*This story originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News 10/4/2016.
Gold was on our minds as we drove the Seward Highway south toward the small community of Hope. Not the kind one mines, although that is there too. No, we were looking for the colorful signal of a season that appears to be lingering this year. And we hit the bonanza in Hope.
Located about 80 miles from Anchorage along a dog-leg road on the Kenai Peninsula side of Turnagain Arm, Hope is just visible to drivers making the trek to or from the big city.
“What’s that over there?” visitors always ask as they scan Turnagain Arm for beluga whales and instead spy a metal rooftop shining in the sun four miles across the silty, muddy saltwater channel.
Indeed, Hope inspires that sort of questioning, even from Alaskans who have passed the junction to the Hope Highway and said to themselves, “Some day I should follow that road to see where it goes.”
So one Sunday, we did.
Hope and Sunrise
In 1888, before the gold rushes of Dawson and Nome brought thousands of eager prospectors north in search of uncertain fortune, a little slice of color in Southcentral Alaska was quietly discovered by a young man named Alexander King. In a year, King had poked gold out of several small creeks that run through the valley and empty into Turnagain Arm. The singular nature of his discovery didn’t last long, however, as word spread south to Seattle about the easier access by way of Cook Inlet (who wouldn’t want to travel to Anchorage instead of Nome, after all?). By 1893, claims were being staked along Sixmile Creek, Resurrection Creek and other streams that flow through the valley.
When the Klondike Gold Rush started in 1897, a few thousand gold-seekers stopped off in Cook Inlet to try their luck in Hope, and by the time 1898 dawned, 8,000 prospectors lined the creeks of the area. A youngster by the name of Percy Lee Hope settled along Resurrection Creek and must have made a good impression on his fellow miners, because Hope City gained his name in 1896.
Hope was adjacent to the community of Sunrise, so named because of the way the sun appears to rise three times each morning over the surrounding peaks. Both were busy places in those years. A social hall, small homesteads, saloons, schools, a ferry dock and government offices led to small-town prosperity during a time when no highways connected Anchorage to the rest of Alaska.
By the time Seward was plotted and built in the early 1900s, though, this prosperity waned as government workers and many residents transferred farther down the Kenai Peninsula to settle in a larger center of commerce.
A few people wanted to stay, however, and the focus shone on Hope, where fertile soil allowed miners’ families to augment their income by growing root vegetables and a few apple orchards. For years, about 50 people called Hope home, and today’s population hovers around 200 full-time residents and a growing handful of cabin owners who realize the recreational value of this remote, yet accessible community.
Playing near Hope
Most visitors to Hope arrive in the summer, drawn to its quirky feel and the historical charm of buildings like the Hope Social Hall and Seaview Cafe, where live music spills from behind the screen door every weekend. In the fall, though, Hope undergoes a golden metamorphosis of peaceful change. The hard-packed dirt streets are quiet now that the rental RVs and cars have stopped driving up and down them, passengers taking photos of tilting windows and quaint gardens of the original tiny homes. The Seaview closes its doors for another season, as do the few local restaurants and most lodging establishments about town.
We arrived in Hope on the final day of operation for Tito’s Discovery Cafe, and it seemed every resident was popping in for one final hurrah. Tahneta Stroh, our server, has deep roots in Hope. Her family has been in the community since the 1950s and she was anticipating the upcoming seasons.
“I love fall and winter in Hope,” she said. “My kids and I love to hike Point Hope, or ski the trails. I wish more people realized just how easy it is to get here.”
Stroh, who returned to Hope with her family a few years ago so her kids could attend the small K-12 school and reconnect with the community, has strong feelings about Hope’s benefits during the non-summer season. She recommended that we return for a weekend, noting that a few bed and breakfast establishments stay open all year.
“Hike, ski or mountain bike from Porcupine Campground out the Gull Rock trail,” she said. “Or, if we have snow, just ski around town on the Wagon Trail,” waving her arm behind the cafe toward a little bridge over the creek that leads to Resurrection Road a mile away.
We chose Gull Rock and parked at the trailhead not far from downtown. A 5-mile, one-way trek, Gull Rock is an easy out and back for kids no matter how far you decide to hike, and is full of interesting things. We wound our way along the leaf-strewn trail, chatting about our week, the weather and the dots of cars across Turnagain Arm, where busy traffic winged along the Seward Highway.
On the way back, we chose to walk through the still-open Porcupine Campground, shining with yellow birch and cottonwood leaves. The air was mild and smelled of spicy things. Passing hikers smiled at each other, knowing instinctively that we had, in all ways, struck our own form of gold.
Hope: If you go
Getting there: The Hope Highway, or Forest Road 14, is located at Milepost 56.3 near the Canyon Creek rest area. Take a right and follow the road 17 miles to the townsite. Allow plenty of time to stop and enjoy scenic Turnagain Arm and surrounding mountain ranges in the Chugach National Forest.
What’s open: Nothing in the way of restaurants or stores, so bring food and water. Dress in warm layers of clothing to see you through the day’s variable weather patterns. Porcupine Campground is still open, but visitors should be prepared to pack out garbage and bring their own potable water.
Recreation: Hiking and mountain biking dominate the autumn landscape until snow falls, when nordic skiing begins. Gull Rock Trail is a good choice, as is Resurrection Creek Trail, part of the famous 39-mile trek popular with summer hikers. Hope Point Trail is a 2.5-mile slog up to treeless Mount Baldy toward Point Hope and is tough but worth it for hardy, experienced families looking for a great view and a workout. Find trail and campground information at the Chugach National Forest website, Seward District.