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"Long ago, miners wandered into the Talkeetna Mountains searching for gold, 
but what they found was even more precious. With over 300,000 mountainous acres,  
historic sites, and diverse wildlife, Hatcher Pass is one of Alaska's favorite backcountry
getaways . . . After the mines closed, local residents were quick to realize the value 
of the access roads leading deep into the mountains. The area surrounding
Hatcher Pass became known for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities."
~ from the Alaska State Parks brochure, Welcome to Hatcher Pass Mgt. Area

It was just too good to be true Ė another sunny morning when we got up!

Alas, it was mostly cloudy in Anchorage by mid-afternoon when we got back from our drive up to Hatcher Pass and the Independence Mine and mostly overcast while we were up there in the Talkeetna Mountains.

We still had a great day and highly recommend the day trip we did through and above the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley. You'll enjoy it, too, if you like history and/or pretty mountain scenery.

Scene from Independence Mine

Last night when we went to bed (late, because of the London Olympics opening ceremony) Jim suggested not going to the Arctic Thunder air show today but waiting until tomorrow when there will probably be fewer people because the weather isnít expected to be as nice.

That was a good idea because there was quite a crowd at the air show today, per the local evening news, and gripes about how long folks had to wait to get in the gates.

We were able to hear/see the F-16s and F-22s flying around when we came back into the campground at JBER this afternoon. The Thunderbirds got started about 20 minutes late and didnít put on as long of a show as they did yesterday. We could see them periodically from the large meadow/playground next to the laundry room in the campground:



Since we weren't going to the air show today we decided to check off a couple items on my list of things to do in the area. Iíve read only good reports in blogs and literature about touring the Independence Mine State Historical Site on Hatcher Pass Road so that was our activity of choice today.

Old buildings have always fascinated me. So have old mines. I love to find abandoned mines and equipment in the Silverton and Leadville, Colorado area when we visit there and it's no different in Alaska.

Overview of the old gold mine, in operation from 1936-1943

As soon as I read about Independence Mine in RVers' journals I knew I wanted to go there. I also wanted to see nearby Hatcher Pass because I love alpine scenery and views above treeline.

The 49-mile Hatcher Pass Road is a challenge for almost half of its distance. It runs basically east-west through the Talkeetna Mountains between Palmer and Willow, as shown at the top of this map section I copied from our Milepost book (2011 edition, p. 346):

I marked our route in yellow. We turned around at the pass but Hatcher Pass Road continues west along the top of the map section to Willow.

The road is paved for about 17 miles on the east side from Palmer and 10 miles on the west side from Willow. The paved segments are solid black lines; the middle unpaved section is a dotted line along Willow Creek.

View from a parking area above the paved portion of Hatcher Pass Rd.

Close to the pass the unpaved road is narrow, bumpy, and dusty.

The middle 22 miles are reportedly steep, narrow, and very rough, with washboard surfaces, potholes, and rocks.

The views are great if you have a vehicle suitable for that type of road. We donít, so we stayed mostly on pavement today.


We left the Black Spruce campground at JBER about 10 AM and drove north on the Glenn Highway. A few miles past the Eklutna exit we turned east on the Old Glenn Hwy. just to see some new scenery.

For 8+ miles Knik Arm was on our left and we could see the Talkeetna Mountains to the north:

The northern edge of the Chugach Mountains rose up on our right and I was able to see Twin Peaks from the opposite side I saw when I hiked there the other day.

I took this picture of Twin Peaks from the Glenn Hwy. on our way back today:

The Old Glenn Hwy. turned north and crossed the outlet of both the Knik and Matanuska Rivers:

Crossing the Knik River on the Old Glenn Hwy.

The road became more urban as we approached the town of Palmer. We turned east on the Glenn Hwy. and drove to MM 49.5, the road to Hatcher Pass and the Independence Mine.

The paved road was in good condition all 18 miles to the mine.

It wound gradually along the Little Susitna River (AKA "Little Su") through beautiful pine-and-birch/aspen  forest, then more steeply through sub-alpine and alpine terrain as we ascended to 3,500 feet at the mine:



We stopped several places on the way up to the mine.

The first was the scenic overlook with interpretive panels and big deck just past the bridge over the Little Su. The river is a beautiful glacial turquoise color, full of scenic boulders :



Several very informative interpretive panels provide information about the origin and power of the Little Su, the Castle Mountain earthquake fault we were standing on (!), mining history in the Willow Creek Mining District (Hatcher Pass Rd. follows that creek most of its length), hiking and camping in the area, and the ecological zones we'd be passing through (mixed forest, sub-alpine, and alpine).

We also stopped briefly at the Gold Mint trailhead parking area (thatís a trail Iíd like to hike, 8 miles to Mint Glacier, headwaters of the Little Su) . . .

. . . and the Fishhook Trailhead (another place to access several trails):

This little section of a graphic from one of the panels shows the proximity of the Gold Mint Trailhead, Independence Mine, Hatcher Pass, and Summit Lake, all of which are mentioned in this entry:

We came to the mine before the pass so we turned off to see the mine first.

Continued on the next page . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil