Tale of Two Ghost Towns

 Remote property anyone?

Hardly anything was known of Alaska's interior when it was sold by the Russians to the US in 1867. The American public at the time thought it was such a waste of money to spend $7.2 million dollars on something so remote, so vast and so unexplored. Yet after a few year's time, Alaska would prove itself to be a goldmine of natural wealth and incredible beauty. The Russians must now be regretting that sale.

Deep in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve (the largest national park in the US and part of UNESCO's World Heritage List) lies the two little towns of McCarthy and Kennicot. These are two communities that emerged as a result of mining. Lured by the feverish "gold rush", two prospectors found copper ore in August 1900 on a mountain ridge just above Kennicot. Copper was in high demand and so began those wild happy days.

Christian faith for the less than 50 residents of McCarthy
Summer shuttle services are regularly scheduled between McCarthy & Kennicot

It was because of copper that Kennicot and McCarthy essentially flourished. While Kennicot was the "work" town with all the serious mining activities, less than 5 miles away was the "fun" town of McCarthy where all the bars and brothels lay. In those days, having fun even in a remote location wasn't obviously conservative. Men toil in tunnels for long hours and then wind up their day with wine, women and gambling. Classic testosterone overdrive.

But like all precious things Ma Nature give, there was a limit to the copper bounty in Kennicot. The Kennecot Mines (a clerical misspelling of Kennicot that remains till today) built a railway all the way to the coastal town of Cordova to ferry the ore where shipping began in 1911. Production levels reached its peak in 1916 until the ore was finally depleted in 1938. In all, Kennecot Mines hauled more than 200 million dollars worth of copper ore.

When the Kennecot Mines was closed for good, it was left just the way it was since shipping equipments out were too expensive. Over the years, there were initial efforts to destroy the crumbling structures but this was never completed and most of what lies there now is what's left for visitors to see. In 1986, the area (including the buildings) was declared a National Historic Landmark. The National Park Service now oversee management and rehabilitation of remaining structures.

McCarthy's Main Street

On the other side, hugging Ruth Glacier's terminal moraine, McCarthy continues to survive as a sleepy town. Permanent residents are currently 46 people, ballooning only in the summer to about 200+ when temporary workers like guides, waiters, bartenders, - all catering to visitors of course - come in from different parts of continental US. Thanks to this tourism boom, both McCarthy and Kennicot has found another lucrative "copper mine".

Before there were cars
Listening to a bartender's story at the Golden Saloon

While there are no more brothels, a small part of McCarthy's past still retain that character. As I walk casually on what amounts to their Main Street - a dirt road really - I can't help but feel like I'm in the "wild, wild west". The few wooden buildings proudly show their age, faded paint and all. They're rustic, even spooky, one that fits right for a Halloween setting. It surely doesn't help that as peaceful as McCarthy looks, a gruesome massacre did happen here in 1983. Of the 12 residents at that time, 6 were killed by a lone gunman.

It was a freezing March and snow blanketed much of the area. Louis Hastings, the gunman, tried to flee using a snowmobile but was swiftly caught by state troopers on McCarthy Road - the only road that connects McCarthy to the rest of civilized world. As they say, McCarthy is where the road ends and where wilderness begins. And where, unfortunately, one psycho almost killed the little town's entire population.

(Note: Trip was arranged by Get Up and Go!, a locally-owned adventure tour company based in Anchorage, Alaska)


  1. I never knew that copper was mined in Alaska, I thought it was only gold. Very interesting post and very informative.

  2. regardless whether it's 12 or 12 million, killing half of the town's population isn't work of a sane individual. that massacre story about that alaskan town is so apt for halloween! ...and you really did the trek thoughout those deserted towns, creepy!

  3. I just looked where McCarthy was in the map. I never realized you went that deep in the Alaskan interior!

  4. I wonder what life can offer you in 46 people in town...maybe you have to marry your neighbor or love your enemy..lol

  5. Photo Cache,
    There are other natural resources yet to be tapped but it's very controversial, especially about drilling for gas & oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    Had I known this massacre story when I was there, I would have been watching my back - or probably that's why I was kind of spooked every time I went to pee outside in the middle of the night (no toilet inside our cabin!).

    Yes, McCarthy is right there in the midst of an expansive wilderness. It does take a lot of determination for people to really want to stay in such a remote place.

    That cracked me up haha! For sure, the choice is very limited until summer arrives when visitors and seasonal workers increase the chances!

  6. Ikaw na talaga, ikaw na ang nomadic pinoy! Haha.

    Look at that! You've penetrated an Alaskan interior and for a community of 46 people, how can they have trade and commerce? I just wonder about that. That is something very special.

    For that small community, an insane person is already equivalent to a mischievous calamity that can annihilate the whole town. So insane persons can ruin a town in such case like a tsunami can do.......

  7. you always feature my kind of dream trips. i seeing those old factory buildings. they are not like the ones here.

  8. topak yung gunman ha, hope he was arrested. but how? sino naglakas loob sa remaining 6?

  9. Edmaration etc,
    At first I couldn't believe what I heard about McCarthy's population but it pretty much sums up Alaska's human habitation. During winter, the 46 remaining permanent residents still keep themselves busy and rely on weekly provisions from bush planes.

    dong ho,
    Very old and creepy looking, I might add. There were available tours inside those crumbling mine buildings but we chose not to do it.

    Oh yes, he was arrested, now serving 634 years in prison! Yung anim na naiwan they still live there hanggang nadagdagan na sila.

  10. I've never really given Alaska that much thought before seeing the movie Into the Wild, now I feel like i'm living the dream vicariously through your posts.

  11. thanks for sharing your posts on remote places, dennis!
    galing. 46 people? this reminds me of movies, yung mga horror and gruesome types - texas chainsaw etc.. ewan. 46 is just too spooky. haha

  12. lakwatsera de primera,
    yes, it was the movies and most especially the Discovery Channel series of shows that got me so keen on visiting Alaska!

    meron pa nga mas mababa ang human population, I think it's in the Artic Wildlife National Refuge Area! pero totoo, it's too depressing just having 45 people to share a town with!


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