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Road Cut in Chitina, Alaska

At the Chitina end of the Edgerton Highway, the highway takes a turn east, and becomes a gravel road which was actually the old rail road bed for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. A few hundred yards from downtown, the road narrows and goes through this deep cut before emerging on the Copper River side of the ridge.

In the 1970's, Mr. Al Taylor, who at the time lived at Lower Tonsina and operated a lumber mill there, told me that this road cut used to be a railroad tunnel. The railroad operated between 1910 and 1938. It was used primarily to ship copper ore from the Kennicott Mines to the seaport of Cordova. Mr. Tailor reported that after the railroad was abandoned, a crew was contracted to "daylight" the tunnel for surface road.

Mr. Taylor also related the story that either during this "daylighting" process or during the original construction of the tunnel, the contractor dug below the specified grade and surreptitiously installed a pipe to conduct water from Town Lake (the lake adjacent to downtown Chitina) to the level of the Copper River. The drop in elevation offered so much water pressure that the contractor was able to install a Pelton wheel to drive a generator and supply the town of Chitina with electricity for many years until the facility burned down.

All of this was related by Mr. Taylor and needs verification if it is to be taken as history. I was interviewing him for a documentary I was producing at the time called "Boom Times, An Alaskan Portrait" which compared the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline to the construction of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

The road cut does however exist and is of historic and geologic interest. Interestingly, the panorama is in full color. In mid May, the entire area is a muted grey. Strong winds off the Chitina and Copper River valleys pick up fine glacial silt and deposit it over everything, muting the color.

Tom Sadowski, July 23, 2010

Copyright: Tom Sadowski
Type: Spherical
Resolution: 10400x5200
Taken: 11/05/2010
Uploaded: 23/07/2010


Tags: road; geology; rock; tunnel; rail road; road bed; kennicott; narrow
More About Alaska

Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait. Approximately half of Alaska's 710,231 residents (as per the 2010 United States Census) live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska is the least densely populated state of the U.S.Source:

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