Day three involved a drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna with ad hoc stops along the way. Candy has a great book that has everything in Alaska by milepost. We made an impromptu stop at a pullout for Thunderbird Falls. After a mile hike over mostly easy trail, we reached the falls.
They were nice, but not the most spectacular falls we’ve ever seen. Still, it was a nice hike and a great way to break up the drive.
Farther up the road, in Wasilla (Sarah Palin’s home town), we visited the Iditarod Race Headquarters. The race actually begins in Anchorage, but the headquarters is in Wasilla.
Inside the gift store they showed an eighteen-minute movie and had some very interesting race memorabilia. I was hoping that the movie would talk more about the history of the race. It was in fact more like a racing documentary, discussing the mushers competing in the 2012 race. In anchorage we learned that this race commemorates an historical event. One winter there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome and the only way to get the serum from Anchorage was by dogsled. Sometime in the the 60’s or 70’s someone came up with the idea or resurrecting the event for sport, not unlike running a marathon, which was initially to commemorate the end of the battle of Marathon.
Still farther up the road toward Talkeetna we stopped at Miller’s roadside cafe. They were reputed to have great burgers and ice cream. They did. This was a neat place: combination general store, ice cream parlor, burger joint, coffee house, and post office. In fact the Postmaster is the person who cooked our food.
We topped off our food with ice cream and got back on the road.
Eventually we arrived in Talkeetna. The town, which has a year-round population of ~800, was originally a transit point where goods were take off barges and the hauled by mules, horses, or dog sleds farther into the interior. Today it is largely a tourist attraction, with gift stores, place to eat, river rafting excursions, and flights to glaciers on Mt. McKinley.
We signed up for a flight up to a glacier on Mt. McKinley the next day and walked into town to look around.
This town was the model for the town in the television show Northern Exposure. One of the locals told us that the high school (fed by three towns) graduated 22 last year. This general store reminded me of the one in my grandmother’s home town in Illinois. There was a little bit of everything in the store, from bread to bait and from animal skins to snacks.
That night I made chicken kabobs on the grill for dinner. We finished the day with a little ice cream while watching an episode of the Mission Impossible TV show. It began to rain that night. The next morning, clouds hung low in the sky and visibility was limited. Our flight to the glacier was cancelled. We, therefore, took our time getting packed up and then headed toward the entrance to Denali National Park.
One of our stops this day was in Denali State Park, where we saw the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial. Nearby were some VERY interesting placards describing interesting vignettes about Alaska at War, mostly WWII and the Cold War. There was also a story about a Confederate ship, the Shenandoah, which was sent to Alaska to sink Union whaling boats. Apparently, profits from whale hunting were important sources of revenue to finance the war. The Shenandoah sank 6 or 8 Union whaling vessels, continuing its mission for six months after the war had officially ended. There is debate among historians as to whether the crew knew the war was over and kept sinking ships anyway. This whole memorial area was a really unexpected gem.
You can see by this picture that it was drizzly all day, and visibility was limited. We should have been able to see Mt. McKinley most of the day, but the thick clouds got in the way. We eventually arrived at our campsite just a few miles outside the gate to the Denali National Park. I barely had time to finish cooking burgers for dinner on our little grill before the sky opened up. We are told that the weather will get progressively better throughout the weekend, so we have hopes of a good visit to the National Park and making another attempt to fly up the mountain and land on a glacier.