Our last day at Alaska. We are supposed to catch the red eye back to San Diego which means we still have an entire day to explore.
The first destination of the day was Independence mine state historic park. The drive from Palmer from Independence mine state historic park was magnificent. The road travels through the fishhook forest area, where it parallels the Little Sustina River. With car windows open, the constant sound of the gurgling river was blissful. We stopped in between, walked along the river, and breathed the fresh morning air.
After 30-45 minutes, Hatcher Pass was visible from the road. The most iconic view of Hatcher Pass is the red huts of Hatcher Pass lodge. Surprisingly, given its location amid the Alaskan wilderness, this lodge was very reasonably priced. The state park is centered around the now-defunct gold mine in a beautiful natural setting. It was part of the famous gold rush in the early 90s. At its peak, they employed 200+ miners and produced more than 30K ounce of gold. After mining nearly 6 million dollars' worth of gold, Independence mine was finally closed as gold mining started being unprofitable. In the late 1970s, it was designated an Alaskan state park. There are several beautiful trails in this area that lead to alpine lakes and spectacular views. Due to limited time, we chose a short 1.5-mile loop trail.
After the hike, we grabbed a cup of coffee from the Hatcher Pass Lodge and headed out to Musk ox farm, our next destination. Musk Ox farm is a non-profitable farm located just outside of Palmer. Started in the 1950s, today it houses more than 50 oxen on the farm. We took an interpretive guided tour that lasted for an hour. The Musk ox is an arctic animal, native of Greenland and Canadian arctic. They are named as such for the musky smell that they release during mating season. They inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years, and their long ruffled hair is well adapted to the freezing climate. They have two layers of hair, the bottom layer, Qiviut, produces fine wool. Harvesting Qiviut is a significant source of income for them. Though they look pretty docile and lethargic by appearance, during our guided tour, one male started charging toward us (no worries, they were within barrier) and the guide told us that they can reach speeds of about 50 km per hour! Turned out, it was one of the hottest days in the history of Alaska, and being an Arctic animal that heat was no fun for them, and they were being a bit temperamental!
Our last stop before heading back to the airport was Eureka. We drove through Glenn highway north, which runs along the Matanuska River. Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States and feeds the Matanuska River. The glacier is connected to Glenn highway by an unpaved road that crosses private property, and therefore owners of this property charge an entrance fee. There are also several turnouts on the Glenn highway that offers an excellent view of the glacier that does not cost any money. The Glacier viewpoint had the best view. Eureka Lodge, a gas station and a couple of shops sum up the town of Eureka. The restaurant at Eureka Lodge was surprisingly excellent. No frills sandwich and burgers, freshly made and delicious.
We took a final look at the glacier, endless valleys and wildflowers from our way to the airport and whispered a fond adieu to Alaska.