There are magical places in the world that call out to the soul through their simplicity and rugged beauty. Chancing upon them offers discovery and a rejuvenation of the spirit. Visiting and actually spending time at them offers a chance to return to the simpler ways of life. Where things are not so hurried, where the cares of the world are for naught, and the beauty of living transcends everything else.
We seek these magical places because they renew our hearts with beauty. They restore our minds with calmness and reason. They offer a victory in our spirits. They are still waters and a safe harbor in a world of busyness. Rhythmically, we seek these places out and make pilgrimages to them in the hope of reviving our inner being, returning things and events that are spinning too fast back to a sense of normalcy and calmness.
One such magical place is located in the state of Alaska, 170 miles southwest of Anchorage, 14 miles north of Port Alsworth. Nestled in Lake Clark National Preserve and Park. It's called the Little Mulchatna Lodge, or LML, or just "Little Mulchatna". It's so named because it sits at the beginning of the Little Mulchatna River exactly where Fishtrap Lake flows into the mouth of the river. From there, the river winds northwest some 17 miles before eventually flowing into the Chilikadrotna river.
The area is tundra, ranging from low mountains with brushy hillsides and cliffs to gentle hills and valleys with streams and lakes. There are various plants such as blueberry, crowberry, fireweed, and monkshood, and at any moment one can chance upon bear, moose, caribou, porcupine or any of the other various creatures that frequent the area. That there are also mosquitos goes without saying, and one had better be prepared to deal with the little intruders.
To say that the lodge at Little Mulchatna is a magical place may need a bit of explanation. On paper, it could seem like one more among the many wonderful lodges that grace Alaska. However, when you consider its colorful history and the fact that it's the only lodge on remote Fishtrap Lake and one of the few lodges in Lake Clark's vast four million acre preserve, the point begins to become clear. It's accessible only by float plane. The flight from Anchorage takes you westward across the Cook inlet, within sight of two volcanoes (Illiamna and Redoubt), numerous glaciers and rivers and untold mountains and wild places. The flight alone is an adventure of a lifetime; at any point you'll travel close beside mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, over rivers and streams, or above eagles, bear and moose.
Spectacular views are everywhere. This area of Lake Clark National Park is more remote, and you can feel it. In any given year, more visitors travel to Lake Clark NP to visit the more popular areas such as Twin Lakes and the historic cabin that Dick Proenneke built and lived in. That has led the area in and around Little Mulchatna to still be remote, wild and untamed as it ever was.
About as wild as when 22 year old bush pilot Stuart "Stu" Ramstad crashed onto the lake's shoreline less than three years after the land had become a state. Stuart Ramstad was a pilot and third generation gold miner who supposedly had dealt with more than one airplane fire while in the air. He had become a pilot at age 14 (Source: APRN).
On Christmas Day, 1962, Stu's Piper Cub caught fire and he was forced to land near the shore of the lake. His family sent out a search, and he was found, two days later. Ramstad made a homestead claim upon the land consisting of 80 acres and returned to the location, whereupon he built the first cabin ( later to be identified as the cabin that John Denver loved and sang about) five years later, in 1967.
Stu then built more cabins using local pine trees from the surrounding area and operated the place as an Alaskan fly-in lodge for decades. The current main lodge was originally two separate cabins; Ramstad realized he could tear down some of the walls and build upon it to make a larger, main lodge in order to better accommodate both living conditions and clients.
Today, there are a total of seven original cabin structures on the property, plus a three-sided outhouse that does not have a door. There are three log-built cabins, a main lodge, and side buildings: • one next to and overlooking the lake, called "John's cabin", • one behind it, overlooking the Little Mulchatna River, • and one closer to the main lodge, called the "Boar's nest". • the main lodge, • a log-built bath house with shower and flush toilet, • generator building ( in back of the lodge ) and • boat house ( to hold fishing tackle and equipment ).
Additionally, there are two docks that give service to Fishtrap Lake, as well as a platform in front of the bath house that was built to accommodate the wood-heated hot tub that singer-songwriter John Denver had flown in.
In 1968, Ramstad received notice from the Bureau of Land Management that his land claim was not valid. He was ordered to cease the use of the land, and remove all improvements, thereby returning the land to its natural state. Ramstad responded, and a series of give and take ensued, which included his being charged with trespass, among other items. Ramstad appealed the initiative to remove the lodge, and after several years of heartfelt, hard work, he was awarded possession of the Little Mulchatna Lodge. Thus, the lodge and its history were preserved.
Speaking of John Denver, he first became interested in the lodge while working on his film, "American Child". Two years earlier, while putting together the movie segments, Denver happened upon Ramstad and his bush piloting skills through a mutual acquaintance named Earl "Red" Dodge. Red was also an Alaskan bush pilot, and was featured in the film. A thank you, here, to Red's grand-daughter, who graciously helped to fill in some of this story concerning Red and his connection to John Denver. John spent many summers visiting the Dodge family in Anchorage in between trips to Little Mulchatna. The lodge has always been a special place to the Dodge family, and they forever share a legacy with the land, as the ashes of Mike Dodge ( Red's son ) are buried there. Red's grand-daughter also writes that she still cherishes the videos that she has of John and Cassie at the lodge. It features them singing as well as other fun times; she hopes to someday finish editing them. When she does, she hopes to share them with the Lodge, so the current lodge owner and others there can enjoy the special moments.
John spent many summers visiting the Dodge family in Anchorage in between trips to Little Mulchatna, and even speaks about Dodge on an episode of Fly Fishing Alaska. The lodge has always been a special place to the Dodge family, and they forever share a legacy with the land, as the ashes of Mike Dodge ( Red's son ) are buried there. [She] also writes that she still cherishes the videos that she has, of John and Cassie at the lodge. It features them singing as well as other fun times; she hopes to someday finish editing them. When she does, she hopes to share them with the Lodge, so the current lodge owner and others there can enjoy the special moments.