The world needs more places like McCarthey, Alaska.
Once upon a time, two mining engineers looking for a claim spotted what looked like a patch of green grass on a hill, and after exploring it they found the largest single copper ore deposit ever discovers above ground. In 1901 they built what was to become Kennicott and created the need for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. During the thirty years the Kennicott mine was in buisness, they kept nearly 600 employed mostly living in bunkhouses in Kennicott where they lived cleanly with no alcohol, nearly no women, and … well, there was a basketball court. Just 5 miles away the town of McCarthy sprung up in part to take care of small claims miners and area trappers — as it happens, they also offered those Kinnicott miners a place for … well … not basketball. At its peak McCarthy had 500 residents but was a place anyone in the Wrangle Mountains could get the food, mercantile, and supplies they need to make a living in copper country.
Again, that was the early 1900s.
As part of my long weekend, I headed up to McCarthy on a suggestion from my co-camper and some Valdez recommendations. When we headed out to the old ghost town of McCarthy I was expecting to see another of the loads of old boom towns that were no more. Fake store fronts, unnecessary hype, or the complete loss of the feel of a place that was once something and now it’s not.
What I found was so incredibly satisfying. Sure the old boom town store fronts were still there – but they weren’t faked. The hotel, the store, the saloon all had the original look and feel – and functionality. The hotel is a hotel. The mercantile sells mercantile. The saloon is the saloon. Sure it’s advanced in time. Electricity is here, i hear there is cell service (not my cell service but there is service) and wi-fi. The people aren’t lost in time, but are there to be a part of what McCarthy still has to offer – specifically: Tour Guides, Whitewater, Hotels, Lodges, Camping, Fishing, and Taking Care of tourists. But the people who live there (whether year round or just for the season) is a special breed of close-nit people. Quite literally, this town feels like the TV show Northern Exposure … or more accurately as my co-camper said:
Northern Exposure with 3G.
Sadly, all I had was an overnight, a quick tour of Kennicott, and the 7 hour drive home before the end of the weekend. But I have already put McCarthy high on my list for return trips – with a goal of getting there for at least one really long weekend … and maybe two trips there.