Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest national park within the U.S. National Park Service system, extends from the northern Pacific Ocean to beyond the eastern Alaska Range into interior Alaska. It features impressively spectacular scenery such as high and craggy mountains, active and ancient volcanoes, expansive ice fields, immense tidewater glaciers, and a myriad of alpine glaciers. The park also includes the famous Kennecott Mine, a world-class copper deposit that was mined from 1911 to 1938, and remnant ghost town, which is now a National Historic Landmark.
Geologic investigations encompassing Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve began in 1796, with Dmitriv Tarkhanov, a Russian mining engineer, who unsuccessfully ventured up the Copper River in search of rumored copper. Lieutenant H.T. Allen (1897) of the U.S. Army made a successful epic summer journey with a limited military crew up the Copper River in 1885, across the Alaska Range, and down the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. Allen?s crew was supported by a prospector named John Bremner and local Eyak and Ahtna native guides whose tribes controlled access into the Copper River basin. Allen witnessed the Ahtnas? many uses of the native copper. His stories about the copper prompted prospectors to return to this area in search of the rich copper ore in the years following his journey. The region boasts a rich mining and exploration history prior to becoming a park in 1980. Several U.S. Geological Survey geologists have conducted reconnaissance surveys in the area since Allen?s explorations. This map is the result of their work and is enhanced by more detailed investigations, which began in the late 1950s and are still continuing. For a better understanding of the processes that have shaped the geology of the park and a history of the geologic investigations in the area, we recommend U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1616, ?A Geologic Guide to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska,? an exceptionally well illustrated and informative book by Gary R. Winkler, 2000.
Geologically, the park consists of a collage of seven tectonostratigraphic terranes that formed south in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and rafted northward on oceanic plates, eventually accreting to Alaska and the North American continent. Each terrane features a distinct stratigraphy and is separated from neighboring terranes by major strike-slip or thrust faults.