Saturday, August 6, 2011

Denali National Park & Preserve

August 5,     Day # 27      4,458 Miles
Our only view of Mt McKinley
It's already Friday! We haven't posted all week, we'll try to catch up today.
Lots of rain  in Talkeetna. After breakfast on Sunday, we took the 10 minute walk downtown and checked out a few shops and an outdoor craft fair before the rain chased us into the Denali Brewing Company.  It rained hard for a long time and when it let up Bob headed back to the campground for the truck, Lowell, Jean and I walked to the river - Talkeetna's claim to fame is that it is at the confluence of 3 rivers, The Susitna, the Talkeetna and another one - can't find the name right now!  It was a pretty area, but the clouds were hanging so low there wasn't much of a view.  Other than that, it was a relatively quiet day - Lowell and I took another walk in the afternoon, got a 1/2 mile or so from the campground and it started pouring again.  We waited for a bit at the train station.  The Alaska Train terminal is right behind the campground, you can feel them go through the terminal!  Fortunately there aren't too many overnight trains.

Caribou herd in the valley
On Monday (8/1) we took a bus tour into Denali National Park.  Personal vehicles can only drive in about 15 miles, so you choose from a variety of tour accommodations to go in any further.  We bought tickets to go into the Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles into the park.  It is an 8 hour trip!  Of course the scenery is breathtaking, but everyone's wish is to see wildlife.  We were not disappointed!!!  We saw Dall Sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, a moose and even a wolf!  The highlight of the trip was watching a Mama Grizzly with her two cubs.  The were in a river valley and we watched them cross the road, then mosey on down the river.  At one point Mama decided to cool off, so she plopped down in the middle of the stream and sat awhile as the cubs splashed through the water. She got up, shook off, led them further upstream and decided it was time to cross again.  By now they are 400 to 500 yards away from the road and the water was much deeper.  Mama swam across and the cubs stood on the other bank looking after her like "hey, that's too deep for us!"  After a little wandering along the shore and whining, one of the cubs took the plunge and joined Mama on the other side.  The second cub was much more hesitant. He ran up and down the shoreline, watching Mom and big brother (or sister), whining, and looking very much like a little kid.  He even stood on his hind legs and cried for Mom.  At this point there are 3 busloads of tourists watching the drama.
Tuesday Lowell and I planned to do a Nenana River raft trip, but it was cancelled for lack of participation (on the 8 AM trip!)  We were not able to reschedule so we went instead back into the Park and to the Sled Dog demonstration - which was fascinating.   The park uses dog sled teams to patrol the park in the winter, so they have a regular kennel and we were able to meet and interact with the dogs - right now they have 31 adult dogs and 3 puppies were born a week ago!  We learned a lot about how they choose dogs for different positions on the teams and the difference between these dogs, who are bred to work vs the dogs that participate in races like the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.  The session finished with a group of dogs pulling a wheeled sled (and ranger) around a track.  The dogs seemed to know when it was almost time to get hitched and started barking and getting all excited as the ranger finished his presentation.  Then about 4 or 5 handlers hooked up the 5 dogs in about 3 minutes!  Once they started getting ready, the dogs really went nuts - fun to watch.  When they get the dogs from their kennel, the handler grabs them by the scruff of the neck and pulls their front 2 feet off the ground, effectively putting them in "2 wheel drive" and making them easier to handle.
Wednesday was a travel day - Healy to Fairbanks. On the way we were treat to our only views (so far) of Mt McKinley!  From the highway north of the park we could turn around and see it.  It was pretty magnificent, even at that distance.  We decided to stop at Skinny Dick's for lunch on the way.  Oops, no food! They were out of frozen pizza...   But the place provided for lots of laughs and some very funny pictures - none of which will show up on the internet!!!
By Wednesday night we we were getting settled in to our new campground on the Chena River in Fairbanks. Beautiful campground and beautiful river!  A night to wash clothes, etc.  Yes, we do have to pay a bit of attention to reality and wash clothes periodically!
Thursday was a beautiful blue sky day in Fairbanks! 75 degrees and sunny, the warmest weather we've seen since our first week in Alaska down on the Kenai.  We took a River Tour on the Chena - great tour that touched on the various industries that built Fairbanks, dogsledding and a visit to an Athabascan Native "village".  The dogsled information was provided by Dave Monson whose wife, Susan Butcher, won the Iditarod 4 times.  The boat stopped by their kennels and he gave a short presentation about racing sled dogs and then of course the demonstration ride. This team pulled a 4-wheeler.  Again, the dogs seemed to sense when it was almost time to pull and started going nuts again.
Today was cooler, I'm not sure we hit 60 degrees, but we didn't have any rain. We had a very busy day! First we went to the El Dorado Gold Mine and had a tour of what the old mines were like, as well as a working mine today. AND, we learned to pan for gold -- and even got some!!!  Lowell and I pulled out 13.5 grains (480 grains = 1 ounce) worth $65.  Jean and Bob had a little bit less. Both Jean and I are now sporting new necklaces with lockets of gold flecks.  Both the El Dorado tour and yesterday's boat tour are run by the same company and they do a really nice job. After the mine, we made a stop at the TransAlaska Pipeline Viewing Station. Another interesting spot - 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Fairbanks is as Mile 450.  Since pipefitters from Local 455 (St. Paul) worked on it, Lowell was particularly interested.  Amazing engineering and work.
From there it was a short stop at Santa's House in North Pole, Alaska,  basically a huge Christmas store. Then on to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. The museum was really very nice, lots of history about the settlement of Alaska, fishing, the native Alaskan tribes and so on.   We tried a "nice" restaurant and the cheapest thing on the menu was a burger at $18.00. Then we stopped at another bar & grill, but it seemed a little questionable - and you can still smoke in the bars here, so that kind of settled it!  Off to Chili's-tried and true! And then home to play cards for an hour or so. 
 I have have some pictures ready topost .  I haven't done the pictures from yesterday and today yet.  I will try to get some more pictures uploaded and posted in the next day or so.  Tomorrow we will head out again, toward Tok and then I think up to Chicken, Alaska.  We may stop and do a little more gold panning (kinda got the fever now!).
It is now 12:20 AM, Saturday. It's just getting to be dusk, there is a frost advisory overnight (honest!) and I'm getting tired!

Good Night!

1 comment:

Judy said...

where are those chickens. Just kidding. I didn't pan as much gold as you got. But I do have a necklace.