An abandoned gold mine stands as testament to Alaska’s rich Gold Rush history
Independence Mine State Historical Park is a huge, abandoned gold mine that sits at the top of Hatcher Pass, a photogenic alpine passage that cuts through the Talkeetna Mountains. The journey above the tree line and this intriguing 761-acre park make for one of the finest side trips in Alaska.
Independence Mine was actually two mines until 1938, when the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company united the Alaska Free Gold Mine on Skyscraper Mountain and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain to become the second most productive hardrock gold mine in Alaska. At its peak in 1941, the company employed 204 workers, blasted almost 12 miles of tunnels and recovered 34,416 ounces of gold, today worth almost $18 million. At the time, 22 families lived in nearby Boomtown, with eight children attending the territorial school.
Although World War II interrupted the mining operation - gold mining was declared a nonessential wartime activity - mining resumed briefly after the war until Independence Mine closed for good in 1951. Independence Mine State Historical Park was established in 1980 and since then the state has steadily worked to restore the buildings and tunnels to give visitors a fascinating look at Alaska lode mining amid spectacular mountain scenery.
Beautiful alpine scenery can be appreciated any time of the year. The area has been heavily glaciated. Steep-walled cirques, jagged aretes and hanging valleys above U-shaped valleys characterize the terrain. Trees grow only in the lowest valley bottoms. Brush, often dense, grows on lower mountain slopes, yielding to open tundra as elevation increase. Glaciers occupy the headwaters of major drainages. Some nearby peaks are over 6,000 feet tall.
The alpine landscape around the park may seem devoid of wildlife because most alpine inhabitants are camouflage experts. Moose, caribou, sheep, black and brown bears, wolf, coyote, beaver, fox, hare, squirrels, marmots and lynx can all be found in the area. Look up and you may see a bird of prey soaring above you, scanning the area for its next meal. Ptarmigan, spruce grouse, songbirds and small mammals all live here and are on their menu. Some birds, such as Lapland longspurs, whimbrels, and long-tailed jaegers, occasionally shortcut their normal migration and nest in this area.
The area surrounding Independence Mine State Historical Park is a favorite for summer hiking and winter recreation such as cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. Visitors can explore the mine and surrounding area on foot, either independently or as part of a tour. Guided tours of the mine are offered twice daily on weekdays with an additional tour on weekends.