Finally Alaska! Sled Dogs & a Gold Mine

Hoary Marmont at Hatcher Pass. It was a chilly wet day for everyone.

July 6 – 25, 2022.

We limped into Alaska. Our power steering leak was getting worse and we had to stop frequently to top off the reservoir. When we arrived in our first Alaskan city, Tok, we looked into getting the leak fixed. But it was going to take too long to get parts so we had to move on.

We had already arranged a house sit in Wasilla, Alaska. I figured by the time we got to Alaska we would need a rest, a hot shower, to do some laundry, time to make plans, and as a bonus cuddles with new furry friends.

It was about 5 days before this house sit started so we headed on to Wasilla directly to the Walmart. We would stay at this Walmart frequently while we waited for our house sit to start and to get our van issue fixed. After leaving the Walmart in Washington state a little over a month earlier, driving almost 2450 miles, taking two ferries, detouring for a few side trips, and crossing multiple borders it seemed totally anticlimactic to be in just another town at another Walmart.

We alternated staying at the Walmart, a campground, and our housesit during our two-and-a-half weeks in Wasilla. The view from Walmart was less than inspiring, especially on those days that it rained. The campground was cheap and convenient but it was one of those places where I’m glad we have our own potty. The reports from the facilities were not favorable. Our house sit was modest but nice. The dogs were so sweet but we all went a little stir-crazy in the tiny house when it rained nonstop (at least we were indoors).

Because of the power steering leak, we couldn’t travel far (about 15 minutes) before stopping to refill the fluid.

I now realize that although we spent so much time in Wasilla, I have very little to say about it. We saw a lot of Walmart, Wasilla’s strip malls, and the Ford dealership. It was like being anywhere else in the suburban US – except for the almost nonstop daytime (when we arrived in Tok, we were only seeing about 3 hours of darkness at night). There wasn’t even a view of Russia.

But despite all of this we were able to get out a little. The campground was within walking distance of the Iditarod Museum. And we had traveling friends in the area who came and picked us up and took us sightseeing for a couple of days.

The Iditarod Museum

The Iditarod Museum was definitely worth the short walk from the campground. Entry was free. The museum was two rooms, one full of Iditarod memorabilia and the other, a gift shop. There was a good video about the Iditarod which I really enjoyed until it devolved into name-calling those who feel that the race is cruel to the dogs. I can’t tell you if the race is cruel or not and the movie certainly had me convinced that the dogs love it – until they brought up this controversy. Now, I don’t know. It left a sour taste in my mouth that I couldn’t learn about this fascinating Alaska race without degrading people who care about the welfare of animals.


Independence Mine State Historical Park

Alaska has a history of people flocking to it to get rich. Seriously I have to wonder why anyone would want to live in this frozen place that is plunged into almost absolute darkness in the winter. I often think about how hard it was for people to live in work in the western continental US during pioneer times – but Alaska?

Like anywhere else the riches mostly went to those who had the resources to create big operations. Independence Mine began its operations in 1938. At its peak in 1941, the mine employed 204 men and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560 ($17,208,000 in today’s dollars). At that time mine was home to 22 families, including 8 children.

During World War II gold mining in the United States came to a halt as it was not deemed essential to war efforts. Independence mine closed in 1943. Then reopened after the war in 1946 and operated until 1951. In 1974 the mine was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

The ruins of the mine are located in the mountains near Hatcher Pass, which I hear is beautiful, but the day we went a thick unrelenting fog hung over everything so there were no views for us. Despite this, the fog did lend a sort of mystery to the old buildings and rusty equipment that make up what remains of Independence Mine.

(All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions.)

4 thoughts on “Finally Alaska! Sled Dogs & a Gold Mine

  1. I’m so sorry that you were stuck in Wasilla for this long. Luckily, there were a couple of things to do. It’s indeed sad that the Iditarod race movie ended on a negative and sour note. Those misty photos of the mine are cool! Walking around in constant dampness and wetness is less fun.

    Like you, I have a hard time imagining why people moved to Alaska to live, back in the day. Now that life has turned hectic everywhere else, I feel there is a bigger attraction – solitude, peace, living with nature. But the cold and darkness of winter would make me crazy!

    1. I think I could live in Alaska if I had a warm and cozy house, but those long nights would get to me eventually.

      Despite being wet and cold, the fog can make for an interesting experience. But it probably would have been just as interesting if we could have seen the mountains that surrounded the valley. I imagine the good weather days were big ones to celebrate at that mine back in the day.

  2. I read a book a couple years ago about a guy who completed the Iditarod. From his telling, it sounded like the dogs loved it and were well cared for, but who knows? It’s always hard to get the truth with these kinds of things. I sure hope they love it, though.

    I, too, could never live in a place like Alaska. The summer? Sure. Winter? Oh, hell no. I’d lose my mind in about 4 minutes. It’s the epitome of “nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there.”

    The photos of the old mine are pretty, but I can feel the chill from here. I’m sure you were thrilled to see the sun again, whenever it happened.

    1. Everyone in the video was saying how much the dogs love it and I certainly believed them. But after they started saying disparaging things about people who weren’t so sure the dogs loved, I felt compelled to find out why they thought that. So now – I just don’t know. I wish they had just left me with the illusion of happy dogs.

      We saw the sun occasionally. But there was lots of rain and gloom. We were sure to pick and choose the things we wanted to do on sunny days.

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