“We Have To Go There!”

I first saw an illustration of the abandoned mine buildings at Kennecott on the contents page of a guidebook in 2007, while planning a trip to Alaska. I instantly thought, We have to go there!

Guidebook contents page, with illustration of Kennecott in the bottom right (DK Eyewitness Travel – Alaska)

My second, more sensible, thought was, But is that actually realistic?

Then I discovered that Kennecott was one of a pair of ghost towns located at the far end of the 100-kilometre-long McCarthy Road (the other ghost town being McCarthy itself). A road down which most car rental companies refuse to let you take their vehicles. And my hopes evaporated.

But somehow we pulled it together. We found a car company in Anchorage that mainly rented to hunters and didn’t mind where you took their trucks, so long as you didn’t bring them back smelling of fish. (True story! There was a US$250 fine if you did!) Then we built a nine day itinerary hinged on getting to McCarthy, and ultimately Kennecott.

The McCarthy road was stunning in its own right, a former railroad from the early 1900s built to service the mines at Kennecott and turned into a rugged, car-killer of a dirt road long after the mines closed. And McCarthy was like something straight off the set of a western movie.

Then there was Kennecott.

The abandoned mining town of Kennecott (photo: Rich Meyrick)

By the time we got there, I’d learned that the building I’d seen in that guidebook wasn’t actually a mine, but the Concentration Mill, where the ore produced in the mines was processed. And at 14 storeys high, built down the side of a mountain, the mill is still the tallest wooden building in North America.

Not only did we get to fulfil our dream of seeing the abandoned Concentration Mill at Kennecott, we even got to go inside it, on a tour through all 14 storeys! And to top things off, we hiked high into the surrounding mountains to visit the deserted remains of one of the mines that fed it. I left Kennecott and McCarthy determined they would one day feature prominently in a Jaspa’s Journey novel. And almost 13 years later, in 2020, that ambition finally came true, when The Hermit of Kennecott was published.

The above post is taken from this month’s Fiction Meets Fact Newsletter. To receive future newsletters in their entirety (together with a Free Jaspa’s Journey Booklet including the short story Freefall over London and Jaspa’s Journey images to colour), click on the image below.

Expand the minds of your strong middle grade readers by travelling the World with Jaspa’s Journey adventure novels! The first four – The Great Migration, The Pride of London, Jaspa’s Waterloo, and The Hermit of Kennecott – are now available in both paperback and ebook formats. Click here for more information.

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