The Mine At The Top Of The Mountain

There is nothing more Alaskan than gold.

In 1886, we struck gold in Southeast Alaska, and thus began one of the most important contributors to the state’s development. By 1906, the rush was in full swing, and Robert Lee Hatcher wasn’t about to miss out. Moving northward, he struck gold in the Willow Creek Valley. Large companies jumped on the chance to support the building of the intricate tunnels and roadways. Two mines grew adjacent, getting bigger and bigger until they became one.

On the day we drove up the mountain to Independence Mine, a heavy mist had descended. We struggled to see very far in front of the car as pavement gave way to narrow gravel roads. Squinting, we pressed upward, twisting and turning until suddenly the main house burst through the fog. Tall and imposing, it welcomed us to the mine in the most Alaskan way possible: with broken windows and holes in the wall.

The mine, long since abandoned by its gold-seeking inhabitants, is now a historical park. Visitors can traipse through the paths once used for business and enter bunkhouses and processing mills. Some structures have fully collapsed. Piles of woodwork and rubble remain left behind, snaking up the mountainside like a strange abstract painting.

Perhaps it was the fog or the overcast sky, but on this particular visit, I felt that soulful melancholy that often accompanies the visitation of abandoned places. That ache to have seen this place, in all of its former glory, going about its daily business. The curiosity of the stories and lives that unfolded in the few square miles of the mine.

Its eerie to be somewhere that’s dead to the core.

But that’s part of what makes Alaska great. It’s always in flux, parts of it booming and dying off just in time for another place to boom. Many lakes and parks around here carry the name “Resurrection,” and I understand why. I’m sure the early settlers and miners felt that they saw resurrections around every corner, one opportunity busting for another to flourish. People gave up and traveled home as another rush of hopefuls arrived.

Whether it’s gold, fur trade, or oil, people will always find a new way to set up camp and make their living off of the earth. For better or worse.

Independence Mine is dead. But Alaskans are very much alive and well.

Until next time, keep resurrecting.

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