMG_0097eSo much history, and so recent. A step back in time.

 

 

 

Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #9

What had begun as a beautiful Sunday morning and early afternoon turned to clouds and drizzle by the late afternoon and evening. The closer we got to the Lion’s Head trailhead, the greyer and rainier it became, but we had coats with us and set out hiking in the drizzle.
IMG_9724eAn online hiking article states that the trail is 1 1/2 miles long, and it definitely is a good scramble, steep, narrow, and slick in the rain. Jenny and my Uncle Dan both are skeptical of the 1 1/2 miles and think it has to be shorter – I’m not. Though, it didn’t feel nearly as long coming back down!

IMG_9698eIMG_9577eMost of the trail does indeed go straight up, with a few too-short switchbacks and some rocky climbs. The rain had made the trail a muddy mess and the footing somewhat treacherous in places. Lots of easy handholds are to be had, however. About half of the distance is in forest growth, though there are open areas boasting beautiful views of the Matanuska Valley. The rain and clouds and mist gave the landscape a moody, surreal atmosphere at times, with the river and the Glen Highway gleaming dully in the distance, beneath towering clouds and strange sunlight. The scramble includes a stretch of boulder field, which was easy to navigate and was actually a nice break from the raw, muddy scramble. The trail begins to level out towards the top, with a pretty gentle grade over the ridge to the actual peak. IMG_9604eIMG_9573eOnce again, I couldn’t help but exclaim over the strange terrain, with the soft and spongy moss covering pretty much everything in thick, tangled mats. Large lichens added weird pattern and texture. Tiny flowers poked up among the fronds of moss, delicate and seemingly vulnerable, and little ferns grew impossibly in the boulder field. How amazing, that God has equipped these plants with fortitude and tenacity to be able to grow and flourish in such harsh climates. IMG_9574e IMG_9611eIMG_9595eIMG_9582eIMG_9596eIMG_9701eThere were glorious views once we reached the top, and the sun began to show itself. There must have been some electrical activity in the storm, since our hair was standing up on end at the peak, in spite of being wet from the rain. Hoards of mosquitoes were also waiting for us, as well as a number of swallows dipping and diving over the cliffs, and beautiful clusters of wildflowers springing up seemingly from the rock itself. The Matanuska Glacier snaked back out of sight, hidden by mountains and mist. A swampy area dotted with little lakes sprawled between us and the glacier. The mountains along the Matanuska Valley were blue with rain, losing themselves in the distance. Breathtaking, truly.IMG_9669e We hiked back down the trail, bug-bitten, rain-wet, sweaty, and muddy. What a joy, to be able to spend God’s Day in His glorious Creation, marveling at His handiwork, His Creative powers in having shaped and formed this world we live in!

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Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #6

Happy first day of summer! Here in Glacierview, AK, we are enjoying the last bit of daylight at midnight – We’ll have 19 hours and 21 minutes of daylight today! Honestly, it is the light that is the biggest adjustment for me up here. Sleeping really isn’t an issue, since I can hang a blanket over the window, but energy is the issue! At home, I’d be tired by 11:00pm, particularly if I had just gone on a hike and had a busy day (both of which I did today!), but when it is daylight outside, the energy just doesn’t turn off. The daylight really has wreaked havoc on my sleep, since I’ve been staying up a lot later, and then a few mornings ago I was wide awake at 4:30am! I love it.IMG_9421eIMG_9476eIMG_9452eIMG_9444eAfter dinner this evening, probably around 8:00 or a little later, Jenny and I climbed up to Big Rock, which overlooks the whole valley, with the Matanuska River snaking its way along way below, and the houses and Victory Bible Camp scattered like little models here and there in the trees. We left home in a slight rain, and enjoyed a rainbow on the way to the top, but once we were at Big Rock, it cleared up a bit, and the sun even came out briefly. The clouds were wisping over the mountaintops, and the Matanuska Glacier could be seen further east. IMG_9493eWhat a day. So much to marvel at.

 

Old Trails

Sometimes it is the old trails that really are the best trails. There’s always something to keep them from seeming redundant. In the case of the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, part of my love of it is pure convenience – I can tumble out the door and be walking along the trail in 5 minutes, remote, away from anybody, in the quiet of the trees. Part of it is nostalgia, memories, and the sheer beauty of this region. The Hole-in-the-Wall road winds along through ravines and low places, often overlooking or crossing an old nameless, boulder-strewn creekbed that eventually joins up with Battle Creek. This has been a favorite trail since I was a kid – because Hole-in-the-Wall has always been a favorite destination. I’ve written about Hole-in-the-Wall a handful of times before, that it is the site of an old mining camp, that the miners diverted Battle Creek straight through a ridge, creating what we now know as Hole-in-the-Wall. Something about this place is comforting to me, and not long goes by before I get the hunger to hike to it, the same familiar trail, the same trees and rocks and sandy, rocky streambeds. Since I am leaving the country at the end of this week for a month, I wanted to hike to Hole-in-the-Wall again. Mom and Dad were the only ones home, and they agreed to tag along. Off we went, with both of the dogs tearing around, having the time of their lives.
IMG_7859eWe were chatting, watching for fossils and flowers and critters, talking to the dogs casually. I had been down in the creekbed looking for fossils and had just come back onto the trail. Opal, in her play and curiosity, headed down the bank, underneath a still-flowering golden currant bush. We called to her and continued walking, and Mom mused, “I wonder if we’ll lose any dogs to snakebite this summer.” It is just something you think about when you live in rattlesnake country, and this is the time of year they start showing up. Talk about a well-timed comment. No sooner had those words left Mom’s lips, than that unmistakable sound burst from underneath the currant bush – a rattlesnake. The sound is one of those you never forget, unless, of course, you’re my Dad and you can’t hear the snake’s rattle, which is a little unnerving. Well, Opal came tearing up the bank around the other side of the currant bush, apparently unhurt (“Good,” I’m thinking. “How in the world would I have broken the news to Sarah?”). Both dogs were immediately captivated by the strange sound, and then immediately got yelled at.  Trixie, the silly thing, actually responded to verbal commands and getting swatted in the face with a ballcap, which surprised me, since I always assumed Trixie’s first rattlesnake would also be her last. In the next few chaotic seconds we got the dogs by the collars and suddenly felt a little calmer.
IMG_7763eIt’s no fun hearing the snake but not being able to see it. Once the dogs were under control, we got a good look at the rattler, and he was a big one, hunkered down beneath the currant bush in a shaded spot. I honestly have no idea how Opal didn’t get bitten, except to say that God didn’t let her get bitten. Where the snake was coiled was right where Opal had jumped. He was thick and angry-looking, and we watched him for a couple of minutes before continuing our hike, with the dogs leashed this time. Once you see one rattlesnake at such close quarters, suddenly you’re convinced there are snakes in every clump of tall grass, under every fallen log, and in every pile of rocks. A little irrational, but that’s just what happens. Just like when you find one tick, suddenly you’re crawling with imaginary ticks.
IMG_7783eIMG_7842eWe made it to Hole-in-the-Wall without meeting anymore snakes, and enjoyed the flora in the meadow  there. Particularly the Missouri pincushion cactus. We found a whole colony, with little families of cacti all growing in groups, and some beautiful solitary ones with picture-perfect blossoms. Shades of yellow to shades of peach, glimmering and gleaming in the sun. I had never seen so many.
IMG_7797eThere was plenty of dame’s rocket, violet woodsorrel, larkspur and larkspur violets, and even a groundplum milkvetch with its cute little fruits. On the way back, we checked under that same golden currant bush for Mr. Rattlesnake. We tossed a few rocks down the bank into the bush to see if we could stir him up a little bit. He had moved on. Smart snake.

Sometimes it really is the old trails that are the best. Because they’re the ones with all the many, many memories. And I’m really glad we still have our dogs.

Hiking | The Meeker Ranch

Once again we spent a Sunday afternoon haunting beautiful ruins in beautiful country. The Meeker Ranch is an historic site now owned by the Forest Service, east and north of Custer, SD. It dates back to the 1880s, and was built by Frank Cunningham Meeker, who, according to the Black Hills and Badlands website, was a member of the Pony Express, which ran for a couple of years along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage line. Frank Meeker named his idyllic 278-acre spread “Willow Creek.” The ranch passed through several ownerships over the years, finally coming into Forest Service possession in 2004. They undertook restoration and preservation of the ranch when acclaimed watercolor artist Jon Crane helped lobby against the slated demolition of the structures. This breathtaking historic site has been the target of some vandalism in the past, but overall is beautifully preserved.IMG_6640e Inside the main ranch house, there are still shreds of curtains, canisters of coffee (these people were obviously coffee-drinkers!), hangers in the closet, old newspapers and magazines, and wallpaper on the walls.  Glass sparkles in shards on the floor, whole jars littered among the wreckage. It must have been a lovely, fashionable home in its prime, and now just wisps of the memories cling here and there around the walls.IMG_6655eIMG_6844eIMG_6696eIMG_6733eIMG_6685eIMG_6693eIMG_6721eIMG_6740eIMG_6759eAround the homestead, perched on the hillside in among massive boulders and rock outcroppings, other structures cling tenaciously. The barn fittingly presides over the other structures, towering above them in wonderful condition, while the others have fallen into some level of decay. Buildings out here, scattered through the Hills, are so old and rugged that they seem to have sprung from the ground, rather than to have been built upon it. They belong where they are.
IMG_6794eIMG_6781eIMG_6855eFrogs were singing in the little marsh below the house, singing and trilling so loudly it was almost uncomfortable – What a beautiful summery sound! The scent of pine resin was heavy in places, another sign of summer-to-come. Every time I get a breath of resin in the warm sunlight, a wave of nostalgia breaks over my soul, wrapped up in the beautiful memories I’ve treasured since childhood, of this place I now get to call home. Wildflowers were blooming along the short trail, little goldenpeas and pussy toes and even a few long spur violets. Springtime is truly here! IMG_6873eTo get there, head north out of Custer on Sylvan Lake Road. Take a right on Willow Creek Road. After a couple of miles, the road will become considerably rougher and narrower, so don’t take a vehicle with low clearance. After about a half a mile on this stretch, there is a Forest Service gate and some parking space. The Forest Service access road continues beyond the gate, and is about a half mile hike to the ranch.

A stunning piece of history.

 

Hiking | Poet’s Table

I always love a new hike. Yesterday, I hiked to a hidden gem of the Black Hills – The Poet’s Table. And since it is an unmarked trail, it is pretty easy to keep it somewhat secret. I went with people who had been there before, which really is the best way to go in the case of the hike like this one, since it would be pretty hard to find it without a guide, even with directions.  The hike is a good scramble in places, not an easy hike, in spite of the short distance. From the trailhead to the Table only takes about 20 minutes, but it involves climbing a crevasse or two and some steep inclines.IMG_5723eWe started at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, which would be the most direct route. Since Little Devil’s Tower Trail is part of the Harney Peak Trail System, and the Poet’s Table trail is a spur or loop off the main trail, one could easily incorporate Poet’s Table into a longer hike. If you decide to do this, do Poet’s Table at the beginning when you’re fresh. Not at the end when you’re already tired and footsore.
IMG_5661eStarting at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, hike about five minutes and a lightly-trodden path will veer to the left of the main trail. This path will then climb a  somewhat steep hill towards rocky outcroppings. The trail will again divide. Take the left-hand trail. When you reach the top of the hill, there will be a large boulder to your right. Walk around the boulder. On your left will then be a sort of crevasse. IMG_5663eClimb the crevasse and you will be standing on an open rock face, with a rock table all the way at one side. IMG_5667ePass to the right of the rock table and climb another crevasse to the right. Poet’s Table is more or less at the end of this crevasse, on the left, tucked underneath an overhanging cliff. The trail actually continues from Poet’s Table, forming a loop which then comes back around to the second fork in the trail. IMG_5689eIt really is a delightful location, well-hidden, sheltered, and quiet. People who argue that the Black Hills aren’t mountains haven’t seen places like this. Soaring rock spires conceal this spot, and mountains fall away in the distance. A table and chairs and a cabinet filled with notebooks furnish the nook. People have signed their names on the walls, painted pictures, written poetry in the notebooks, and someone even left a bottle of Jack Daniels. There were remnants of an old campfire, and other odds and ends of trinkets and oddities left by previous passers-by. IMG_5672e We meant to eat a camping lunch up there, since I had missed out on the camping trip due to being sick, but a thunder storm rolled through just south of us, barely touching where we were. We could hear the thunder, so we debated for roughly twenty minutes about whether or not it was foolhardy to be sitting up on rocky cliffs with a thunder storm going on (the answer being “yes”, of course), until the storm basically blew by. By then, we weren’t really hungry and dinner was getting close anyway. IMG_5697eIf you plan to do this hike, I would recommend consulting other sources as well for trail information. I wasn’t writing down directions, but am simply recalling them. If I do Poet’s Table again, which I plan to do, I’ll be sure to update for inaccuracies!

Pack a picnic lunch. And enjoy the hike and the accompanying pristine views. The Black Hills at their best.