When I was young, Hatcher Pass was an almost mythical, magical place. I guess part of it is because when you are a kid, everything new is that way. I can remember a few of the times that my dad took us up there, most notably (to me) was the time that my cousins came to visit us. I don't remember exactly what time of year it was, but I do remember that there was green and I can still remember the smell of chamomile and blueberries in the air, so I suspect it was probably late summer or early fall. It is one of those memories that I will never want to lose.
As we drove up from the east entrance from Palmer-Fishhook, we stopped at a scenic viewpoint to make some sandwiches and admire the view of the valley. From where we were, it was a perfect view to Pioneer Peak. Traffic along that stretch of road casually creeps along because the majority of travelers are fixated on how majestic it all is. It seems like after we packed back into the truck it all breezed by until we got up to Independence Mine, at the top of the road and a trip in it's own right.
Like many places in Alaska, Hatcher Pass is not a singular place to do a singular activity. There is such diversity in things to do, it always feels rushed to me each visit because we find ourselves skipping one thing to do another. I could spend weeks up there and still feel like I left adventure out. On this particular trip, our activity of choice was gold panning. As a youth, it was unimaginably awesome when we gathered our few little flakes in the glass vial. For a moment in time, I was the richest person on earth. I knew that somehow, someway, I would top it only by discovering a solid gold nugget if only I looked hard enough out the window of the truck when we finished up. I clutched that vial so tightly in my hand, I am surprised it didn't break.
Because I hold it in such fond memory, Hatcher Pass was actually one of the first places that I took my bride to be on a date when I first met her. We had no plans, and certainly we weren't equipped to do much of anything other than take a drive and enjoy the view. One of the first things that told her in one of our first long phone conversations was that you can spend a lifetime in Alaska and still miss out on some of the adventures. There is that much to do. We drove as far as Hatcher Pass Lodge on that trip, pulled over to the parking lot on that cold February afternoon, sat and talked and took pictures. Everything was breathtakingly beautiful that day. The scenery outside was okay too.
The last time I was up there was last August. Stephanie and I decided to drive from Willow through the pass and over to Wasilla. Like many of our excursions, it was just for the heck of it. It was August and a beautiful day. When we got a few miles in, I decided to pull over and pick some blueberries. We didn't have the scoops that make the job more efficient, we just had some zip lock bags and determination. We ended up getting a fair amount for the effort, but will be better prepared this fall when we go back.
I have yet to take Stephanie on a gold panning trip, I think this summer might be a good time to do it. Leila is a little bit younger than I was, but I think old enough to be amazed as I once was. I just want to see that look of accomplishment on her face the same way that I'm sure my dad once did on mine.
Image credits, as watermarked:
Patrick Thun, https://instagram.com/alaska_scenery/