Lake Clark National Park was the last national park in Alaska on our bucket list to visit. In talking with someone who lived and worked there, the question we got was “What took you so long?” It was quite obvious that this was a very special place in the hearts of those folks.
Like a number of the Alaskan national parks, our way to get to Lake Clark was by air. So we boarded a small plane at Lake Clark Air in Anchorage and set off on another adventure. The flight took us over spectacular mountains, dozens of glaciers and through Lake Clark Pass to Port Alsworth on Lake Clark itself.
Having become a National Monument in 1978, Lake Clark was designated a National Park and Preserve in 1980 and enlarged through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Park encompasses over 2.6 million acres and the Preserve an additional 1.4 million acres. Within the park are 4 National Register of Historic Places, 3 National Wild Rivers, 2 National Natural Landmarks and 1 National Historic Landmark. This all within a park with a total of 0 miles of road – yes, zero miles.
We stayed at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth. Lake Clark Air and the Farm Lodge are operated by a multi- generation Lake Clark family. In 1944, Mary and Leon “Babe” Alsworth staked a homestead at Tanalian Point on sheltered Hardenburg Bay. Babe Alsworth was one of the aviation pioneers in southwest Alaska. A narrow channel affords a landing and take-off “strip” for float planes and Alsworth also cleared a runway for wheeled aircraft. Tanalian Point was later renamed Port Alsworth and is currently home to about 100 year-round residents and is a base of operations for numerous fishing lodges.
Our cabin was located right on the shore so we had a ringside seat on the front deck to watch planes, both wheeled and float, arrive and depart. Babe and Mary’s grandson, Glen Jr. and his family operate the Farm Lodge and made our stay there relaxed and pleasant. The staff went out of their way to insure our comfort and make sure we got to do the things we wanted to do.
With numerous greenhouses and gardens, the meals served at the Farm took advantage of the fresh produce, and were outstanding. Custom sack lunches were provided for lunch to accommodate the various activities of the guests. Breakfast and dinner were served in the lodge at a designated time and provided the opportunity to meet and get to know the other guests. We thoroughly enjoyed the interesting people and the camaraderie.
The National Park headquarters was a short hike away so we set out to visit and orient ourselves to the park and of course to pick up any available information. The young ranger there was very helpful and pleasant. We watched a short film and picked up several books.
While at the Farm, we took a floatplane tour with Glen, Jr. as our pilot and guide. The scenery was so breath-taking it was hard to know which way to look out of the plane. Glaciers in many forms and stages presented all kinds of photo-ops, including pink algae living on a glacier.
We flew around Mt. Redoubt, which is an active volcano with steam rising from the snow near the top, and were near enough we could smell the sulfur!
We landed on a small lake and had our lunch on the shore, seeing bear tracks but no bears. However, Glen identified the soapberry which apparently bears like to forage. It was so peaceful and beautiful – certainly a great place for a picnic whether you are bear or human.
Flying on, we saw many Dall sheep at mineral licks on the mountainsides and caribou trails were evident up and down the mountains. An aptly named Turquoise Lake shimmered in the sunlight.
Landing on Upper Twin Lake, we were treated to a visit to Dick Proenneke’s cabin with Kay as our extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.
At the age of 51, Dick Proenneke set out to prove that he could survive in the wilderness. He built his cabin during 1967 and 1968 using only hand tools and whenever possible, materials provided by the land. Neither the first nor the largest cabin ever built in the Alaska Bush, the remarkable craftsmanship, and the fact that he filmed the entire construction process makes it unique. Throughout the years, Dick Proenneke kept meticulous journals and, in 1973, his journals edited by Sam Keith, under the title One Man’s Wilderness, were published. Since then, a second volume has been published and a third is underway.
Proenneke was not a hermit. He kept up a great deal of correspondence and welcomed visitors to his cabin. It was quite obvious from the people we met who had known Proenneke that he was well-liked and respected. A self-educated naturalist, Proenneke lived in this cabin for 30 years without electricity, running water, a telephone or other modern conveniences. Dick Proenneke left Twin Lakes for the last time in 1999 at the age of 82 when the extreme cold and hard physical work became too much.
Proenneke donated his cabin to the National Park Service and it is now a part of Lake Clark National Park. The cabin and outbuildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Our final full day at The Farm, we decided to hike the Tanalian Falls Trail. Taking bear spray with us, we set out. We were told to carry on conversation, sing or somehow make some noise as we hiked so we did not inadvertently startle a bear. We did so, although we realized that it was rather unnatural for us to just chatter as we hiked. We did not come across any bears but the hike was pleasant and a very enjoyable way to spend the day.
It’s understandable why Lake Clark has such a hold on the people who live there. Flying is such an integral part of the way of life there, we asked Glen when he started flying and he said, “when I was twelve years old.” He grew up in Port Alsworth and told us that he had been many places all over the world and had never found another place he would rather come home to. That pretty much says it all.
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