Friday, July 4, 2014

Talkeetna Air Taxi and an Alaskan 4th of July!

     Heading north, we arrived in Talkeetna.  Located just 14 miles off the Parks Hwy on the Talkeetna Spur the village sits off the beaten path, but is the center of everything Denali.  Everything from the Denali Ranger Station (all climbers check in here) to river rafting to jet boating Devil's Gorge to zip lining to air tours begin here.  This will be our base of operations for about a week.  It is important to note that there is only ONE campground in town  so it would be a good idea to make reservations before arriving.  There is overflow parking in a lot next door, but it is only overnight with power/water. Montana Creek State Rec Area is very near the Parks Hwy/Talkeetna Spur intersection and there are a few camping spots next to the Tesoro gas station at the intersection as well.  There are several small inns and cabins to rent and one very nice Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge as well.  During summer this is a very busy community with plenty of people coming and going.  This is a fairly major hub for the Alaska Railroad not only for cargo, but people on tours come and go as well as the locals who live in the bush, but depend on 'town' for their intermittent supplies.  Trains come and go north and south here several times daily. 

     I was fascinated on our second day as several of the new Earth Roamer Expedition Class RVs pulled into our campground.  I had seen these on TV, but this was my first live experience.  These are made in Colorado and are the ultimate in off road and off grid exploration.  They offer several models, but are all completely self contained for water, power, and sewer and do not ever need external hookups, which made me wonder why they chose our campground.  They run on either diesel or bio diesel fuel and utilize a large solar power array to supply off grid electrical power.  They also have several state of the art converter/inverters to convert/manage either AC/DC power. 

These large, extremely durable boxes are mounted on a Ford F-550 frame with a turbocharged diesel Power Stroke engine with the dual alternator option which provides a quiet, fuel efficient, factory installed 3.7 kWh generator. They have an advanced battery isolation system and connect the factory alternators using low resistance, #4/0 tinned copper marine cable to the massive  absorbed glass mat (AGM) camper battery bank. Whenever driving or the engine is idling, the AGM battery bank is being charged by the high output dual engine alternators. At idle, the Power Stroke diesel burns approximately .5 gallons of diesel per hour which is significantly less than many RV generators at full load.  I understand the insides are equally well built to withstand abuse and plush.  I was not able to view the inside of any of these rigs as these folks tended to keep to themselves.  This is definitely the 'off griders man cave'.  These vehicles are made to order and prices begin about $200,000!  Okay, back to my world....
     The Interior Alaska area is also a large producer of Birch Syrup.  That's right, I said Birch Syrup.  I didn't know it existed either, but was very interested to explore it.  It is pretty rare and not very much is made each year, less than 1500 gallons.  It is gathered and made very much the same way as maple syrup, but whereas maple syrup takes 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup, birch takes an average of 100 gallons of sap to make a single gallon.  It does have a distinctly different taste, but is good nonetheless.  I bought several bottles: one for Barb and I as well as one for friends of ours who gave us a quart of their own maple syrup for our trip before leaving Michigan.

     'Downtown Talkeetna' is very much like a much smaller version of Santa Fe, full of local culture   The village itself is a matter of a couple of blocks of dirt/paved roads that house everything in town, from gift shops, art galleries, micro-breweries, boat/fishing charters, chocolate shops, several B n B's and a variety of eclectic eateries from pizza to bakeries to soup and sandwiches to full meals.  This place is ripe with opportunities for one or two of my restaurant reviews.  We could easily walk from our camp to and from every place in the village. The nearest grocery store of any size and gas station are both located 14 miles back at the intersection of the main highway.  The airport is also very close by and houses 3 tour companies:  Talkeetna Air Taxi, K2 Aviation, and Sheldon Air Tours.  These provide transportation for anything from Denali viewing, glacier landings, fishing fly ins, and even drop off and pick up of Denali climbers. 

     We booked passage with Talkeetna Air Taxi for a guided tour of Denali (Mt. McKinley) and the surrounding peaks.  We also arranged for a landing on a glacier!  We were part of a 5 person tour traveling on a DeHavilland Beaver aircraft.  Our pilot, Alex, was young, but flying all his life and a very experienced pilot with many hours in several types of aircraft in Alaska.  Our flight was a two hour expedition into the TEETH of the Alaska Range, exploring such sights as the local flooding of the rivers, Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter, the Great Gorge, Ruth Glacier, and of course Denali.  We had beautiful weather for flying.  Barb and I took nearly 300 pictures, taking several hours to edit afterwards.  Please understand that it impossible to put every single photograph on here so we chose a few we thought best described our adventure.  Again, a picture is well worth a thousand words.
     A system of strong storms invaded the interior of Alaska about 2 weeks ago bringing with a deluge of new water to flow down from the mountains.  In fact the upper half of the Denali Park Hwy is still closed due to flooding.  This will not effect our trip there next week.  There are flood warnings for many parts of the interior.  Although not effecting the village, this is the Talkeetna River.

     Flying NW from Talkeetna you enter the Alaskan Range and Denali National Park.  There are countless miles of awesome landscapes, forbidding pinnacles, and many types of glaciers.

      Many of the glaciers have pockets where the upper crust snow has been blown away revealing the pure blue ice beneath. 
     This is Ruth Glacier, the 2nd longest in the park.  We landed at the upper end in an area called the Ruth Amphitheater.
     After flying over the base camp in the valley below we arrived at the 'big tamale' Mount McKinley which Alaskans refer to as 'Denali'.  It is the tallest point in North America at 20,320 feet.  Although it is at the tail end of the season there are still 100 climbers on the mountain.  As we were not in a pressurized aircraft we never flew above 12,000 feet. 
      As we slowly descended we headed up the glacial valley making our landing on the Ruth Amphitheater.  We were in a virtual bowl surrounded by towering peaks and cliffs at 5500 feet.  We landed on 10 feet of snow sitting atop 500 feet of glacial ice below.  After taking time to catch our breath with faces full of awe clicking camera shutters, we boarded the plane for our trip back to Talkeetna.  Our total flight time was just at 2 hours.  This is not an inexpensive trip, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Our 'Base Camp Tour' w/glacier landing cost $645 w/park pass.  All we can say is it is WORTH EVERY SINGLE CENT! 
     We stayed over for the 4th of July, wanting to watch the parade and Annual Moose Auction.  There are nearly 20 of these individually hand painted moose by various artisans around town all week.  They are auctioned off after the parade with all proceeds going to support local children's activities. 
     Independence Day is a pretty big deal here in Talkeetna.  The majority of the population here are highly educated escapees from the lower 48 yet very patriotic Americans.   The entire village takes on a festive atmosphere with any and all of the local culture rising to the top!  There are many additional street vendors, sales, parties (all the local watering holes are full), and there were even several stands serving free reindeer hot dogs. 

     Only the oldest members of the local VFW can participate in the color guard to begin the parade each year.
The main theme of the Independence Day Parade here is the moose....there are 20 of them on floats.
Couldn't resist Snoopy.
It was a myriad of moose floats....
....ending with the Grand Moose Auction at the Park.  THIS moose went for $265, all proceeds go towards children's activities during the coming year. 
This could very well be the definition of irony.  I'm pretty sure these two WERE NOT the Grand Marshalls of this year's festivities, but they were the traffic on the way back to camp. 

1 comment:

  1. So glad you had good weather for your Denali flight. Looks like you're having a ball in Talkeetna.