Members of the Yadkin Chamber of Commerce visited Alaska in July. Here is part two of their adventures. Part one of the series was published in the Nov. 2 issue of The Yadkin Ripple.
After another great breakfast, we checked out of the Anchorage Marriott and departed. We traveled North through Wasilla, and stopped at a Fred Meyer superstore to stock up on any needed supplies. It is a huge one-stop store that sells almost everything — including Indera Mills thermals!
After leaving Wasilla, the countryside became more open and less populated. We arrived in the small town of Talkeetna, a quaint village on which the TV show “Northern Exposure” was based. We explored the town and had lunch or shopped in one of the many neat shops and restaurants. Some visited the home of the cat “Stubbs,” the unofficial mayor and tourist attraction at Nagley’s General Store. Unfortunately, Stubbs passed away — at age 20 — the week after we visited.
Talkeetna is home of Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station, the home of Denali’s Mountaineering Rangers. All expeditions to Denali and Mt. Foraker are permitted from the station, and features displays and a video on mountaineering. The Talkeetna and Chulitna rivers join the Susitna River in Talkeetna, and some of our group took a jet boat wilderness excursion up the Talkeetna river. Because the river is glacier fed, the water is a gray color — almost the color of concrete. We got off the boat to take a short walk, and our guide brought along a shotgun — just in case! We visited an authentic trapper’s cabin and campsite, and learned about plants along the trails — especially the ones not to touch! We overnighted at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, featuring a giant river rock fireplace in the main lodge and fantastic views of the area.
After breakfast, we had a few more hours to explore Talkeetna before boarding our deluxe dome rail car on the Alaska railroad. Some of us walked down to the Ranger Station to watch the video on climbing Denali, the exhibits on wildlife, and mountain climbing equipment. Others shopped or walked down to see where the rivers all came together.
We boarded the train just outside town, and departed for Denali. The Alaska Railroad cars feature expansive windows and glass-domed ceilings, which allow for panoramic views. Each car had an outdoor viewing platform providing photo opportunities or to enjoy some fresh air. The train was very clean, comfortable, and featured a narrator along the route. We followed the river for a while, and then across the Hurricane Gulch Ridge, almost 100 yards above the Hurricane Creek. We saw lots of beautiful scenery, and passed by several occupied homesteads on our four-hour train ride. On the train, smaller groups went downstairs on the train car for lunch, which was quite tasty!
The Alaska Railroad still operates a flagstop train between Talkeetna and Hurricane Gulch each Thursday through Monday in the summer months to serve this remote area of Alaska, which is dotted with homes of Alaskans living off the grid. With no roads, the only way to reach this area is by train, and the flagstop service allows anyone to get on or off the train with the wave of a flag. In the winter, the flagstop train runs from Anchorage to Hurricane Gulch on the first Thursday of the month.
Our coach was waiting for us at the Denali Depot, and transported us over to Denali Park Village. The afternoon was free for leisure time or optional tours, and some of our group took a “flightseeing” trip over the Alaska Range (home of Mount Denali), while others visited a kennel raising sled dogs, took a hike, or just relaxed. After breakfast, we picked up our lunch boxes for the day-long Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park. The tour is on a park service bus, and private vehicles are not allowed very far into the park. Soon after entering the park, we could see magnificent Mount Denali, standing 21,310 feet above sea level! Our guide told us that we joined the 30 percent club — that 70 percent of visitors to the park during the summer don’t get to actually see Denali. The summit is so high that it creates its own weather systems, and is not visible most of the time.
We saw lots of wildlife — including caribou, snowshoe hares, Golden Eagles, and grizzly bears. A few of us spotted Dall sheep on the mountain at one of our rest stops, and several willow ptarmigans, the state bird of Alaska. Our guide, a certified driver-naturalist, shared in-depth information about park history and flora and fauna in the park, and helped spot wildlife for photo opportunities. The bus also featured a high-resolution close-up video system, with monitors mounted in the bus so everyone could see as wildlife was spotted. When we got at the turn-around point at mile marker 62, the view of Mount Denali was obscured by weather — but we did spot two adult grizzly bears in the meadow right below our spot.
On the way back out, we stopped at the Toklat River rest stop and recycled all our food containers — even the potato chip bags were made of a recyclable material. Spotted several more grizzlies and caribou on the way out, and returned to our rooms. Some of our group went ATV exploring, others relaxed, and many of us went to the “Cabin Night Dinner Theater” at the Park Village. Dinner was Alaskan salmon, ribs, and all the trimmings, served by the actors in the campy musical comedy set in the gold rush era and performed in a rustic camp house. Afterwards, the Village had a number of outdoor fire pits to gather around before turning in for the night.
Next time: Fairbanks and back home!
Bobby Todd is the executive director of the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce.