grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

28JUN15 - Talkeetna, AK

Sunday, 28JUN, we headed south.  We wanted to spend the night at Trapper Creek, AK, but no room at the RV park chosenL.  They directed us to one 17 miles down the road.  After setting up camp we immediately jumped into the Toad & headed back to Talkeetna, AK (located at the end of a 14 mile dead end road off the main highway).

We immediately noticed the town was overrun with day tripping tourist; & bus upon bus of cruise ship passengers from AnchorageL.  Talkeetna used to be known as a “laid back” community, where lots of mountain climbers used to hang out.  Now it is well on its way to being just another place where tourist feel they have to go on their visit to AK.

We made every effort to stay far from the maddening crowd & experience the old Talkeetna.  There was no on street parking left, but Dan noticed the local museum had an empty “customer” parking lot.  Since we were going to visit it anyway, we parked there.  We ran into the museum to find out where in town the daily Denali (mountaineering) Ranger presentation was held at 1PM.  Turns out it was in the museum!  And for $3 each we got all day parking, access to the Ranger talk, plus access to the museum:)!

The Ranger presentation was by Roger Robinson who has been a mountaineer for almost 40 years, & a Denali (mountaineer) Ranger for over 30.  He didn’t have a prepared talk, but just started off with general info on climbing Denali, & talked further about any questions asked.  It was not a direct presentation, but it was fascinating!

We won’t go into the “gross” details, but someone asked about how “polluted” the climbing route on Denali is today.  We were all surprised by his answer that the Denali climbing route in the 70s/80s was the most polluted part of any National Park in the USA.  Climbers would literally dump all their trash (& even their gear) at 17,000 feet after summiting so they wouldn’t have to carry it down.  Sometimes they would throw it in a crevasse.  Sometimes they would pile it all up, pour all their remaining fuel on it, & burn it – then the wind would blow the ash over hundreds of square yards, where it remained in the snow for years.

Lastly let’s not talk about the high rates of dysentery at 17,000 ft & the glacier airfield, because of fecal coliform poisoning.  This was because of non-existent safe sanitary practices.  Ranger Robinson also stated that the 20 & 30 year old climbers of today are much more environmentally sensitive than us baby boomers (so much for the Earth Day generation).

When Robinson started there were two rangers assigned to Talkeetna; one to manage climbing permits & one to address issues on the climbing route.  Obviously not enough Rangers!  Today there are nine Rangers in Talkeetna; & one of these Rangers & 4 volunteers (ie experienced mountaineers) are stationed at 14,200 feet for a month at a time.  They manage the constant stream of climbers during climbing season, & are stationed there for emergencies.  Then it was off to the Ranger Station to view the 17 minute movie on climbing Denali (excellent).

Trivia – what is a Clean Mountain Can, & who invented it?

Corrie then went exploring the shops of Talkeetna, while Dan went back to the Museum to view their exhibits.  While Dan was standing in the museum parking lot a bush plane literally flew over Dan’s head, almost clipped parked cars, & landed on a grass airfield at the end of D Street.  Turns out this is the town’s airfield, & the pilot was practicing landings & take-offs.

We then got together at the Talkeetna Roadhouse for lunch/dinner.  Corrie had the mushroom quiche w/Hungarian mushroom soup, Dan had reindeer meatloaf slider w/reindeer chili – two thumbs up!

From Talkeetna we back tracked to Trapper Creek, AK.  There we explored Wal*Mikes, a roadside attraction we had passed on our earlier drive.  Later that evening while walking Gumbo we noted several fisherman at the Montana Creek next to the RV park.  From the adjacent walking bridge we could clearly could see big king salmon making the journey to their spawning grounds.  A very moving sight, too bad we no longer see this in the lower 48.  In the RV park we discovered we had 1G cell phone coverage.  This is ok for phone calls & texts, but forget any use of data!

Monday, June 29, 2015

26/27JUN15 - Denali National Park, AK

Friday, 26JUN, after fueling up we headed to our next RV park next door to Denali National Park.  After setting up camp we headed to the park arriving just in time to catch their excellent film at their visitor center.   Then we checked out their educational exhibits, before a very interesting Ranger presentation on the rodents of Denali.  Then we jumped on a park bus to catch the Ranger sled dog presentation at the park’s kennels. This is a fantastic presentation about the historical use of sled dogs since the park was created.  In fact in the winter Rangers patrol the park by air & sled (no snow machines).  After all that it was back to the RV.  (Note - the area just outside the Park entrance is just one big tourist strip unfortunately.  We spent no time there.)

Denali National Park facts:

-the National Parks in Alaska are directed to “provide opportunity for rural residents engaged in a subsistence way of life to continue to do so.”
-the first men (four men total) to successfully climb Denali had no climbing experience.  The first man to summit was part Athabaskan.  One of the climbers, dog musher Harry Karstens, became the first Superintendent of the soon to be created McKinley National Park.
-the first seven visitors arrived at the park in 1922, five years after it was created.  You couldn’t drive to the park until 1957.

Early Saturday morning it was back into Denali National Park to catch a tour bus at the Wilderness Access Center.  There are two types of tours – concession tour buses, & visitor transportation system (VTS) shuttle buses.  Concession buses are brown, more comfortable, provide a narration, & provide either a snack or lunch; VTS buses are green, basic school bus comfort, any narration is up to the driver, & no food provided.  Since there is only one road in the park, all buses travel the same route.  BUT the VTS bus fare is one third of the concession bus fareJ!  Hikers who have paid the proper fare, can flag down any VTS bus to see if there are any empty seats to get back to their parked cars and/or campsite.

Once you choose your bus line, you then need to choose your “tour”.  The shortest is a four hour round trip, & the longest is a 12 hour round trip.  So we booked seats on the 9:30 VTS Toklat Shuttle.  Our Toklat Shuttle was a seven hour round trip.  It was fantastic!!! Our driver, Kevin, talked non-stop & we saw everything that most people come to Denali hoping to see.

First we saw the big four mammals – caribou, moose, grizzly & dall sheep.  Seeing all four on a tour is called “a grand slam”.  Not only did we see them, but we saw them up close!

The sheep were on a ridge about quarter mile from the bus, they came down the ridge & popped out right in front of the bus & stood on the road.  The grizzly started about a quarter a mile away & slowly ambled down the hill continuously eating before turning away about 100 feet from the bus.  The caribou was in the middle of the road as we rounded a corner & proceeded to slowly walk in front of the bus for about ten minutes before departing.  The moose were down slope from the road & about 200 feet away; never moving as cow & calf grazed.  We did see others, but they were off in the distance.

We traveled 54 miles of the 92 mile park road & the scenery was fantastic.  Every now & then we caught glimpses of Denali’s south peak & north peak thru the clouds (unfortunately our camera couldn’t capture them clearly).  When you see Denali along with the grand slam, it is called “a clean sweep”.  Very few visitors to Denali National Park accomplish this; in fact, 70% of the park visitors never even see Denali.  That is why they sell t-shirts labeled “I’m one of the 30%”.  A truly fantastic, but exhausting, day!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

23-25JUN15 - Fairbanks, AK

First stop was the Delta Junction, AK, visitor center.  Delta Junction is the official end of the AlCan Highway.  So now we can officially say we have driven the entire length of the AlCan, & took our picture by the official milepost to prove itJ

Next stop on the drive was the Santa Claus House in North Pole, AK.  The town changed their town to North Pole in the hope that manufacturers would move their operations there; so they could say toys made at North Pole.  No industry moved to North Pole, but they now make money off their Post Office & the Santa Claus House.  To get to the Santa Claus House took navigating the RV & Toad thru three traffic circles, immediately adjacent to each other; not easy!  After discovering that Santa was on lunch break at the store, we then navigated back thru the traffic circles & the candy cane street lights to get back on the highway.  Because of the smoke from the forest fires we are unable to see the Alaskan Range or the White Mountains which supposedly border the highway during our entire drive.

Wednesday morning we headed into Fairbanks to the Morris Thompson Cultural Center.  This is an excellent facility that houses representatives from the Fairbanks Visitor Center; Alaska Public Lands Information Center; Gates of the Arctic National Park; Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve; & the Tanana Chiefs Conference (supporting the Athabascan culture & language).  The Cultural Center has excellent educational displays & various films shown in the auditorium.  As their website says:

“Since 1998 three separate organizations in Interior Alaska struggled with inadequate space that made it difficult to meet the needs of those they served. The Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau (FCVB) and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (APLIC) talked of sharing a new facility that would inspire residents and visitors to get out and explore Interior and Arctic Alaska. At the same time, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) dreamed of having a cultural center to preserve Athabascan languages, carry-on traditional knowledge through Elder teachings, and instill confidence and pride in Alaska Native youth. It was Alaska’s Congressional delegation, led by Senator Ted Stevens, who suggested these three entities work together to plan and build a joint facility. To some, it was an unlikely partnership. But leaders from each partner agency rolled up their sleeves and immersed themselves in the business of building, planning and raising funds for construction. Now that we’ve opened, facility operation and maintenance costs are shared. The vision of working together remains strong.”

Definitely worth a few hours of your time, if in the area!

Next stop was Pioneer Park.  As their website states:

“Pioneer Park was built in 1967 as a celebration of the 100th year anniversary of Alaska’s purchase from Russia. The Park opened on May 27, 1967 for the Alaska ‘67 Centennial Exposition. At that time, the park was known as Alaska 67 or A 67 for short. Just a few months after the park opened, its name was changed to Alaskaland. In 2001, the park was renamed Pioneer Park. The change was to reflect the historical nature of the park, because Alaskaland sounded too much like an amusement park. The change was met with resistance, and many locals still refer to the park as Alaskaland—with a staunch group petitioning to change the name back. In its early days, Pioneer Park housed a zoo, and a midway with amusement rides in an area called Bonanzaland.”

Sadly, to us it looks as if the entire establishment is not doing well financially; hopefully it was just a slow day.  The hi-lite for Dan was another steam powered paddle wheeler on display – the NENANA.  The NENANA served 22 villages of less than 3000 people in the 1500 mile round trip.  The NENANA was not in as a good a shape as the KLONDIKE II in Whitehorse, YT.

Last stop of the day was the Tanana Valley Farmers Market.  Quoting from their website:

“The Tanana Valley Farmers Market showcases a wide variety of Alaska Grown produce and plants and Made in Alaska and Silver Hand arts and crafts - all symbols of excellence. It is the oldest established farmers market in Alaska and the only one located in its own permanent building.”

Then it was back to RV to check & get Gumbo.  We then took Gumbo on a walk about downtown & the riverfront.  We noticed that smoke from all the forest fires has some people wearing face masks!  Back to the RV park & dinner at Chena’s Alaskan Grill - Corrie went with peppercorn scallops wrapped in bacon, & Dan went with seafood chowder – excellent!

Trivia – what is a borough in Alaska?

Thursday morning we started our day at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North - excellent!

“The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a thriving visitor attraction, a vital component of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. The museum’s research collections – 1.4 million artifacts and specimens – represent millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the North. The collections are organized into 10 disciplines (archaeology, birds, documentary film, earth sciences, ethnology/history, fine arts, fishes/marine invertebrates, insects, mammals, and plants) and serve as a valuable resource for research on climate change, genetics, contaminants and other issues facing Alaska and the circumpolar North. The museum is also the premier repository for artifacts and specimens collected on public lands in Alaska and a leader in northern natural and cultural history research.”

This is an excellent museum & definitely worth the price of admission.  It started with a special art exhibit called “Vogel 50 x 50”.  The Vogels were two postal employees in New York City, that amassed a phenomenal modern art collection on their modest salaries.  They never sold any, donating all of it to museums before they died.  There is also an extensive artifact collection that traces Alaska from prehistoric times to present day.  Did you know Alaska hosted a half-million military personnel during WWII?

One surprising thing (& sad) we learned, was that Aleut natives were forcibly removed from their villages in the Aleutians & certain coastal areas, & spent WWII in “camps” in southeast Alaska.  When they returned to their villages they found them trashed/looted by Army & US gov’t personnel.  In some cases the village was deliberately burned by the Army, so Japanese invaders could not use it (if they ever invaded, which didn’t happen)!  The Aleuts were only compensated when Japanese Americans who been imprisoned during WWII, voluntarily reached out to the Aleuts & included them in their lawsuit against the USA!

Next we went to the University’s Large Animal Research Station which has small herds of caribou, reindeer & musk ox.

“The Large Animal Research Station, or LARS, was created in 1979 with a major grant from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. The intent was to establish a colony of muskoxen that would be available for nutritional, physiological and behavioral research, and to provide a location close to the university where research could take place on large, wild ungulates in captivity. In April 1980, 16 muskoxen captured on Nunivak Island were taken to the station after a one-year quarantine. Reindeer, moose and caribou colonies were established within three years, though the moose were subsequently moved to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Moose Research Center in Soldotna, Alaska.”

We found the presentation very interesting.  It was also refreshing to see animals who although not wild, not being treated as trained show animals, and/or letting the “tourists” hand feed them.
Trivia – what is the only difference between reindeer & caribou?

We then returned to RV; but Dan had one more thing on his sightseeing list?  So he took off to see the Trans Alaska Pipeline up & close & personnel, before calling it a day.  In 1974 the cost to build the pipeline was $800 million, final cost was $8 billion.  All industry money, no asking for tax breaks from state; not like industry does today when they build a new plant.