Driving Highway 1 from Anchorage on the way to Valdez, Alaska is a pretty solitary drive. Stark but beautiful landscapes surround you as you travel along the road. I was motoring along in April yet the temperatures were fairly nice requiring me to only have a hoodie on against a very light chill. As I’m driving along heading into Glenallen looking for a gas station to fill up, I start to see peaks in the distance. Hiding and peeking from time to time, the mountains don’t come into view until you pass a crest in the road and it drops away into the distance. There before you is the start of the Wrangell Range with Mt’s Drum, Wrangell and Blackburn displayed in full glory.
The picture I’ve included at the top doesn’t do the view justice. The three mountains wreathed in white snow and ice sit majestically looking like you could just drive up to them. Along the side of the road, is a sign that shares that these are not just mountains but also volcanoes, with Wrangell being the biggest volcano in Alaska. There are also signs – from time to time – of geothermal activity at Wrangell, none of which I witnessed. I had always thought volcanoes existed in the western part of Alaska and along the Aleutian chain, but the friction of the continental and Pacific plates are at work here as much as they are in Washington State or California, so it makes sense. What is interesting is that unlike the explosive stratovolcanoes elsewhere in Alaska or in the Cascades, the Wrangell volcanoes are more like the ones in Hawaii, being built over time by numerous layers of highly fluid lava.
If you’re ever up in Alaska and find yourself on the road from Anchorage to Valdez, take some time to admire the beauty of the Wrangell range and if time allows, to visit the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” is the Lakota name given to this site. To the Cheyenne, it is “Noahvose.” This geological formation is one of several intrusions of igneous rock in the Black Hills that formed millions of years ago. The mountain is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious ceremonies.
A Sacred Mountain
Many American Indians see Bear Butte as a place where the creator has chosen to communicate with them through visions and prayer. During our visit, we saw many colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches hanging from the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent prayers offered by individuals during their worship. While no one was actively offering prayers during our climb, we admired the ones we saw from a distance and did not disturb these sacred offerings.
The trail is a 1.8 mile one-way excursion up this laccolith that rises 1,253.5 feet above the surrounding plains. The family and I started out on a partly cloudy morning and encountered steep steps, a rocky path and places where you could not tell the trail from the rocky skree on the slopes. The hike to the top was warm and challenging but once at the top, it was totally worth the effort. I had hiked Bear Butte before and was glad that the family and I got to go up to the summit together. Once at the top, you can see why native peoples held Bear Butte in reverence.