After a half-day’s drive from Palmer, Alaska my husband, Cecil, and I arrived at mile 227.4 of the Richardson Highway and The Lodge at Black Rapids, our destination. Annie, our host, was just about to hop on her bike when we pulled in and duty called. She gave us time to settle in our room while she worked on the evening’s dinner. When we were ready Annie was eager to take us outside. The spruce trees, mountain streams and rocky ridge tops were calling and, like a drug, Annie needed her daily dose of nature. She took us on a narrow trail behind the lodge through the woods a short ways until we emerged onto a small gravel road. In the distance she spotted trail guide and resident canine, Rowdy, and called for him to come join us. Early on in our visit I had the distinct impression that Rowdy had a major role in taking care of guests of the lodge. He certainly took care of us. (More on Rowdy in the following story, “Running with Rowdy.”) Rowdy loped our way while Annie told us that buried directly below us was the Alyeska Pipeline. The steel artery running from Prudhoe Bay 800 miles down to the port town of Valdez can be seen all along the Richardson, but disappears underground from time to time when the geology of the area allows. Annie told us that across the service road is a system of small trails, so visitors can explore more of her back yard. In her front yard is the Delta River, making its way through the Alaska Range, and running parallel to the Richardson Highway. Her home, The Lodge at Black Rapids, has served as a retreat for the many visitors and nature enthusiasts who pass through their doors year round.
On their newly acquired property sat the
Black Rapids Roadhouse, a one hundred year old
structure in disrepair from age and neglect.
It was about fourteen years ago when Annie and Michael Hopper began two major projects that would cement mile 227.4 as a historic landmark and luxurious destination along the Richardson Highway. On their newly acquired property sat the Black Rapids Roadhouse, a one hundred year old structure in disrepair from age and neglect. In its glory days during the 10s, 20s, and 30s, the roadhouse served gold miners, road crews, and other travelers as they journeyed along the Richardson Highway, more commonly known then as the Valdez Trail. The roadhouse is one of only a few remaining from a time when there were over thirty roadhouses along the trail. The Black Rapids Roadhouse’s long history includes Frank Glaser, the renowned hunter and subject of Jim Rearden’s famous book, Alaska’s Wolf Man. Glaser used to run the roadhouse from 1919-24. In 1923, when the Alaska Railroad opened from Seward to Fairbanks, along approximately the same route of today’s Parks Highway, traffic on the Valdez Trail gradually dwindled.
Annie and Michael had the thought of tearing down the roadhouse, but after some research they decided the building and the history behind it were too valuable to destroy. They applied for grants, found volunteers, and in the year 2000 work began. Over the years the roadhouse had steadily been sinking into the glacial silt and many of the logs were rotted. Though some sections of the structure had to be demolished, a faithful network of volunteers were able to stabilize a large portion of the original building. There is still a lot of work to be done, but in the future, Annie and Mike hope to turn the roadhouse into a museum and provide lodging for recreational outdoor schools.
A year after they began work on the old roadhouse the Hoppers started their other project, The Lodge at Black Rapids. A large timber frame structure that would sit on the bluff above the roadhouse. With help from neighbors, a master timber frame builder from Hope, Alaska, and timber frame students earning college credit for their participation, the lodge was finished and open for business in 2009. For the last six years Annie and Michael have hosted visitors from across the state and around the world, showing them the beauty of the surrounding area, and offering them a “transformative” experience with nature. While talking with Annie I learned quickly how much she loves living in the Alaska Range, with mountains to climb, waterfalls to see, and streams to boulder hop along. Being in nature for Annie is more than a physical experience, but instead takes on a spiritual quality that she hopes everyone who visits can understand and feel for themselves.