Friday, August 20, 2004 –
The next morning we checked out of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. We had to head back south towards on Highway 3 toward Anchorage, but we had a number of interesting sights to see along the way.
At Willow, we exited Highway 3 on to Willow Fishhook Road, we followed the fertile valley of Willow Creek. The we climbed up to Hatcher Pass, which divides the alpine headwaters of Willow Creek on the west from Fishhook Creek and Independence Bowl on the east side. There we stopped at the historic Independence Mine for a tour of an important gold mine from Alaska’s past.
Robert Hatcher first discovered gold in the Independence Mine/Hatcher Pass area around 1906. We saw the shaft and walked the old rail line that led the gold to a nearby process building. We toured several buildings and learned how gold was mined back in the early 1900s. All I could think about was the Tennessee Ernie Ford song “Owe My Soul to the Company Store.”
Afterwards, we headed down the other side of Hatcher Pass following the Little Susitna River canyon downstream towards the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, or Mat-Su. This area contains the land between the Matanuska, Knik, and Susitna Rivers. It is known for world-record sized cabbages and other vegetables displayed annually in Palmer at the Alaska State Fair. We turned toward Wasilla, where we stopped for lunch at Subway.
After leaving Wasilla, we headed down the A-1 south around the eastern shore of Knik Arm, the northeastern arm of the Cook Inlet. When we arrived in Anchorage’s northern suburb of Eagle River, we took Eagle River Road east to the Eklutna Recreation Area, part of Chugach State Park. This beautiful and mountainous park would have been as popular as the Tetons in the lower 48. We went stopped at the Eagle River Nature Center, which exhibits interpretive information on wildlife and geological features. We hiked the three-mile Albert Loop Trail through mixed forests alongside the Eagle River, which is fed by glaciers. We saw a number of bear warning signs and some parts closed because of bear activity, but thankfully didn’t run across any grizzlies!
That evening we headed into Anchorage to check into our Residence Inn near the airport. We ate some fast food for dinner since we were so late arriving.