Current news – It’s now snowing so we remain in our Flagstaff hotel one more day waiting for the storm Titan to blow through. We are writing about summer in Alaska.
Blog 290 Talkeetna and Wasilla
Before we left George’s we took the opportunity to check our e-mails and catch up on the computer a bit. To our dismay we found there was an e-mail from Harri saying that the replacement coils he had posted on to our friend Denny in Whitehorse for our return journey had not only been returned to him in Vancouver but Canada Post had charged him $12 for the privilege saying that the parcel was addressed wrongly. Kev contacted Denny to check the address details and promised to e-mail Harri back as soon as possible. In the end the address was correct and Harri got a refund and apology and we eventually got our coils but more of that later, luckily the temporary bodge done in Vancouver island was still working well.
After saying thank you to George for his hospitality we headed out on the parks highway which was spectacularly scenic.
There were several viewpoints to stop at that looked over other parts of Denali National Park, it was a beautiful clear day and nice riding temperature. The Alaska range dominating the skyline was formed about 55 million years ago when large blobs of magma rose towards the surface and cooled, these formed huge masses of granite called plutons. Then about a million years ago the colliding tectonic plates squeezed these plutons upward to form the Alaska range we see today. The iconic flower of Alaska in the foreground is the fireweed (the red plant in the pictures) and it flowers from the bottom of its stem and works its way up. The locals say that when it reaches the top it marks the end of summer and winters not far behind. We had to keep an eye on it as it reminded us about how far we had to ride down before we were out of the snow belt of North America.
We also passed this strange igloo house once a hotel which seemed as though it should have been a good idea but obviously fell on hard times.
We stopped for lunch at a war memorial which was a tribute to all the Alaskans and Inuit/Aleuts who served in the army, air force, navy, and coastguard.
There was a really good sculpture depicting two Aleuts on lookout during the 2nd world war when Japan invaded the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. Alaska was also the frontier during the cold war stalemate between the USA and the USSR from the 1950′s through to the 1980′s. The two enemies were only 82 kilometres (50 miles) apart across the Bering Strait and many cold war early warning and missile bases were sited in Alaska for obvious reasons.
There were also specific tributes to incidents in which soldiers and airmen were killed in action and accidents, it was a good memorial. America as a county is very good at honouring and assisting its veterans and serving military. Many shops, restaurants and national parks offer discounts for military personnel past and present.
A little further down the road we stopped at another viewpoint this time for Mt Denali/McKinley another mountain with two names. Denali was its original Athabaskan first nations name meaning simply High One, it was renamed McKinley in 1896 by William Dickey a gold rush reporter who named it after presidential candidate McKinley a proponent of Dickey’s favourite issue the gold standard.
The US board of Geographic names dictates that no living person can be commemorated so it wasn’t officially valid not until 1901 anyhow when President McKinley was assassinated. It is still officially called McKinley but many climbers and Alaskans have repeatedly lobbied to have the name changed back to Denali. At present it is being still being blocked by a political stalemate in Congress.
Mt Denali is infamously elusive, many people never see its summit as it is almost always obscured by cloud but we were in luck and it was clear, this is because the range of mountains is so high they create their own weather patterns and affect the weather of everywhere north of here. Its summit looked a bit like cloud as it is permanently covered in snow. At 20’310 feet it is North Americas highest mountain and has been a draw to climbers anxious to test their skills for years. Over 1000 people a year attempt to climb it and access has been revolutionised by helicopters and light aircraft in recent years. It used to take weeks to trek to the base of the mountain, now you can leave Anchorage in the morning and be on the foothills by mid afternoon. It is however a fickle mountain with unpredictable weather and it has claimed many climbers lives.
During our many stops for pictures we met and got talking to lots of people.
We met a couple of travellers on BMW’s and a gaggle of Kiwis on a road trip on rented Harleys. One of the many people we met that day was Roger, in fact we ran into him two or three times and the last time he said come and stay at our place at Wasilla which we gladly accepted. He gave us his address and we agreed on a rough arrival time.
Now that we knew we had somewhere to stay that night it gave us a little more time to explore so we headed into Talkeetna, a nice little town with a lot of history. As luck would have it there was a village festival on that day too so the place had a lively atmosphere and bands playing. Once we found somewhere to park the bike we went for a wander around. This one bedroom cabin now the welcome centre was once home to home to three German bachelors and built around 1934, they would have relied on their dog sled similar to the one outside. Dog sledding is still a popular winter sport up here and there are two famous races that are run every year, the Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome and the Yukon Quest which runs from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.
This was the oldest structure in Talkeena, Ole Dahl cabin built in 1916 is a typical trappers cabin. The garden outside was Bethany’s garden but who or why it was created we never found out.
Down the end of one of the back streets was a grass airstrip with a few light aircraft parked up. Talkeetna is famous for pleasure flights and for dropping climbers and supplies to Denali and the surrounding mountains.
At the end of the village there was a campsite which was understandably pretty full and beyond this the banks of a huge river, in fact the confluence of three rivers the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna.
Talkeetna had some great quirky stores and characters.
This was the old red schoolhouse now a museum. It was built in 1936 and operated as a one room schoolhouse until 1971, the teachers quarters was upstairs.
After exploring we headed back to the high street and bought a homemade ice cream and enjoyed watching the festivities for an hour or so before getting back on the bike and heading to Roger’s. Just out of town we saw this lad on horseback heading home.
We were greeted by Roger his wife Janis and their two dogs, we had fish tacos for tea which were yummy and spent the rest of the evening talking to them both. In the morning Roger suggested we all go to a cafe in town to meet his son and daughter in law which we were happy to do. His son works on the north slope at Prudhoe Bay and saw our bike up there so we had plenty to talk about over a cooked breakfast which was a nice treat as we hadn’t had one for a while. Roger used to work on the north slope (Deadhorse) too and he showed us one of the mini chopper bikes they used to build up there to keep themselves amused after work.
We said our goodbyes later that day and Roger a keen fisherman sent us on our way with some Halibut and a jar of smoked salmon from his daughter in law which was a nice surprise. In our experience Alaskans have all been super friendly and hospitable people.
Next up Heading to Seward