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Denali from Talkeetna, Alaska 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another accident!

As I start writing this post, it is 9:30 in the morning. It is raining like crazy. We are still in bed reading the news and other stuff on our laptops and sipping our coffee and juice.  Life is good! 

We had planned on taking the Discovery Paddle Boat trip today, but have postponed it.  We have done at Glacier boat trip, a raft float, and a jet boat ride. I heard the Discovery was a good tour, but I really don't mind missing it.


One of my "must see" things in Fairbanks was the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Campus. We went there Saturday, and enjoyed it very much. 

There were many good educational dioramas and an excellent Native Arts and artifacts gallery. 















To give it scale, Craig stood next to this huge jade boulder which has been split and polished.










Raven (the creator of the world) is the subject of this petroglyph rock.   













Native Alaskans make many masks.  It struck us how facial masks were shared with ancient greeks, Africans, and so many other cultures around the world.

If this image looks a little funny, it's because these masks were in a transparent cabinet that let other artworks intrude on our image.  So we resorted to Photoshop to blur the background artworks away.





Hot water heater update: we called an RV service here in Fairbanks, but the soonest they can check it out is almost two weeks from now. We made an appointment for when we will be coming back through on our way home. 

But it may not need to be fixed. Craig turned it off, let everything cool down, and turned it back on. It hasn't leaked, and we have hot water. The water dump may have been a pressure release from the check valve. Per a suggestion on the Alfa Yahoo group, he has drained the tank, rinsed it, and refilled it this afternoon. Hopefully it might last another ten years.  🙂

Another accident: unfortunately, an incoming RV hit our parked Jeep and crunched the right rear fender. Ouch! 

You see, River's View RV park has several different types of spaces for several different prices. When reserving space, the size and type of rig is always discussed. Since we were only going to be here for three days, we didn't need a sewer hook up, we can use the in-park dump station on the way out to drain our tanks, so "water and electric" is fine.  Our site was a little tight, but because it has trees on both sides it feels very private. But the parking for the Jeep was also tight and we put it at the road's edge in front of the Alfa.


We were just getting ready to cook out when Craig commented on a large rig slowly making its way down our park road. As it made its turn into the pull-thru on the other side of the road, we heard a crunching noise. We both went out to see what had happened. His rear end had swung out and hit our Jeep. The driver's wife was in a car behind him so she saw the impact as well. 

We were understanding, he was apologetic, and his insurance company was contacted by phone. We have a claim number from State Farm and are comfortable that it will be covered. Getting the Jeep fixed is just another bothersome task ahead. 

Monday morning we will be heading out to Chena Hot Springs for a few days. It is located about sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks on a spur road. They have designated RV spots, but none have hook ups of any kind, so we will be dry camping. I am looking forward to the hot springs and the ice palace located there.

Check back for news of the hot springs!

Friday, August 11, 2017

A few days in Talkeetna

I almost hate to put a new post up to replace the High Point one, but time does move on.

I scheduled a week in Talkeetna because we wanted to take a flight and ride the jet boat. We did both on our first day. The rest of our time has just been taking it easy and relaxing.



One of the afternoons we found a nice path through the woods to walk.

I think it was called the Ridge Trail. There were a couple of unmarked trails starting from the same parking lot.

The temperature was pleasant, but the humidity was a bit high in the woods.

I think this picture looks like a paperback book cover!






In spite of the many small planes buzzing overhead, and the frequent train horn honking, it was very peaceful compared to the streets of Talkeetna that were very busy with tourists. We saw many large busses that had Cruise Line names. Talkeetna is a stop on their inland bus tours. 


We choose not to take the train ride since we see so much as we drive, and we had just taken that great boat ride. It would have been easy since the train station was adjacent to our RV park. 



On one of our wanderings we stopped out at the Kahiltna Birchworks  to taste and buy some birch syrup. I thought the 8.4 ounce bottle of first run syrup that we bought was a bit pricey at $35. But it is very good and everything seems to cost a lot in Alaska. 



Another place along the Talkeetna Spur, that has a fun name,  is the Flying Squirrel Bakery and Cafe.






We bought a very nice loaf of olive bread, and were properly amazed by the display of giant Talkeetna-grown zucchini.

Another curious site in Talkeetna is the Susitna Salmon Center.  Out front is this remarkable tower of glittery tile salmon sculptures.  No we don't know what kind of fruit is on the tree.



The best feature of the Salmon Center is a video story of a salmon that got tagged with a radio frequency transmitter, on its way into the Susitna River.  By monitoring the transmitter, salmon trackers followed this "Super" fish as he ignored all the side tributaries that other fish were going into to spawn, until he reached the glacier at the start of the Susitna.  He then turned around and swam back down the river until he reached the tributary in which he was born, which he had missed while swimming up the river.  He entered and presumably happily spawned.  Full disclosure: the real purpose of the film is to rouse opposition to a proposed dam on the Susitna.


To emphasize how lucky we felt to have had that beautiful clear view of Denali last Saturday, the above pictures were taken on Monday and Tuesday. The skies have remained mostly blue during the day, with overnight rain showers, but there have been clouds around Denali every time we got a glimpse of her. I think the flights would have been pretty good in spite of the clouds. Maybe even more interesting. Wednesday and Thursday were quite cloudy, and Friday the sky was totally socked in and the day started with light rain.

One warning I do have for anyone who wants to camp in Talkeetna. Do your grocery shopping before you come. 


I had Googled "grocery stores" in advance, and came up with what looked like a bigger store, Cubbys. But it turns out that  it is 14 mile away, at the junction of the Spur Road and the Parks Highway. 

The only little store in Talkeetna, Nagley's, is tiny and although it has a few  emergency supplies, and foods like pasta sauce and frozen bread, it is not much of a grocery store. It does have wonderful ice cream cones however.

We left Talkeetna Friday morning and drove to Fairbanks, 280 miles away. The morning rain let up by mid-day, but we were not able to see any of the mountains because they were obscured by clouds. 

Shortly after arriving at the River View RV Park in Fairbanks, we discovered our hot water heater had a leaking incident. We have a call in to a mobile RV Service Company, so we hope someone can take a look at it, and fix it quickly if necessary.

Oh well, a hot water heater might spring a leak in a house as well, and of all places in Alaska to have this happen, Fairbanks is a lot better than most of the small places we have been.

Fingers crossed... 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The High Point of our Alaskan Adventure

Warning: this post is overloaded with pictures. Between us we took 400+, culled them down to 200+, then Craig and I had to choose which to share.

Our big adventure was to be a 2 1/2 hour flight around Denali summit, with a glacier landing on Wednesday. 

I placed this image first in the post because Facebook picks up the first picture to feature. It was taken well into our flight, it reminded us of Kool Whip.


When I saw the rain forecast for our reserved day, I tried calling to see if we could move it up, but was told there were no open seats.


After our boat ride, we went for a walk downtown, and passed the K2 office. Good thing, because we got seats on one of the flights  for that afternoon. When I talked to our pilot later, I learned they had put on extra planes for the day.

Long rambling paragraphs cannot do justice to what we saw, so here are some of the pictures we took.



It was fascinating to see the river-like routes the glaciers take. They looked like multicolored ribbons.



This shot was from much higher up, and we could see a glacier going down either side. Craig says they looked like freeways.



From the direction of the shadows, this is the southwest face of Mount Denali. There are 5 or 6 separate snow-fields in this picture in August, which means they will probably persist through the summer, which is the main attribute of glaciers.  But are they big enough to be considered separate glaciers?



What keeps this snow on the side of this peak?  It looks like it should have slid long ago!



On the other hand, these peaks have lost almost all their snow.  Aren't they amazingly sharp? 



A fluffy layer of clouds was gathering on the west side of the range as we flew around. 



I think this one was trying to be a mountain peak.



After a while you start to see things up there. Like the tail of a giant sleeping lizard.



We got as close to the face of Denali as we could without being climbers! Good thing we had an excellent pilot. I felt safe most of the time. 



But as we descended for our glacier landing, I felt uneasy as I noticed how rough and small the glacial patches seemed. 



But we turned and before us was a long, relatively smooth glacier. Our pilot measured the snow with an avalanche pole and told us there was about twelve feet of 2016-17 snow on top of the glacier ice.


The glacier was in a valley so we were in shadow, but the low sun on the surrounding minor peaks was amazing.

And finally these pictures of us with the oxygen masks we wore while over 12,000 feet. Craig looks like he is in photographer heaven!



So, if you find yourself in Talkeetna, Alaska on a nice day, go fly  to the peak of Denali with K2. 

For us it was a trip of a lifetime!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mahay's Jet Boat ride, Talkeetna, Alaska

When I made a reservation for our big adventure next week, I also looked at several other things to do in Talkeetna during our seven day stay. Friday was bright and sunny, and Saturday promised to be the same.  After so many rainy, overcast days, the blue sky was a beautiful sight.

Saturday morning we took the Devil's Canyon trip in a Mahay's jet boat. Click here to see a commercial YouTube video of our ride.

After only a few minutes on the water, we went around a bend in the river, and got a dramatic, clear view of Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter, and Mount Denali



We were told that only 5% of tourists who come here actually get this clear a view. 


From the stories I have heard about the mountain peak just showing of a few minutes at a time, I believe we were very lucky.



  Denali sure is big, given that she is almost 60 miles away.



The jet boat ride was fun. The boat was completely enclosed, but we could open the windows.  When the captain stopped for a picture-op, two front doors were opened and we could use them for a window-free direct shot.



The trip was a 130 mile round trip, and went up into the white water of Devil's Canyon of the Susitna River.



We only went in part way up the canyon because it is too rough to go all the way.



We were told that only two people have made it through in boats. In fact the canyon itself is a demarcation line between dialects of the indigenous people of the area.



We saw a few eagles and this bear along the river banks. He didn't stick around for long, and our pilot said that was good because they do allow hunting from boats along here.



One thing I found interesting was the color change of the waters coming into the river from the sides. The main channel is clouded with glacial silt. The side creeks are fresh and clear. We stopped to see the salmon who were starting to gather at this creek mouth. Only those who were born there will go up to spawn. Each salmon seeks the creek in which it was born.


After a light box lunch, we stopped at a dock and disembarked for a short nature walk.

Perhaps in was just for "show" but our guide carried a shot gun in case of a bear encounter. 















We visited a demonstration Native fish camp and a replica trapper's cabin.



If nothing else, it was a chance to stretch our legs before the last half hour of the boat ride.

Coming back, we once again stopped to get a good view of Denali!


I know this same image is shown above, and is being used as the header as I write this post, 
but when the header is changed it is lost from the blog, and I want to keep it in view.
As nice as that trip was, our day was not yet over

To be continued...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Another week of small adventures in Alaska

It is time for a catch-up post. We have stayed at four different RV parks, each for a few days, and did a few "tourist" things. But we mostly just relaxed and enjoyed our life in the Alfa.



After leaving Cooper's Landing we drove about 50 miles to the Portage Valley RV Park, which is a few miles north of Whittier. While there we drove over to the Visitor Center, which is on the edge of the Portage Glacier Lake. We spoke with one older woman  who remembered the glacier coming all the way to where the shore is now, rather than the lake. 



This zoomed-in image shows the glacier on the far mountainside.


Whittier is now a ferry port and a commercial cargo port. In  gold rush days, prospectors would pack over the glacier and mountain. In 1941 a two-and-a-half mile tunnel was blasted through the mountain for the railroad. This was to provide a main supply route for the WWII war effort.  In 1998, the tracks in the tunnel were converted to accommodate both train and vehicle traffic. It is one lane wide, and trains and vehicles take turns going through in alternating directions. The toll for a car is $13.  


The day we went to Whittier was rainy and overcast. As we drove into town, we couldn't help noticing this depressing building and wondered what it was. 







At the small but interesting Whittier Museum, we learned it was an abandoned military housing building from the Cold War era. 

Speaking of that museum, which was just a few rooms on the lower level of the Whittier Hotel, it taught me a great deal about the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. Being there, and reading the stories of individual soldiers, was quite thought provoking to say the least. The Japanese did indeed invade America. 

Our next stop, 56 miles north, was back in Anchorage. 


When we were there in June, we missed going to the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

The Center did not disappoint us. We were able to meet members of Alaska's eleven different native cultural groups, and learned about their geographic and language diversity.













Inside the center we watched a demonstration of "Eskimo Games" given by three teenagers. The games are physical challenges that were done by the hunters to stay in shape. Quite different from anything we had seen before.

One of the games is to balance on one hand and kick a ball hung overhead. The winner being the one who could kick the highest ball.

We also listened to a native speaker who gave a presentation about the eleven cultures, and watched a couple of short movies.

Outside there is a lovely pond, and around it there are examples of homes and community buildings from different cultures.



There was a young native person inside each structure who showed us some of the artifacts, described their use and answered any questions we had.



Above is an entry door, and two supporting pillars that were carved with clan symbols. The center one illustrated communication between the eagle clan and the raven clan.

On Tuesday we challenged ourselves with a drive of 38 miles to Wasilla.  Does "Wasilla" sound familiar?  It's the home of Sarah Palin. 

There were two things I wanted to see in Wasilla. The first was the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters.



Inside the log building they had a nice gift shop, and a "museum" room. We watched a good movie about the sled dogs and the race.

Outside they had puppies.



We were able to pet them. This guy had had so much attention he just fell asleep in this lady's arms. He had an unusual ridge of white hairs on his back. It looked somewhat like a mane or a mohawk haircut.



We also took a short ride in a wheeled cart pulled by a team of eight dogs. As you can see from the pictures above, each dog is different. These are not Siberian Huskies. Alaskan sled dogs are an unrecognized breed that has combined many different breeds. They were all about the same size, with very long legs and a built-in desire to RUN. 




Our second Wasilla excursion was up to the Independence Mine State Historic Park. 

Have I mentioned the beautiful scenery we see everywhere? On this day the clouds were below the mountain tops and above the valley.


When we think of the Gold Rush, we think of panning for gold in rivers and creeks.

Beyond the first strikes in which large nuggets are picked up easily from the gravel, the real riches were to be made in "hard rock" mining, done by mining companies employing hundreds of men.

The Independence was one of these. It opened in 1906 and operated until 1943, when it was shut down as a nonessential business by the War Production Board. It was reopened in 1946,  but closed again in 1951. It was used as a ski resort for a while, and finally was donated to the State Park system.

Some of the buildings have been maintained and partially restored.

Some have not!







Some of the structures are unrecognizable piles of collapsed wood and metal.



The small stream that did much of the mining work is still coming down the same course, ready to do more if the price of gold should rise high enough.




The above image is of piles of 70-year-old burlap, plus an odd assortment of rusted machine parts. I wonder how many more years they will remain recognizable.


A job at the Independence Mine was a good job. The pay was good for the time, and the men were well treated. Good food and good housing conditions resulted in a less than 5% turnover.  Among their luxuries were hot water, indoor plumbing and electricity.


We enjoyed a walking tour given by one of the Park Rangers. We were able to go inside some of the buildings and from her descriptions learned more than we could have on our own.

This was the main room of the manager's home and office. 








The day was not warm, but we still stopped on our way back to Wasilla to take a look at the raging Little Susitna River. Pretty cool!




We are now in Talkeetna, 76 miles further along our route. We plan to be here for a week and have a couple of BIG adventures scheduled! 

Next Wednesday will be the high point of our Alaskan trip, and it won't be in a museum! Check back for the story!