Palmer to Talkeetna, AK
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Overcast to clearing later, high of mid 70s
We were headed back up part of the Parks Highway to Talkeetna today.
We noticed a tail light was out on the camper so we stopped at an auto parts store just up the street from the campground for a replacement which Bill installed on the spot. Next was groceries at the local Fred Meyers where a guy told us our brake light was out on the camper. We checked and it was dim, not out. It looked like the dim filament was lighting for the brakes and the bright filament for the tail light. Was it possible the camper wiring was reversed all these years and we’d never noticed? Bill decided to attend to the problem at our destination.
We encountered the longest road construction zone yet for this trip; seven miles of alternating traffic lead by pilot vehicles. Ugh! It was also along this section that we noted that we’d seen quite a few hitch hikers in Alaska, something rarely seen back home. Good or bad; we don’t know.
Arriving at Talkeetna Camper Park without reservation, we found a prominent sign saying the campground was full and so it appeared. However, the nice, English host-couple squeezed us in off the end of the park, proper, with a long extension cord. They discounted the rate, $20 instead of $32, and we were happy. This was a pretty nice RV park, better by far than many we’ve stayed in.
After setting up, we walked the half-mile into town. Talkeetna is a small, gold-rush town on which the successful TV show, Northern Exposure, was based. It is also the adrenalin-rush capital of Alaska as well as the staging place for nearly every modern climb up Mount McKinley. It has really boomed over the past ten years or so. For a town with a population of under 1,000 people it has a lot of stuff including more than six restaurants, several really nice gift shops, Nagley’s General Store, a real brew-pub and tons of thrill rides ranging from McKinley flyovers and jet boat rides to zip-line and ATV tours. All this in compressed into a few square blocks. The cruise lines, especially Princess, bus lots of people through. In spite of all that, it’s still a really cool place.
Nagley’s General Store numbers among the historical log buildings. Behind and beside the store is the West Rib Café & Pub. The “Rib” is where most climbers gather as they finish their climbs. We hadn’t climbed but we stopped in, anyway, for a drink. Then we found out that their multitude of appetizers is offered at half price from 4:00 to 6:00. So much for home-cooked dinner!
After dinner and a couple of drinks we stopped by the Visitor Center. The engaging fellow running the place answered our questions about the not-to-be-missed things to do in Talkeetna. The answer, of course, was a flight to Mount McKinley. Choices were looking at the glaciers, landing on a glacier, which we’d already done in New Zealand, or flying around and over the peak itself. You guessed it! We forked over the considerable sum for a McKinley Summit Tour flight the next day. Slept well, too!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Clear blue skies early, few clouds later, low 70s
Bill got up early and headed for coffee from Nagley’s. He then pursued an unsuccessful search for additional memory card for our second camera just to have on hand for the McKinley flightseeing trip. On his way back to the campground, however, he couldn’t help noticing that the “Tall One” was out. You see one of Talkeetna’s charms is that it offers super views of the mountain from several places, including the drive into town. Bill returned to the camper to fetch Sandy to go back and take pictures. We just hoped the mountain would stay clear for our 4:30 flight!
Next order of business was to resolve the camper tail light wiring issue. Tracing the wiring involved working in very tight spaces to disconnect the wiring and removal of the taillight assembly just to examine how it was supposed to be wired. After an hour of false starts, diagramming the wiring, cursing and still finding no wiring errors he resorted to testing the bulb, itself. “This can’t be!” he said. But it was true. The replacement bulb, itself, was cross-wired internally! Angry at the wasted time and effort, the problem was, at least solved, by simply trashing the first replacement and installing another new bulb. Ugh!
We spent the rest of the day in town looking over a craft fair and, generally, messing around until it was time for the big event.
We arrived at Talkeetna Aero Services at the airport, all of a quarter mile from our camper, at 4:00 as directed. Our plane was a Piper Navaho, stretched to seat 10 and equipped with extra-powerful engines and oxygen. Our pilot was Dave who seems to be something of a legend in town.
Summiting Mount McKinley requires that the unpressurized plane climb to over 21,000 feet. Therefore, operating oxygen masks had to be used by everyone on board for about half the time we were up. Headsets were provided to everyone with full, two-way intercom. We all had push-to-talk buttons and we could also hear our pilot and others communicating with the airport tower.
We had a super flight, very good weather, very smooth, excellent narration by Dave. The mountains and glaciers were magnificent. They make you feel so very, very small. Our flight path took us up Tokositna Glacier towards mountain using several “S” turns to gain elevation. Approaching the mountain, itself, we flew around and over peak about three times so people on each side of the plane could see well. Dave also banked the plane so the wings wouldn’t be in the middle of the pictures we were all busy taking. Then it was a few passes by Wickersham Wall on the mountain’s north side. Awesome! Our return was down the path of Ruth Glacier. Of course, Bill carried his handheld GPS and recorded the flight so he can say with confidence that the flight took 1 hour and 24 minutes, covered 241 miles and hit a maximum altitude of just under 21,000 ft. That’s one GPS track he’ll treasure!
Returning to camper, we grilled some salmon and paired it with fresh, steamed green beans and a couple of celebratory drinks.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Clear blue skies all day, high of 82
It was Nagleys, again, for coffee for Bill. While in town he walked to the Susitna River to take a couple of pictures. Oops, there’s Denali in the background, completely clear!
The Alaska runs a neat train from Anchorage to Denali NP. It is the primary form of transport in the summer for folks who have houses not accessible by road. This train will stop on request to drop off or pick up people and goods along the track. One of the trains was stopped on a siding by depot. He stopped to take picture of the train and, oops, there’s Denali, completely clear!
We went into town for breakfast at Talkeetna Roadhouse. They served a huge, very good and decently priced breakfast.
Afterwards we took three-mile walk through Talkeetna Lakes Park among beautiful X & Y Lakes. A local club also maintains a network of cross-country ski trails in the park. We took pictures of the lakes and, oops, there’s Denali, completely clear!
Along highway on way back to campground, oops, there’s Denali, completely clear!
Afterwards we walked around town and stopped in few shops. We were told the local cemetery is worth a stop. It was. Most prominent is the Mount McKinley Climber’s Memorial. Listed on the memorial are, perhaps, 120 names of climbers who lost their lives on the mountain. The statistic is that about 1 in 200 climbers dies during their attempts. The cemetery contained many other unique grave markers.
The Historical Society Museum was worth the small donation. Since Sandy hadn’t walked down to the Susitna River earlier in the day we walked down to river, again and oops, there’s Denali, completely clear!
Finally, we stopped in at Nagleys for drinks and appetizers at the West Rib Café & Pub and, oops, there goes the home-cooked chicken stir-fry dinner! There we met a young couple who work at Denali for Princess Cruise Lines. The guy was from New Zealand and she’s from southern California. Princess runs a big hotel at Denali with about 500 rooms. They are usually fully booked!
Back at the camper we read and Bill worked on the website. We’ll leave Talkeetna tomorrow. But we’ll miss the place. We LIKED Talkeetna!