Georgia has Old Car City, but Alaska has Eklutna Tailrace. Sure Old Car City has more than 4000 cars over six miles of land. Yet, Alaska has the serendipitous surprise of bits and pieces of dilapidated cars peeking out of the ground that’s reclaiming them on a random riverside trail.
I noticed a single car parked at the Eklutna Tailrace trailhead and a man walking his dog on a narrow spit of land extending into the Knik River when I passed by this morning. It looked moosey, so I made a mental note to stop on my way back this afternoon.
A wide flat pedestrian trail extends straight to the flowing river less than a quarter-mile away. On my right is a large, still marsh perfectly reflecting the Chugach mountains in the distance. On the left is the tailrace – the glacial blue turbulent outflow from Eklutna Lake that courses 4.5 miles via a tunnel bored through the mountains to provide hydroelectric power to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Fishing is popular below dams and hydroelectric plants, and this site is no exception.
I was only a few steps down the path when I veered off to the right down a slope toward the water’s edge beckoned by the enormous landscape with snow-capped mountain reflections. Following along the water’s edge, I paralleled the trail stepping through the trees trying to capture fast-moving warblers, examining bark, and photographing mushrooms when I saw something poking out of the earth. Almost completely buried, a sliver of a car mimicking a canoe caught my eye. As I walked, I saw another and another. Thick metal cables loop out of the ground as if tethering the vehicles. Were these cars placed here to create the jetty?
Carcasses of cars in various states of disrepair, all fantastically rusted and half-buried, litter the entire north bank of this small peninsula.
Consumed by photographing these relics, I forgot all about my search for moose and lingered until my stomach pulled me away for dinner, where I researched this surprising find on mile 3.6 of the Old Glenn Highway.
It turns out it’s not a deliberate earthworks project at all. From the 1950s through the 1970s, cars were just dumped here.
The state of Alaska blames this on the era of federal ownership. The Electric Company bought the land in the 1980s, and since then, better surveillance and more people around seem to have stopped the dumping.
The speculation is that this secluded spot simply had easy road access for dumping cars. Some were deserted by their legitimate owners (demolition derbies used to take place nearby), others were stolen and ditched after a joyride, and still, others were set afire when they got stuck. To this day, abandoned cars sit along roadways throughout Alaska. It seems commonplace to just leave your broken-down car where it stopped and figure out a new transportation plan later.
I could spend a whole day here. The details in these decaying cars are amazing. There is so much in Alaska. Always so much more than I expect.
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