The Race Course Itself
The Fireweed 400 will start on the Glenn Highway at Sheep Mountain Lodge, roughly 100 miles northeast of Anchorage, and run to Valdez and back a total distance of approximately 392 miles. The National Scenic Byway states “The Glenn Highway is a place where geology, culture, and scenery come together to create the majestic and rugged landscape that can only be seen in Alaska.” Wildflowers growing along the roadside in July include fireweed, sweet pea, lupine, cinquefoil, Jacob’s ladder, and milk-vetch.
The Glenn Highway was completed in 1944 linking the Alaska-Canada Highway to Anchorage. Before its completion there was no road access to Anchorage from the Lower 48.
The riders will be surrounded for most of the race on the Glenn and Richardson highways by the Talkeetna Range and the Chugach Mountains. In the first 15 miles of the route, racers will find a couple of steep climbs. The first six miles has a 1000 foot elevation rise. At approximately 15 miles from the start, riders will reach Eureka Summit (3,322), the highest point of the Glenn Highway. In the next 60 miles to Glennallen, the route descends gradually to an elevation of approximately 1000 feet.
Traveling east to Glennallen, bikers will have views of the Wrangells, including Mount Sanford (elevation 16,237 ft), Mount Drum (elevation 12,010 ft), Mount Wrangell (elevation 14, 163 ft), and Mount Blackburn (elevation 16,390 ft). Along with the Saint Elias Mountains, the Wrangells contain the most spectacular array of glaciers and ice fields outside of the polar regions. The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the nation’s largest national park, and,
with the adjacent Kluane National Park of Canada, are designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations.
Attractions along the Glenn Highway:
Gunsight Mountain – The notch of the Gunsight is plain if one looks closely.
Eureka Lodge – This is first lodge built on the Glenn Highway, opening in 1937.
The unincorporated community of Mendeltna – It was originally a stop used by Natives traveling from Lake Tyone to Tazlina Lake. Gold brought prospectors into the area of Mendeltna in the 1800s.
View of Tazlina Glacier to the south.- During the last ice age, this glacier and others spilled out of the Chugach Range and covered the whole Copper River Valley.
Glennallen – Glennallen is the hub of the Copper River Valley. The name Glennallen is derived from the combined last names of Capt. Edwin F. Glenn and Lt. Henry T. Allen, both leaders in the early exploration of the Copper River Valley region.
Mile 75.5 of the race route, just beyond Glennallen, riders will turn right onto the Richardson Highway. The trip from Glennallen down and into Valdez is one of the most beautiful highways in Alaska. With its alpine tundra filled with miniature flowers and fireweed it has long been called the Switzerland of Alaska. Before the riders descend to sea level at Valdez, they will need to climb a series of rolling hills that take them to the top of Thompson Pass, an elevation of 3000 feet. The climb, however, will seem gradual compared to the “Prime Climb” out of Valdez to the top of Thompson Pass on the way back to Sheep Mountain Lodge.
The Richardson Highway connects Fairbanks, the capital of the interior of Alaska, with the seaport of Valdez. At the turn of century, thousands of gold seekers, starting at Valdez, traversed the trails over the glaciers and mountains by wagon and sled into the interior of Alaska. In 1920, the wagon route to Fairbanks was upgraded for vehicular use, and in 1957 this route was paved.
Attractions along the Richardson Highway:
Copper Center – Founded in 1896, Copper Center, founded as a governmental agricultural experiment station, was the first white settlement in this area. Gold Miners poured into the area at the turn of the century. A post office was established here in 1901, the same year as the telegraph station.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline – The pipeline parallels the highway in numerous spots.
Edgerton Highway Junction – The Edgerton provides access to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Mid-point of the Richardson – The route climbs to tundra meadows dotted with numerous lakes and river crossings.
The Worthington Glacier – This is the closest one can get by road to a glacier in the state.
Thompson Pass – Record snow falls are recorded here – over 200 FEET. It can snow any day of the year.
Keystone Canyon – The route winds along the Lowe River in the canyon. The canyon walls contain countless waterfalls and interesting rock formations, including the 360′ Bride Vail Falls and Horsetail Falls.
Valdez – Valdez is located on an estuary of the Valdez Arm in Prince William Sound. Valdez developed due to its excellent ice-free port as the major debarkation point in Alaska for those seeking a route to the Klondike and to the interior of Alaska. Tsunamis generated by Valdez 1964 earthquake destroyed the original city of Valdez, and the community was rebuilt afterwards in a more sheltered area. The Alaska Oil Pipeline ends here, as does the 200 mile Fireweed race.
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