We were both already thinking about the boat trip we had booked in Seward. We were excited about the possibility of seeing whales, and puffins, and glaciers and, and...
But we had to wait. It was like Christmas. There was this shiny gift under the tree, but we had to wait two more days to open it. So, on our second day in Anchorage we considered our options and ultimately decided to visit Hatcher Pass. This was not something we had planned to do months in advance, but something decided the night before. We had mulled through a list of things that caught our attention and somehow ended up with Hatcher Pass. I am not sure at all what it was that led to that decision, but that is where we ended up going. It was nice being flexible and making "game time decisions", but that approach also has some downside to it. More about that below.
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Hatcher Pass is located in the Talkeetna Mountains, north of Anchorage. As you enter the Talkeetna Mountains, the road begins to parallel the Little Susitna River (not to be confused with the "regular" Susitna River, a bit farther to the west) as it tumbles down to Cook Inlet. We took advantage of the scenic opportunities with the river that were provided to us.
Eventually you turn off the paved road onto a gravel and packed dirt road. This is the road that actually takes you through Hatcher Pass. It isn't maintained once the snow starts falling, and thus usually gets closed in late September until the following June or July. There were lots of potholes, which made for quite the bumpy ride.
Hatcher Pass was beautiful. The views were stunning (even on a cloudy day). When we got out of our car and just listened, the silence was amazing. The only thing I heard was the hum of my aging ears. No cars, planes, music, or other people. Every now and then we would hear some animal or bird, but otherwise this place has become my new standard for "quiet".
We got out of the car to explore a couple of times, but unfortunately we were not prepared for much more than that. Had we done more research, we would have known that there are several hiking trails located at Hatcher Pass, that took you up a little higher on the mountains next to the dirt road. These were easy hikes that, out of ignorance, we simply had not prepared for. We would have definitely taken the time to explore those trails had we known. Without exploring the trails, I still found it difficult to pull myself and my camera away from the views and the carpet of lush growth on the mountain sides.
Just beyond Hatcher Pass you come to tiny Summit Lake. We explored here and tried to capture the quiet beauty of this lake with our cameras.
While we explored, the quiet was interrupted fairly regularly by nearby critters. There was some type of varmit hanging out on nearby rocks, making this squeaking noise. Varmit, of course, is technical jargon for something that looked like a marmot or ground squirrel. It had four short legs, was furry all over, made me think of Ewoks, looked like it might be willing to take food from a human, and seemed to call an underground burrow its home. And it was squeaky.
Then there were the Ptarmigans. On the rocky side of the mountain above us there was a flock of Ptarmigans. They were fluttering about, moving from roost to roost, making all kinds of interesting noises. The noise that was the most memorable to me was a frog like groan sound. I have not been able to find a recording on the web that matches the sound I remember (which is more likely a factor of my memory than the recordings on the web). I had my binoculars with me, but my scope sat back in the hotel room (sigh). Beyond the fact that I was seeing and hearing some type of Ptarmigan, I was unable to conclusively identify them as one of the three Ptarmigans that occur in North America (Rock, White-tailed or Willow...that sound I remember seems to be closest to White-tailed). Any of them would have been a lifer for me. Another example of where some more planning might have saved me some frustration.
Never mind that. Look at the beautiful views!
The ride down the opposite side of Hatcher Pass continued to be very scenic. To a point. Somewhere in the drive down to Willow it turned from scenic Alaskan valley into a very bumpy, pothole filled drive through a forest.
Hopefully this post did not come across too negatively. I am absolutely happy we visited Hatcher Pass, even with some of the frustrations. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. On some future trip to Alaska, if I had the chance to visit Hatcher Pass again, I would come better prepared: plan to hike, plan to bird watch and don't bother driving down the far side of Hatcher Pass to Willow (just turn around at Summit Lake).