Talkeetna to Anchorage, AK
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Mostly sunny, 64 up to 80
We departed Talkeetna somewhat reluctantly today. On the road by 10:45, we made a couple of final stops in town at Hagley’s for coffee and one last photo of McKinley from the beach at the river.
Kahiltna Birch Works is located along the Talkeetna Spur Road. We noticed it on the way in and took time to stop on our way out. Fascinating! The operation is similar to maple syruping but different in many details. For one, birch sap contains much less sugar than maple. You get one gallon of syrup from about 40 gallons of maple sap. With birch the ration is lower than 1:100. The sap run happens over a short, three-week period in late April and early May. This operation, one of very few in the state, taps about 12,000 trees and takes in about 1,200 gallons/day of sap. They use reverse osmosis to remove the bulk of the water. What remains is run through a fancy evaporator to complete the process. All the sap gathered each day is processed that same evening. It’s hard work for those three weeks of the sap run as well as the time before and after spent tapping, cleaning and maintaining!
Continuing down the Parks Highway toward Anchorage, we stopped at the Smyth Log Work. These folks were busy building a log structure and were happy to talk to us about their work. This project was a two-car garage to compliment a house they had built earlier. Log structures are commonly built, disassembled and then reassembled at the final site. The logs these guys use are all white spruce, hand-peeled on site. They use a no-chink design, carefully scribing and hand cutting a curved surface on the bottom of each log while also hand fitting the corners. Each log is rough fit, placed on the structure, scribed, removed for finish cutting and then final placed. The seal between logs is a thin layer of sheep’s wool. They claim such a log structure will last about three times as long as a stick-built structure.
Next stop was the Iditarod Race Headquarters in Wasilla. We watched a very interesting and well done film about breeding, training and caring for the sled dogs. The race apparently gets some criticism from animal rights folks. The Iditarod people work hard to convince people that the dogs are happy and well cared for. They told a very convincing story.
We chose to camp in the city at Ship Creek RV Park. Dinner was Moroccan Chicken with a salad. That evening we met Bill & Kay from the Seattle area.
Alaska Factoid: Wasilla’s Walmart is the largest in the state and has sold more duct tape than any other Walmart in the world!
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Clear, blue skies, 86 but cool evening
We started the day doing the laundry at the campground. Then it was downtown to the Visitor’s Center, listening to some music in park next door, and then across the street to the Federal Building which houses the Public Lands Information Center where we got some more ideas of things to do and places to stay.
We visited Earthquake Park which commemorates the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. The quake went on for nearly four minutes and was the most violent earthquake ever recorded in North America. There were huge areas of subsidence, many collapsed buildings and many deaths.
Later we went to visit the Ulu brand knife factory. This traditional, single-bevel, curved knife is seen for sale in nearly every gift shop in Alaska and is quite a popular memento. The factory surrounds a showroom so you could watch the process and then buy a knife on the spot.
Ship Creek flows right past the Ulu factory. Emptying directly into the end of Cook Inlet, spawning salmon swim up the stream and right through the city. We saw quite a few hopeful fishermen along the creek but none of them seemed to be having much luck.
Bill wrote later in the day while Sandy did some shopping. Dinner was grilled chicken-apple sausage and a pear salad with goat cheese cucumber and tomatoes.
Anchorage to Hope, AK
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Overcast then sunny, mid 70s
The city of Anchorage, on Cook Inlet, is almost completely surrounded by water. It is on a point at the end of the inlet with Knik Arm to the north and Turnagain Arm to the south. Today we will head to the Kenai Peninsula, driving much of the way around Turnagain Arm to the tiny settlement of Hope. With tidal ranges up to 40 feet, Turnagain Arm boasts the second highest tidal range in North America, right after Canada’s Bay of Fundy.
We would follow the Seward Highway, which follows the shoreline and has numerous places to pull over. At one pullover we saw a sign explaining how Moose “prune” shrubs during the winters, eating up to 50 lb of twigs a day. We also observed the rush of water as the tide rapidly receded. It flows really fast! A strong “bore tide wave” that often precedes an incoming tidal flow was predicted for that evening. It would be cool to see but not so cool that we wanted to wait.
We stopped, briefly, at the village of Girdwood which boasts Alaska’s largest downhill ski area, Aleyska Resort. It appeared to be an agreeable place in a “downhill ski town” sort of way.
We also stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This is a 140 acre animal park dedicated to rehabilitation of orphaned and injured wild animals. Their goal is to release the animals back into the wild. That is not always possible as with the bald eagle who’d been shot and had to have a wing amputated. A pair of black bear cubs and a brown bear are also permanent residents. To save them they had to be hand fed by humans which habituated them to much to ever be safely released.
The center is also undertaking the effort to reintroduce the wood bison to Alaska. The largest land animal in North America, it has been extinct in the state for more than 100 years. It is a larger cousin to the plains bison most of us are familiar with. The center imported some animals from Canada’s Yukon Territory and has bred a herd that will soon be introduced to the wild.
The Kenai Peninsula has tons of glaciers. Some can be seen from the road, including Skookum and Twenty-Mile Glaciers, along this part of the drive.
Hope is an historic gold rush town born during the frenzy of 1896. Located on the south side of Turnagain Arm, today its population numbers about 150. It’s a happening place, though. Fishing is the big thing. The action revolves around a lively place called the Seaview Café & Bar with open mike music and lots of campers. Among the folks camped we encountered the “Green Bus” tour group. It’s a tour bus that hauls campers around from place to place. Each person carries their own tent and sleeping gear and the bus operator provides meals and transport. Easy and economical; kinda cool.
We camped in the Porcupine USFS campground at the end of the road. The campground overlooks Turnagain Arm with beautiful sites, newly paved roads and new vault toilets. Not bad!
Dinner was burgers with onions and steamed broccoli after which we returned to the Seaview for drinks and music.