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July 14, 2011 / Jim Fenton

Alaska Day 7: Valdez to Black Rapids

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Alaska.  To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls, on the Richardson Highway

Today is mostly a driving day, about 220 miles up the Richardson Highway a little past the settlement of Paxson. The first half of the drive was road we had covered on the way to Valdez, but we took a little more time stopping at waterfalls, the Worthington Glacier, and similar scenic spots. We returned to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park visitor center for our picnic lunch (and to buy a few souvenirs) and then got into some new territory when we passed Glennallen. The scenery from Glennallen to Paxson was unremarkable; mostly like the black spruce we had seen on the Parks Highway on Day 2.

The Richardson Highway parallels the Alaska Pipeline along much of this route, and we had a few opportunities to see it.  It goes both above and below ground level, depending on the condition of the soil it’s passing through.  In many areas, it has some very unusual heat radiators that extend above the pipeline to help maintain the ground at its natural temperature: melting the permafrost would probably cause the pipeline to sink.

Just past Paxson we started to enter the mountains of the Alaska Range, and the scenery quickly improved. There were again many scenic lakes and a few more glaciers. Very abruptly we came to our accommodations for the night, the Lodge at Black Rapids. Save for a couple of very low-key signs, we would have thought that we had arrived at a large house, rather than a bed-and-breakfast style inn. The Lodge is really in the middle of nowhere — it’s about 40 miles to the nearest restaurant, so it’s the only choice for meals. But our dinner was excellent: halibut, beautifully prepared. The Lodge is off the grid, currently operating off a generator but planning to use windmills at some point in the future. The view from the Lodge was spectacular.

Black Rapids View

View from the Lodge at Black Rapids

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