bad old days

Water giants washing away the walls of Canyon Creek/Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”  Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


CANYON CREEK – Following the Seward Highway south as it made the turn at the Hope Cutoff and climbed into the 5 a.m. dawn of the already fading Alaska summer, it was impossible not to notice the lush, green jungle of alder and spruce blanketing this seemingly wild Kenai Mountain valley.

Or, if you knew the history of the place, to think about the amazing ways in which nature heals itself in the north.

Man once laid waste to this valley. At the start of the 20th Century, it was the gold-fueled Galt’s Gulch of the Kenai for those familiar with the late novelist Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Then the gold ran out, and the reported 2,000 people who’d come to call home a community named Sunrise downstream on Turnagain Arm faded away. Today, if you take the Cutoff to its end in  Hope – population less the 250 – you’re likely to drive through Sunrise without even noticing it is there.

Not much is left.

Even less remains of the mines and communities that once dotted the Canyon Creek valley and the surrounding ridges. Mining was already fading by the 1920s, and Mother Nature was beginning her reclamation work.

B.T. (Before Twitter)

In these times when the world seems to exist largely in the Twitter of the moment, it is easy to forget the natural and never-ending changes that are the reality of everything around us. Evolution is not only a human constant; it is a planetary constant.

Death comes to everyone and everything – fauna or flora. But life rolls on through it all. Humanity is today at war with an invisible enemy, a microscopic pathogen the likes of which the species has not been seen the Spanish flu more than 100 years ago.

The Spanish flu arrived about the same time the human war on nature in this valley was drawing to a close. What the flu did to humans, humans had done to the valley. Historical accounts would indicate they ripped the heart out of it to get at the gold

Hungry for riches, they blasted rock with dynamite and washed away gravel and vegetation with water cannons.

By the time they were done, what was left pretty much looked like a strip mine for 10 miles or so from this creek’s confluence with Sixmile Creek to Lower Summit Lake. You’d never know it today.

Most who drive the highway these days doubtfully even notice the ancient tracks of earlier visitors still discernible in the distinct band of alder following an old road cut up the far side of the drainage and the overgrown adits that zigzag up some of the surrounding mountainsides.

Anyone interested in knowing more about this is directed to a 2014 video produced by the Kenai Mountains – Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. How little known the industrial history of this now wild area viewed by tens of thousands of travelers along the highway every year might well be underlined by the fact that as of this writing the video had been viewed fewer than 300 times.


History is an easy thing for humans to overlook or forget. We live mainly in the here and now with an eye to the future colored by our expectations good or bad.  There’s always the hopeful “next year” for your favorite losing sports team, and now there is for some the COVID-19 fear of not living to see the next year.

Some of us won’t make it. But then some of us never make it.

The odds in New Jersey – the world leader in COVID-19 deaths per capita – are 1 in 562 that COVID-19 will kill you, and they are getting worse by the day as the deaths per 100,000 residents continue to creep upward.

But the crisis will end eventually end because they always do, because change – both good and bad – is as inevitable as evolution. And because humans have shown a remarkable ability to bend the trajectory of nature to suit themselves.

We were supposed to reach global carrying capacity by the 1970s at which time “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.” Or so forecast Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich in the 1968 book “The 
Population Bomb.”

Luckily, the Green Revolution was underway, and it would grow even faster than the exploding human population. Nature’s effort to kill us then didn’t work, and nature seems to be struggling again.

When the pandemic started, better than one in every 10 of the people diagnosed with the disease died. The number of survivors has been going up ever since. The latest data from the COVID-19 tracker at Worldometer shows that, globally, 94 percent of those who catch the disease today recover.

Unfortunately, that number can vary based on who you and where you are. Old people and people of color are, in general, at greater risk of death. The New Jersey data would indicate only about 88 percent of people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 in that state survive.

In Alaska, on the other hand, the data indicates that of the 755 cases with outcomes at this point, 737 – almost 98 percent have recovered. But that could change because change is constant.


About halfway between the Hope Cutoff and Lower Summit Lake, the Seward Highway passes the ghost town of Wible, though it is an overstatement to call it a ghost town. It is more of a gone town.

If you follow a trail that winds its way south along Canyon Creek on the opposite side of the creek, it’s easy to find the reservoir which once provided water for Wible and for constant mining operations, but you’ll have to poke around in the brush to find much more.

The main structures in the town fell down long ago. It’s namesake founder, Simon Wible, has been gone even longer. He died in San Francisco in 1911, according to a biography compiled by the Alaska Miners Association (AMA). He was 79 years old.

He’d come north late at that age of 67, according to the bio, but he left a big impression despite his age.

“He recognized an extensive system of alluvial gravels on a bench about 100 feet above Canyon Creek and over the next several years developed the bench with flumes, pipe lines, and ditches,” according to the AMA, which voted him into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.  “Boulders that would have hindered hand miners were pushed over the canyon walls into Canyon Creek by the force of hydraulic giants; reportedly Wible had expended $50,000 on the development of his claims on Sixmile and Canyon Creeks. The ground was not rich, but Wible’s efficient operation netted a profit. A good year for Wible was about 1,000 ounces of fine gold.

“Wible’s methods were widely copied in the Sunrise district and within a year or two, most larger operations used hydraulic technology in the form of giants and elevators. Technology introduced by Wible spread rapidly, and similar operations were run in the early years of the Nome district and at Flat.”

And today he is largely forgotten along with the community of Wible long with Shield and Saxton, two other Seward Highway communities that appear on the old maps of the U.S. Geological Survey.

They are so gone that were it not for internet entrepreneurs trying to sell you things, you might think they never existed.

“Wibel in Kenai Peninsula Borough (Alaska) is a place in United States about 3,350 mi (or 5,392 km) north-west of Washington DC, the country’s capital city,” according to TripMondo. 

“We know of eight airports near Wibel, of which one is a larger airport….Also, if you like playing golf, there are a few options in driving distance. If you need a hotel, we compiled a list of available hotels close to the map centre further down the page.”

Needless to say, most people won’t be looking to stay in Wibel (the differing spellings come from the USGS mapping) because they have forgotten it exists or never knbad old daysew.

Humans have an amazing ability to move on. It might leave us ignorant of our history, but it likely contributes to our resilience.

“Many factors that determine resilience – such as genetics, early life experiences, and luck – can’t be modified,” according to Psychology Today. “But specific resilience-building skills can be learned. These include breaking out of negative thought cycles, pushing back against catastrophizing, and looking for upsides when faced with setbacks.”

Overflowing with optimism, we followed the highway past Wible and on to the mouth of the Kenai River. The numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game tracking sockeye salmon movements in Cook Inlet had made it look like Monday would be a good day for dipnetting at the mouth of the Kenai River.

It wasn’t. The fishing was only so-so. But it was a beautiful morning to be on the beach. It left me feeling almost as resilient as the Canyon Creek alder.



Mouth of the Kenai/Craig Medred photo



19 replies »

  1. Craig,

    That video is now at 300 views, thanks for the link and the history lesson. I knew the mining history of the area but didn’t know the exact extent. It’s amazing how quickly nature can recover, we should remember that lesson more often.

  2. Hard to put our heads down and forget about what is happening down in “America” these days. The latest escalation of unmarked federal agents on the streets of cities across our country needs a prompt response, unfortunately this is not coming form those in comfortable seats.
    “Masked men armed with machine guns. Abducting people in unmarked cars. No warrants, no explanation….
    Here’s the navy vet who reminded them of their oath — and got his hand broken for it.
    Here are the Moms who were gassed — attacked with chemical agents — for not obeying.
    Here are peaceful protesters being beaten and tear gassed.”

    • “Peaceful Protestors”???? Come on Steve… Thank GOD for Federal Ageants assisting in putting down this Socialist/Marxist “revolution”. Those maggot mayors and govenors are nothing more than radical leftists assisting in the destruction of their cities. They to should be thrown face down and charged with criminal incitement.

      • Bryan,
        I suspect Sir Thomas Gage probably thought along those very same lines.

      • Dave Mc, poor anaology.. So, you compare American Revolutionaries to Democrat racist, leftist anarchists, Maoists, Marxists, Fascists, Socialist, and National SOCIALIST Workers Party (Nazis)?
        I think it should be obvious that today’s Democrat Party is the enemy of the USA. Well, obvious to the same.

      • Bryan,
        What, NO compassion for a U.S. Naval Academy graduate (wrestler) who was beat by federal agents? Needs surgery on his hand….broken in several places for merely asking why they are not following their constitutional duties as federal employees?
        Chris David is a peaceful protester and military vet wearing a Navy sweatshirt and he was much bigger than the spineless unmarked gov gestapo that beat him with clubs.
        Trump thinks he is gaining support by his tough guy approach to protesters but in return he is loosing any respect that he may have had.
        Last night the mayor of Portland was tear gasses in his own city by out of control fascist goons and each night that federal agents attack peaceful protesters…more and more respectful citizens stand up and join the fight against Trump’s Police State.

      • Steve stine , the issue must be looked from both sides . Riots , burning, destruction are not peaceful protest. Once that line is crossed and the feds perceive anarchy or terrorism the constitution has been violated. They gave a carefully spelled out right to quell that and it’s nothing to do with facism . I argue tgere are other methods than quelling violence with violence but maybe we are not there yet . We have the right to peacefully assemble and redress government of our grievances. Citizens must not enter orwells world and mix violent anarchy with the words peacful protest. Also important to note is antifa is thou roughly involved in the riots and antifa was designated a terror group as they have worldwide terror / violence ties and manifestations. Once a group is designated terror the legal rules change and for better or worse they get treated differently. Imo it shouldn’t be that way but our lawmakers voted after 9/11 to destroy our liberty and privacy so blame them for setting precedent and giving power to the government to do very questionable things with surveillance and arrests without standard process. Its very important not to over simplify the problem and distort accuracy. Fascist do questionable actions to consolidate power. Trump is mandated by the constitution to protect life liberty and property of civilians in general. Government instituted among men to sequre these rights. It’s nothing to do with fascism. It’s everything to do with keeping the peace. I dont agree with the methods but our lawmakers screwed up and created this situation. Thank them not Trump. As to the navy man who got hurt its a travesty but if he was in tge armed forces he should know enough to stay out of tge way when men are doing a job . Workers they are ,philosophers they are not . We have a problem in America in general with violence being tge go to solution. Its 2020 . We can resolve problems in a more civil manner.

      • “BREAKING: A federal court just issued a restraining order on the federal agents in Portland, Oregon.
        We said we would deploy the full firepower of the ACLU in this fight to save our democracy — and we meant it.”
        Just posted on Twitter.

        Luckily, the crew from the ACLU is on the case.
        Fascism must be stopped in America before it is too late.
        I am reminded of the poem by Martin Niemoller….
        “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
        Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
        Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
        Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

      • Steve S, you do realize Federal Ageants in Portland are protecting federal buildings and property from criminal anarchists? You do realize these same ageants protected federal buildings under Obama and are not Trump’s Nazis?

      • Steve stine , I understand your concerns about facism. The problem is inaccurately labeling or defining a problematic issue and calling it facism sets tge repair man on the wrong track . Facism is very tough to clarify as its its tied into so many elements of political ideology. So i dont blame you at all for your confusion. As far as i can tell the key defining elements of facism is #1 militarized state . #2 worship of war , violence, conquest and empire #3 the concept that citizens are second to tge state and must make any sacrifices for the state of any kind . #4 is racially homogenous culture . #5 is expectation of complete dominance by the state in all facets of life and culture. . There are other definers but these are tge primary thst set facism apart from politics and parties as we know it. There are small elements of facism in all parties make up and history but tge mentioned 1-5 definers set facism apart and force the acknowledgement that facism is extreme and different. More akin to ancient tribal empires or nations and not politics. None of American political spectrums come close and shouldn’t be confused with facism . Both for analytical sake and for honesty sake . A facist would confront 2,000 rioters with 5,000 soldiers using military weapons and we would never hear of the rioters again. Just not compareable to 150 cops using tear gas to confront and arrest a few of the several thousand rioters . Though its still partially wrong method and I recognize that .

    • Steve,

      I know Craig has too much class to delete your comments that have nothing to do with his column, but you really are a turd.

      If you want to stand up for process of doxxing people, like is happening in the lower 48 by the media and Antifa, and state that property damage is not really an issue, just self-dox yourself and publish your address, invite people to come burn it all down and riot in your neighborhood in a mostly “peaceful protest“ of your turdness, and call it all good because damaging property is not really bad if the intentions are good.

      Great story Craig – keep up the great journalism in Alaska.


      800-pound Gorilla

      • Sorry Gorilla Boy but this site already has enough spineless anonymous shills tossing around bullshit….perhaps you should look for another site or man up and state your name and what you really believe in? Doubtful!

    • So much foolishness. So little time. Several questions for your consideration:

      Videos of abducting people might just be extractions of embedded friendlies. See any of those guys fight back yet? I didn’t either.

      If the Navy vet plays for the wrong team, bad things will happen to them.

      Most laughable are the “Moms” who were all unmasked AntiFa chicks (chickletts?).

      Finally, protesters trying to torch the federal courthouse are hardly peaceful. Cheers –

  3. And after the miners, came the skiers. If you look closely, you can see the remains of the Summit Lake Ski Hill above the lodge. A rope tow powered by a Chevy 350 from the 1950s-1970s.
    The alders will outlast all of us.
    Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project. See

Leave a Reply