Saturday, June 20, 2015

Scenic Glenn Highway

Mountains showing their Iron Stained Gypsum
After our stop at Gakona, we continued the scenic drive along Glenn Highway towards Palmer.  The road followed the Matanuska River winding through the mountainside.  There were several places where the mountains glistened a bright orange which looked like deposits of copper or gold.  According to the roadside readerboards, it’s actually iron stained gypsum.  The area is part of a volcanic system where molten minerals rose near the surface 150 million years ago.  

A variety of Mountain Peaks
Over time, tectonic uplift and erosion exposed the gypsum.  Gypsum, which is normally clear to white, was stained orange with small amounts of iron that oxidized (rusted), having also been exposed to hot water and sulfuric acid.  Dall Sheep use the area as a mineral lick which helps grow bones and horns.  
Matanuska Glacier
As we continued west, the road climbed higher and higher above the Matanuska River; soon the impressive Matanuska Glacier came into view.  Located in the Chugach Mountains, the glacier trends northwest for 27 miles with an average width of 2 miles.  
Matanuska Glacier
At its terminus it is 4 miles wide where meltwater drains into a stream flowing into the Matanuska River.  The glacier has remained fairly stable the past 400 years.  
Matanuska River
We found a spot to pull off and took some pictures next to a bluff with a vertical drop to the river below.  Portions of the road were narrow with no guardrails in the worst of places, not a good time to be taking those corners fast!  
Beautiful Tall Aspens
We passed granite walls and tall aspens along the twisting highway as it lead back down to the canyon bottom. 
Looking back towards the Road Above
After safely reaching the valley, we stopped at a small lake where families were spending the weekend together fishing and kayaking, the scene looked like a painting.  We
could see the mountain road from whence we came and noticed places where the cliff had sluffed off to the river and lake below, perhaps that explains the missing guardrails.  We soon arrived in Palmer and discovered that the hotels were full.  Firefighters had come into town for the night after fighting a fire in Hatcher Pass located further north.  Fortunately, we found the last available room at the Best Western in Wasilla located a few miles north of Palmer.  Although the suite was expensive, we didn’t complain after the long drive, and enjoyed the luxury room complete with breakfast and a nice lake view.

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