Written by MilwVon on 04 Sep, 2010
We learned that there are some 800 year 'round residents here, mostly tied in some fashion to the tourism trade in the community. While you might not think that they have much in the winter, this is sled dog mushing country so I'm sure…Read More
We learned that there are some 800 year 'round residents here, mostly tied in some fashion to the tourism trade in the community. While you might not think that they have much in the winter, this is sled dog mushing country so I'm sure there are some businesses that stay open year round. Many however, do not. The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, as an example, will close for the season after September 17th . . . reopening next spring.The Talkeetna Spur Road is about 16 miles from Parks Highway, and pretty much dead ends in town on Main Street. Throughout the town there are small businesses including gift shops, restaurants, B&B's and the Talkeetna Roadhouse. The Roadhouse offers old roadhouse style shared accommodations (shared bathrooms, not sleeping quarters) and probably the best known breakfast in these parts.Many of my Alaska travel friends said we had to make a trip to the Roadhouse for their monster sized cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, driving the beast through the area was about all we could do and parking for a vehicle that size was nonexistent. Therefore, the experience will be saved for another day.While there are bears in the area (mostly black bear I believe), moose rule the town. There is even a gift shop specializing on moose related items. If you happen to be in the area in mid July during the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival, you should try to make a swing through town. People throw moose "nuggets" (poop) to see who can wing them the farthest. Sounds like good clean fun, worthy of Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs!While in Talkeetna, there isn't an Alaskan adventure you cannot take in. If your interests are on the water, there are scenic tours and kayaking available. If you want to explore the area on land, take a hike or check out their ATV tours or perhaps a sled dog mushing experience. Of course, flightseeing is a main attraction here out of Talkeetna given the close proximity to Denali National Park and Mt. Denali (aka Mt. McKinley). It is also from here that all climbers venturing to climb the big mountain fly out.While in town, you can also check out a couple of museums and one of the Denali National Park's ranger stations as well as a small storefront location that provides information on the history of climbing Mt. Denali. Guests can even participate in a type of "game" where they are the climbers, facing the same types of perils and exhilaration of making the summit. Of course, some don't make it . . . and even die trying. This year there were approximately 1,200 climbers to attempt it, with roughly half succeeding and four died trying.Talkeetna is the sorta place where I think some people can come and spend a week, while others may only view it as a stopping point between the interior to the north and the more urban areas in and around Anchorage or points further south like the Kenai.We enjoyed our time taking in the Mahay's Riverboat Services' Three Rivers Tour and K2's Grand Denali Tour, featuring a glacier landing. We didn't see any moose or bear, but Mt. Denali did make a brief appearance the morning of our departure for about 20 minutes.All in all . . . a nice time was had!Close
Written by C2WnDC on 12 Jun, 2005
I wanted to go "flightseeing" around Mt. McKinley and land on a glacier. But, as is often the case, we were socked in due to the weather and resultant low visibility. As I considered my options for the day, one caught my eye:…Read More
I wanted to go "flightseeing" around Mt. McKinley and land on a glacier. But, as is often the case, we were socked in due to the weather and resultant low visibility. As I considered my options for the day, one caught my eye: a 4-hour jet boat safari into a canyon on Class III rapids. It sounded interesting and like a good way to see more of the area’s backcountry while still making my afternoon train. The price of $120 (including lunch) seemed high, but it was half of what I was going to spend flightseeing.
The boats are sturdy aluminum flat-bottom, glass-enclosed jet boats capable of operating in very shallow draft areas where traditional boats can’t. The high velocity, constantly shifting, shallow glacial fed rivers that bisect this country are navigable only by this sort of craft. We sped through the water dodging piles of glacial gravel, trees, and other woody debris. The boats sliced through mild rapids splashing the glass enclosure around us. This type of boat is literally the only way to get to some of the remote fishing camps or cabins along these rivers in the summer. In winter, these waterways freeze solid and can be driven on by sled (snow mobile), ATV, or even heavy construction equipment. We passed a huge excavator that had been driven there from town over miles of ice. The owner of the home site there was preparing his lot and probably a couple for neighbors over the summer. He would drive it back to town when the river froze again this winter.
There was an older couple from Wisconsin on the boat. The man mumbled and sandwiched his words together illegibly. His wife was a bit heavy and uttered a high-pitched "ooohh" every time something mildly exciting occurred. We pulled to the bank and went ashore to see a real trapper’s cabin built by the tour company’s owner back when he was a homesteader running a trap line. As we disembarked, the lady said, "Ooohh, I’m not so sure about this!" "I’m not an outdooorzee person." With a little extra encouragement from Kelly, our guide, she braved it anyway.
Come to find out, Kelly is from WV, as am I. She comes from a fairly well-off family. Upon graduation from a private college, she and her friend loaded a minivan and drove cross-country then to Alaska. Kelly never left. Now she dates the boat tour owner’s son and lives in a 10x12 cabin with no water or electricity and just exudes happiness. Kelly was extremely knowledgeable about the local flora, fauna, and folklore. She explained a lot, from how great dried spring moose droppings are for starting fires to how the Native Athabascans were able to live in three-sided shelters in the extreme cold and deep snow that befalls this area. All the while, she packed a 12-gage bear gun for our protection. Later, she jumped into the frigid water up to her thighs in order to help tie off the boat.
Aaron, our boat pilot, was also an interesting character with his eccentrically bushy brown beard. He is a native of Talkeetna. Seasonally, he guides big game hunts for an outfitter on Kodiak Island. He exhibited a level of calm, agreeable patience in every situation that was made possible, I’m sure, by growing up here. Aaron married the girl who won him in the annual bachelor auction a couple of years back (see my Talkeetna overview). He knew her beforehand, though, so it’s not as quirky as it may sound. After work, Aaron was going fishing. He heard that a few of the kings may have already made their way this far inland, and he was going to his secret spot to find out. Even though, it was probably too early for the kings to be in, he and his wife were out of salmon and she was pressuring him to bring some home.
Neither she nor Kelly are in the "Women of Talkeetna" calendar. They both were pressured to be in it but were not sure how the final product would look and didn’t particularly want to be associated with some of the "ladies" who were featured therein. I said, "I think I met some of those ladies you are talking about last night." "You went to the Tee Pee didn’t you" Aaron said. "It’s really dark in there, isn’t it" said Kelly. We talked about my going on to Seward in a few days and how much they liked the Keni Peninsula, except for Whittier. Aaron said "You have to go through a long tunnel to get there." "Everyone lives in the same building, and they get practically no sunlight." From what I gather, even Talkeetnans think that people from Whittier are weird.
Aaron pushed the powerful boat through the raging water until we reached the pinnacle of our trip near a large freshwater inflow named Disappointment Creek. A group of miners coined the name when they found no gold there. Mr. Mahay (owner) is the only one to have taken a boat much farther past here. Apparently it gets very choppy and dangerous beyond this point. After stretching our legs on a gravel bar, we headed back to the dock, this time with the flow of water. Overall, it was a great day filled with adventure, insight, and good company.
Written by C2WnDC on 11 Jun, 2005
Riding the Alaska Rail Road’s Denali Star train from Fairbanks to Talkeetna was even better than I expected that it would be. What a civilized way to travel: complete relaxation and the ability to write, stretch one’s legs, etc. I didn’t even have…Read More
Riding the Alaska Rail Road’s Denali Star train from Fairbanks to Talkeetna was even better than I expected that it would be. What a civilized way to travel: complete relaxation and the ability to write, stretch one’s legs, etc. I didn’t even have to remove my shoes or be herded through any security stations by self-important people with bad hair. The seating was fantastic, with lots of leg room and the ability to recline to near flat. Furthermore, the view is better than from the highway. The staff wore smart-looking uniforms and conducted themselves professionally. Unlike most airlines, they narrate as the train passes significant landmarks.
Initially, the landscape consisted of large rolling hills colored with the dark and light green of alternating Sitka spruce, birch, and Aspen stands. We passed a freight train carrying oil, lumber, and steel, then learned that an oil refinery near North Pole, AK (not the real North Pole) is the RR’s biggest customer. Next was a town called Happy that didn’t look happy at all. Not far from Fairbanks, we made our way past Ester, whose population during the gold rush was 15,000. Now it is home for around 1,600 people due primarily to its great micro climate that moderates the temperature at least 20 degrees compared to its ugly neighbor Fairbanks.
There were still snow pockets on the ground in low-lying places and thousands of small lakes ponds dotting the landscape along this route due to perma-frost. The soil remains frozen, so the water can’t be absorbed into the ground. We saw some moose here in the marshes as the train moved slowly along. Between RR cars, you can stick your head out into the cool spring morning air or take pictures unobstructed by window glass. One can walk the entire train, with the exception of the baggage cars, to the front near the engine and the Holland-America Cruise Lines cars in the back. The package tour/cruise set up is very expensive, formal, and regimented (read set meal and report times). These operators take great pains to ensure that their customers remain completely isolated from the land and people that they think they are experiencing.
I made my way to the snack bar and had a $2 cup of Folders coffee. The windows here stretch from ceiling to floor, offering an even better view than in the dome cars. Don’t pay extra for a dome-car seat. They are nice, but, honestly, there really is nothing to see looking straight up. I lingered here, chatting with some of the crew, and enjoyed the expanded view as we passed by Nenana, home of the annual spring ice break up gambling event, and Clear Air Force Station, which was one of the original ballistic missile defense radar sites circa 1950s.
Ferry, the next town we passed, is divided by the Nena River. When this RR bridge was built, the residents started driving their cars across. The RR tried to stop them by installing spikes. In turn, the residents put boards on top of these and continued with their commute. Animosity still exists, and the good residents of Ferry manifest their frustration every July 4th by mooning the train in mass.
Now, in my window, the peaks of the Alaska Range loom ever larger, shrouded in clouds. We pass Healy, which has the highest per capita income in the US, averaging $60k per year. They either work at the coal mine, Denali National Park, or the large power plant that’s also here to burn the coal. The river canyon, through which we pass here, is beautiful. Looking down, we see rafters, kayakers, and Dall sheep posed stoically on the hill side. Regretfully, we only had a brief stop at Denali National Park. Leaving DNP, we passed through a beautiful area called Carlo, then through Broad Pass. At elevation of 2,300 feet, this is the lowest pass through the Rockies anywhere, but was blanketed in deep snow with frozen lakes and barren of trees.
The train switched crews with its northerly headed counterpart near Honolulu Creek—named by a miner dreaming of a warmer place. From there on, I had the train car to myself. A fellow strolled by and said I was just like Elvis with my own car. We were on a high RR bridge now. Below was Hurricane Gulch, aptly named for the 90mph winds that whistle through the 296-foot canyon underneath. Thirty minutes out from Talkeetna, we saw a mass of beaver damns and lodges. No beavers, but, at long last, we reach Talkeetna. This was my first leg of travel on the RR, and, come to find out, the least scenic of the three. No one could have convinced me of that at the time.