Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Girdwood, Alaska--Beautiful Village of Chalets
The only other time we've visited Girdwood, 30 minutes south of Anchorage, was at Christmas when we went downhill skiing at Alyeska Resort, and that is what really puts Girdwood on the map. Yet it is an achingly beautiful place in the summer too as Douglas and I found out this past weekend as we spent three days in one of the chalets on a retreat. Huge amounts of snow in the winter translate into much rain in the summer, so the area has a rain forest feel to it: huge pine trees dripping with moss, lush vegetation and thick moss covering rocks and tree trunks in the woods.
We had some time before our retreat started on Friday, so we headed down Crow Creek Pass Road to explore the area. Three miles down what felt like a deserted country road we came to the Crow Creek Mine. There was a campground there ($5 a night!), and the mine grounds were beautifully kept up and aesthetically appealing. A walking tour led from the blacksmith's shop at the entrance, up past the meat cache and mess hall to a miner's cabin. For a small fee they deck you out with miner's supplies and give you directions to Crow Creek where you dig up some gravel and then haul it to the sluice where you pan for gold--finders keepers! From 1898-1940, an average of 700 ounces of gold were mined here each month (the largest nuggest found was the size of a chicken's egg!) until production costs grew too great. According to a brochure, "It's estimated that more gold remains on the site than has ever been recovered!" The creek was excavated 200 feet, so there is now a gorge that the river rushes through, with the beginning of it pictured here.
The next gem we discovered in Girdwood was the Virgin Creek Falls (pictured at top of entry). It was perhaps a 1/4 mile or less hike from the trailhead to the falls, and the trail wound through a beautiful evergreen forest with moss as the predominate vegetation. However, I doubt we would have found this on our own. It is not marked from the main road; in fact, until you get to the end of a series of roads through town that lead to it and you see a small sign tucked in among the blueberry bushes, you don't even realize it is a trailhead. So we were glad that the group leaders chose this as one of our hikes for the weekend. It would be a wonderful place to go back to without a big group (there were 30 of us there!) and enjoy it in peace.
The final delight of the weekend (another group hike!) was a 3 mile hike that begins (or ends, depending!) at the Alyeska tram (the motorized one) at the base of Mt. Alyeska and ends over on Crow Pass Road near the Crow Creek Mine. The highlight of this hike is the hand tram where you get into a cage and pull yourself across the river which is 200 feet below. Or, if you are lucky, there is someone on one end or the other to pull you across, in which case you just enjoy the ride! Once the riders are across you pull the empty tram back and load it up again. With our large group it took quite some time to get everyone across, but it was great fun.
Even without the tram, the hike is one of the most beautiful I've been on in Alaska. The trail is mostly hard packed dirt, wide enough to walk side-by-side with one or two people. A few places were boardwalk, and since it had been raining for 4 days straight there were some muddy places that were easily skirted. The trees were huge, there was a plethora of mushrooms, and the sense was of being in a rain forest. I was busy chatting the whole time and hardly noticed the scenery, so this hike is on my list to go back to and really relish the area. By the way, there is a name for this trail, but I don't know what it is!
We drive by Girdwood every time we go to Anchorage, and while I thought it was a quaint ski village, I never realized it was so delightful in the summer as well. In walking through town (too strong a word, really), I was amazed at how many homes are tucked in at the base of Mt. Alyeska. Nearly all seemed to be chalets, log cabins, rustic and so delightful to look at in the winter when covered with snow. There is a long, nicely paved path from one end of Alyeska Resort to the other which we enjoyed a number of times over the weekend. I look forward to future trips to Girdwood for camping, hiking, and of course skiing, and am amazed that we've missed this gem until now!