Nabesna Gold Mine

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The color and geometry and antiquity enamored me.  Located on a small tract of private land within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the Nabesna Gold Mine is a charicature of frontier industry.  It would never have been recreated this well by historians and set-artists, but the contrast of order and chaos is exactly what it would look like if it had been.  A 42-mile dirt road penetrates the park from the north to the settlement of Nabesna.  There, a muddy two-track takes you the additional four miles to the gold mine at the end of the road, which was abandoned back in 1945.  I tip-toed and shutter-clicked around the decaying structure, careful not to awake any ghosts or critters.  I put one foot forward with half my weight, testing floorboards and stairs and ladder rungs.  And when I was done I walked briskly back to my bike, stopping for a few extra clicks of crusted ferric sediments, a broken window and the orderly disorder of rusting barrels.  The circus left town on this place; I left just as quickly,

One of only two roads into the largest national park in the United States, the Nabesna Road is under-visited, largely due to the rough dirt road and multiple stream crossings which thwart most two-wheel drive cars and larger RV’s when the waters run high.  Additonally, there are no tourist facilities at the end of the road, such as in McCarthy.  By bicycle, the road is quite rideable but offers enough challenges to come home hungry at the day’s end.  There is another small gold mine near the end of the road only a short hike away.  See my post on biking the Nabesna Road.

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Biking to Denali: Anchorage to Trapper Creek

Sunset over Susitna, from the cycle path in Chugiak:

By coincidence of low traffic volumes and ample shoulders for snow removal, most Alaskan roads are quite agreeable to cycling.  The road to Denali in particular, along the Parks Highway, is a safe and enjoyable ride even for the first-time cycletourist.  In town, naysayers will warn of grizzlies and long stretches without supplies.  The reality is a pleasant 3-6 day pedal with enough services and scenery to make a perfect getaway from town.  At the park entrance, you can visit the park interior in several ways: on foot, by bike, or by bus.  The best approach may be to combine a bus ride with a hike into the backcountry, or a bike ride with some day-hikes.  Biking the Denali Park Road is highly recommended, and the camper buses can transport several bikes so that you only have to ride one direction or part of the distance

Leaving Anchorage, cycle paths shuttle you out of town alongside the Glenn Highway to Eagle River, and along the Old Glenn Highway to the town to Chugiak, about 25 miles out.  Here, you ride the broad shoulder of the Glenn Hwy for about 20 miles, crossing the Knik River plain until the path resumes in Wasilla alongside the Parks Highway.  This is a good place to pick up any forgotten supplies, but it is not the last place to buy food, so there’s no need to overpack (the grocery at the Talkeetna turnoff is well stocked).  The path continues through town, and passes within several blocks of the Alaska Bicycle Center if any repairs or parts are needed, which is located near the skate/bike park off Lucille St. (on W. Nelson Ave.)  Follow the path on either side of the Parks Highway through Houston and on to Willow, at mile 68.  The path ends, and from here to Denali the road has a broad shoulder and a rumblestrip, which acts as a buffer to traffic.  Only a short section south of the Talkeetna turnoff has a narrower shoulder, although is it safe, even with higher traffic volumes found during summer months.  Overall, a pleasant escape from town, even if the full trip to Denali doesn’t suit your schedule.

Lael joined me on the ride out to the cabin in Willow, as far as the bike path goes.  I’ll be riding solo for a while, as she is off to Europe.  She packed all her gear for the two night trip into a Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap, a Revelate Gas Tank top-tube bag, and an Inertia Designs frame pack.