Tuesday, October 8, 2013

PDX REDUX…


Columbia River View
Every home needs some TLC every now and then and Dimples is no exception. After chilling out in Toppenish we stop at Maryhill State Park for a few days and chill some more.  Our spot is right on the Columbia River with outstanding views. We visit Maryhill Winery where we pick up a couple of vintages and the museum where we revisit some of the permanent collections and enjoy some of the newer acquisitions.

Art and Power
Then it’s on to the Portland area where Dimples gets new tires and rims, a new cook top, convection-microwave oven and new rock guards.  The leaking back window is re-riveted and sealed and some popped rivets on the body replaced. We take advantage of the area’s diversity to stock up on Asian foods for the pantry, and spirits form Portland’s boutique Distilleries.  Of course we stop at Fong Chong and get a huge order of their Hom Yee.

Since Dimples needs to stay overnight, at Airstream Adventures NW, we check into the McMenanins Edgefield in Troutdale. The Georgian revival style lodge and surrounding acreage was originally a poor farm, which is fitting considering what we are spending on Dimples LOL.  The resort hosts a restaurant, distillery, brewery, winery, pub, and dine-in movie theatre (where we catch the cinematic experience of World War Z...


How can you top zombies, cocktails and farm to table cuisine?   It’s a perfect spot for an overnight away from home.

Checking out the new tires
Once all of the repairs and upgrades are completed we head to Dayville and spend some time in our favorite of all time park The Fish House Inn.  Now it’s time to keep heading south...  

We try not to make too many plans in advance but we have plotted out the next month… We’ll be in Reno visiting with family this next weekend, and then we’ll head over to Sacramento and if our friends there haven’t forgotten us hopefully spend a week reconnecting. After Sac, we’ll head to Santa Cruz and reconnect with friends there… (Call us… you have our cell #s)

k

Thursday, September 12, 2013

BLASTING THROUGH CANADA… eh?


Chena to Tok… across the border into Canada… on to Whitehorse… to Boya Lake… to Bell 2 Crossing… to Houston… Prince George…  to Little Fort… to Penticton… across the border at Osoyoos and back into the US… finally arriving at Toppenish, WA 2,300 plus miles in ten days whew! Not our favorite style of travel but effective and necessary. The heavy rains in Denali revealed a leak in Dimples’ back window that was replaced last summer.  The work is under warranty and we need to get down to Portland to Airstream Adventures NW and have them check it out.  While there we’ll also give Dimples a few upgrades… change out her tires and rims to the 16 inch Eddie Bauer style Michelins and swap out the range for a cooktop and micro-convection oven.

 In Tok we stay again at the Tok RV Village, do the Laundry and use their limited (one free hour per day) Wi-Fi to check weather and finalize our route.  We planned to eat again at Fast Eddies, but when we arrive the parking lot is filled with hunters; bloody caribou and moose antlers proudly displayed on top of the tarps covering their trailered ATVs.  Inside the restaurant the hostess is overwhelmed with the number of large parties and it looks like getting a table will take awhile.  Since our appetites are pretty much diminished by the carnage in the parking lot, we decide to go back to Dimples and heat up some soup.


Crossing the Border into Canada is a breeze.  The border guard is grumpy but he simply checks our passport cards and waves us on.  The road from Tok to Whitehorse is rough and gets increasingly better the further we venture into the Yukon Territory. At one point, rocks blast us, when a semi passes us at high speed through a gravel patch.  The two Plexiglas rock guards over the front cured windows now sport multiple star shaped cracks… (This is why Dimples has rock guards over the front windows, and it looks like we’ll be adding new ones to our list-o-fixes in Portland.)

Klondike Rib
and Salmon BBQ
Whitehorse is the Capital and largest city in the Yukon Territory. We stay at the Hi Country RV Park, go into town and do a little shopping and grab a late lunch at the Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ.  The decor here is vintage tapper tent with log beams and canvas walls covered with lots of turn of the last century memorabilia and dead art. We order the Rib Tickler (tasty baby back ribs with generous side of fries) and Robert Services Seafood Baked Dip with their famous focaccia bread.  The Ribs are melting in your mouth delicious. The dip creamy and filled with artichoke hearts and fresh seafood…yummy!

After checking maps, weather and road conditions we opt to take the Cassiar Highway south through British Columbia. We stop for the night at Boya Lake.  Our space is along the lake with spectacular views. 

Bell 2 Lodge
Traveling down the Cassiar we spot five black bears along the highway. Four active and one road kill :-(  We stop at The Bell 2 Lodge.  The lodge resembles a mini village with fuel, lodging, restaurant and RV Park. In the winter months the lodge is home to Last Frontier heli-skiing.  It is considered to be one of the premier heli-skiing operations in the world and boasts the largest single Heli-ski area on the planet!  The ambiance is charming with pathways winding between the sod-roofed log cabins.  The restaurant serves up fresh fare worthy of a high population urban eatery.  The daily special of Shrimp with Fettuccini is creamy and loaded with succulent crustaceans and the BBQ ribs are fall off the bone, melt in your mouth delicious.  Service is relaxed, friendly and efficient.  When we asked about their beers, the waitress queried as to what type and promptly brought out an assortment to choose from. The next morning we arrive for the breakfast Buffet to find that most of the fare has been devoured by really early risers.  The tailings look really good and the assortment is impressive.  They are preparing more, but we’re hungry now so we opt for the traditional Bell 2 breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast and sausage or bacon. Ironically by the time our breakfast arrives, the buffet has been replenished.  Next time we’re in this area we’ll definitely stop here again. 

We stop overnight in Houston (not the Houston we have a problem but Houston B.C.) at the Shady Rest RV Park. It’s clean and perfect for an overnight stop.

Dino
In Prince George we stay a bit out of town at the Bee Lazee RV Park.  After settling in, we head towards town and grab lunch at Ric’s Lounge and Grill.  Cocktails, salad, boneless beef short ribs and a grilled duck breast were perfect to sate our appetites and tickle our palates before we cross the parking lot to the Treasure Cove Casino and deposit our small amount of Canadian Currency in their stingy slots.  After checking on line for not to miss attractions in Prince George we visit Fort George Park and the Exploration Place.  This is a small regional museum with an impressive Paleontology Gallery, a Prince George Sports Hall of Fame, A First Nations Gallery and a lot of information on local history and local celebrities.

Rivermount Resort 
The Rivermount Resort in Little Fort is a real gem.  This is a full service river front resort with restaurant, hotel, RV Park with electric, water hookups and dump station, laundry, showers and tent camping. The owners Derek and Melanie purchased the resort last spring and have obviously been busy upgrading and improving.  Melanie is an accomplished chef and she offers her brand of  “Home Cooking” at the resort café. Home cooking is a bit of a misnomer though… the dishes may be of the home style but her interpretation is modern and fresh.  Her Chicken Kiev is mouthwateringly melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, the Pork Schnitzel delectable and the accompanying sautéed vegetables (snap peas, mushrooms and garlic slices) vibrant. They have a decent wine and beer selection and an assortment of quality spirits for cocktails.  We are so impressed with our dinner that we decide to return for breakfast and again we are so not disappointed.  We order traditional eggs Benedict and a variation with fresh tomato slices and bacon strips. Perfectly poached eggs and satiny hollandaise sauce satisfy our craving for this breakfast treat.  Another place to return to.

We spend one night at the Park Royal RV Resort in Penticton and then head across the border in Osoyoos. One Border patrol officer inspects the back of Dave and another rummages through the fridge and cabinets in Dimples and after finding no contraband send us on our way. 

Although we pretty much bombed through British Columbia, we did note the area’s riches, especially the wine country around Penticton and Osoyoos.  This is a must return to area in the future.  

We’re now back in the lower 48, and we head to Toppenish to chill out while we wait for all the parts for Dimples to arrive in Portland…

Saturday, August 31, 2013

LAST DAYS IN ALASKA…


Chena River
Up the parks Highway through muddy road breaks and rough patches in the pouring rain leaving a wave of sludge in our wake.  By the time we arrive in Fairbanks at the River’s Edge RV Resort, both Dave and Dimples are covered in muck and road tar.  Thankfully the resort has a vehicle wash station and twelve dollars and sixty minutes later most of the filth from Denali and the Parks Highway are but a memory. However, it still takes Chris half a day and almost a whole canister of WD40 to clean off all of the tar on the front of Dimples the next day. 


Clean at last!

Our space at River’s Edge is just that, right on the Chena River.  Across the water are luxury homes. We feel like we are in an upscale neighborhood.  Of course those luxury homes look across the water to an RV park, but at least Dimples classes up their view for a bit. 

A short stroll from our campsite along the river is Chena’sAlaskan Grill.  The menu is intriguing and there are wine recommendations with each dish. We dine here twice with varying results.  Our first meal is wonderful.  We start with cocktails and an appetizer of Coconut Shrimp.  The drink pours are generous and the shrimp succulent and fried perfectly.  The Coconut batter light and the Apricot Horseradish dipping sauce a perfect accompaniment. For our main course we share the Seafood Fettuccini with wild salmon, shrimp and king crab, garlic, shallots, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and artichokes in a white wine herb cream sauce. The seafood is fresh and the sauce brings out all of the flavors in the dish.  The recommended wine, J. Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay brings out the flavors in the dish. It’s simply stunning!  We finish with a desert of crème Brule and fresh fruit and a glass of port.  The port is lovely but the Brule is ordinary. 

On our second visit we start with the Seafood and Artichoke Bruschetta: King Crab, shrimp, red onions, green peppers, herbs and roasted garlic on toasted crostini drizzled with olive oil and a sweet balsamic reduction. This dish is heaven on a plate.  For our entrees we choose the special Bourbon glazed New York Steak and their Grilled Stuffed Pork Chop.  The steak was ordered medium rare, more rare but arrived medium well. Very disappointing.  The Pork chop was also over cooked and dry.  We notice a nearby patron push aside what should have been a lovely grilled halibut, but it also was obviously way over cooked.  Maybe the chef was having a bad day, but it’s just not right ruin perfectly good food. Since we hardly touched our entrees we order the daily special desert: Fresh wild berry shortcake.  The cake is delicious with lots of assorted succulent berries and the cream lightly sweetened. The beginning and end of this meal are so wonderful, it’s too bad the main course in the middle failed miserably.
Chena's Fine Dining & Deck on Urbanspoon

Yes, there really is one!
A.C. Photo Op
There are only two roads in North America that cross the Arctic Circle and since one of them, The Dalton Highway, starts near Fairbanks, it’s a no brainer to head up to this spot on the continent.  Now the point where the road crosses the earth at the 66.33-degree latitude is nothing spectacular. It’s the journey not the destination! The Dalton Highway is partially paved, the unpaved parts actually in better condition than most of the pavement.  It follows the Alaska Pipeline. We share the road with commercial truckers who neither slow down nor wait for anyone.  Dave with Chris behind the wheel handles everything with aplomb the drive is fun and exciting. What’s not to like about a road with sections named: Beaver Slide, The Roller coaster and our personal favorite the Oh Shit Corner?  The scenery starts with sub arctic spruce forest that transition to barren tundra. Just across the Yukon River we visit the Visitor Center and pick up our Arctic Circle Certificate. We stop at the circle for the obligatory photo op and have a picnic lunch then drive a bit north and stop at Gobblers Knob where we take some photos and pick a few wild blueberries.  On the return trip we stop at the Hot Spot Café. It’s one of those post zombie apocalypse style road stops with great burgers and pulled pork sandwiches frequented by the infamous Ice Road Truckers. Well, we can now check off Drive Across the Arctic Circle from our bucket list.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North is externally a work of art.  Inside the installations are mixed.  The Natural History wing is divided into the regions of Alaska.  Lots of taxidermy and artifacts, but it has display and continuity issues.  Fortunately we visited the regional museums so we could overlook this museum’s shortcomings in this area. The art here however is world class; a great collection of multiple medias, paintings, sculptures, photography and more. Again in the main salon there is no continuity as all of the medias are mixed but somehow this works with such an eclectic collection.  There is another small wing dedicated to fine art oils done by Alaskan artists or well-known artists who painted in Alaska. It feels a bit stogy compared to the art in the main gallery.

Now that's a cabbage!
The Tenana Valley Farmers Market is open three days a week.  We stop by and pick up some wild blueberry jalapeno jam and grab a pork taco and taco soup from one of the food vendors.  The produce is pretty limited to cold weather crops but they are all huge and beautiful.  Unfortunately we do not have room to store a twenty-pound head of cabbage.

Ice Bar
Chena Hot Springs is sixty miles outside of Fairbanks at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road.  They have a resort with a beautiful dry camping RV Park.  It’s similar to State Park campgrounds with spaces surrounded by forest. Chena Hot Springs Resort was founded over 100 years ago and is one of the most developed hot springs destinations in Alaska. It is World famous for it's legendary healing mineral waters, beautiful Aurora Borealis displays in the winter, renewable energy projects and Ice Museum. Although no Aurora during our visit we enjoy a tour of the Ice Museum complete with an Appletini served in a carved ice martini glass.
Chena Fresh
A second tour of the resort takes us through the geothermal energy plant and green houses where they grow both hydroponic and traditional greenhouse produce.  They have plans to expand their food production with chickens, reindeer for meat and a fish farm.  After the tours we relax in the outdoor hot springs.  Dining here is a greenhouse to table experience featuring "Chena Fresh" lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. Chena is listed as one of the 1000 places to visit in North America before you die… one more thing checked off the bucket list!

Well Winter is coming and it’s time to head back to the lower 48, time to hook it south…
 k

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SOME SAY MCKINLEY SOME SAY DENALI…

Denali Park Road

Continuing north from Byers Lake we stop in Cantwell at the Cantwell RV Park just off the Parks Highway on the west side of the Denali Highway.  Partial hook-ups H20, power and dump station. Good Wi-Fi when the park empties out.  This is our base camp to explore the front of Denali National Park and the surrounding area.  After setting up we take a drive on the Eastern Denali Highway.  It’s one of THOSE ROADS, the one’s they warn you about but it’s really typical of most unpaved roads with a few rough patches, but nothing Dave can’t handle.  The scenery is typical Alaska spectacular, mountains forests and tundra. We don’t see a lot of wildlife, just and abandoned beaver den, a caravan of Jeep Wranglers driven by Princess Cruise Tourists, some folks picking wild blueberries and a couple changing a flat tire… So, maybe the warnings are warranted.

There’s not a lot to Cantwell, a couple of gas stations, a trading post and a mini-mart.  Thirty miles up the Parks Highway, just north of the Denali park entrance, is an area known as Glitter Gulch. The hotels, shops and restaurants were built for the Princess Cruise tourists who arrive by train and bus.  It looks like Disneyland’s Frontier Land, so we just drive by shaking our heads. A little further north is the town of Healy with a Brewery, gas station, liquor store and mini-mart.  Between Cantwell and Healy there are Adventure Tours, Rafting, Tours, Air tours, cabins to rent and some restaurants and of course the road to Denali National Park.

Husky Pup
Mention Denali National Park and most people think of Mt. McKinley, AKA Denali or The Great One, but the mountain is actually a recent addition to the park.  The original mandate of the park was to protect wildlife, specifically the Dahl Sheep. Access by powered vehicles to most of the park is limited. During the summer months, most visitors are shuttled in busses to various spots along the ONE road in the park. Winter access is by dog sled (no snow mobiles here!) and the park maintains a kennel of Alaskan Huskies that are used to patrol the park when snow closes the roads. During the summer there are dog sled demonstrations and rangers at the kennels to answer questions about the dogs. On our first visit to the park, we visit the Kennels and later take in a ranger talk about his experiences mushing in the park with his own dogs.  It’s interesting, but this experience is pretty limited to the few folks who have access to a team of dogs and want to camp out in way too many degrees below zero weather.

Savage Cabin
The Visitor center has some diorama displays, information about the wildlife and a short film about the park.  Nearby is the Murie Science and learning center dedicated to research of the arctic and subarctic ecosystems.  There are a number of interactive displays where we spend a few hours reading about the flora, fauna and geology.  There is also one restaurant, The Morro Grill, at the visitor center campus where you can get a cold beer and a really tasty burger.



Bull Moose
The first thirteen miles of the Denali Park Road is paved and open to all vehicles.  We drive this a few times watching for wildlife and explore the Savage Creek Area.  The Savage Cabin is typical of early trapper or homestead cabins and is still used by rangers today.  It is a one-room log cabin with shuttered windows.  The shutters and areas around the windows are covered with nails, the pointy ends sticking out, to keep bears from breaking in.  There is an interpretive trail near the Savage Creek Campground with photos of the early campers from the 1920’s.  It is interesting to see how the landscape has changed.  What was formerly barren tundra is now turning to forest as the climate warms. We also hike a couple of miles around the Savage Creek.  It’s an easy loop hike along the creek bed with two bridges to cross the river.  We see some arctic ground squirrels and a beautiful caribou bull with stunning antlers. Along the road we also drive past a magnificent Bull Moose.

Arctic Ground Squirrel
For the second half of our week in Denali, we move to the Teklanika Campground.  It is located twenty-nine miles inside the park.  There is a minimum stay requirement of three days, which should be plenty of time to explore the western end of the park.  We are given a pass that allows us to cross through the gate at the Savage River Bridge and drive the unpaved road to the campground. Dave will stay parked until it’s time to leave. Since we are dependent on the bus system, we purchased a Tek Pass, which gives us unlimited travel on the park shuttle busses from the campground to the end of the road in the Kantishina distriict. 

Hunting Grizzly
 After setting up we catch a shuttle to the Eielson Visitor Center.  Our driver is Wayne Iverson, apublished author (Hobo Sapien) he is informative and entertaining and stops so we can watch and photograph, Dahl sheep, Caribou, and a Grizzly sow with her two spring cubs. At the Visitor center we check out the exhibits about climbing Mt. McKinley and are treated to another pair of bears who seem to be having some sort of disagreement near the center. At one point one bear begins to lope toward the center and the rangers quickly get folks off the trails and up onto the patio.  A loping bear moves really quickly and covers a lot of ground. 

Caribou Bull
Our second shuttle experience is a little different.  This time our driver is somewhat informative, but dry and not too entertaining.  He does stop for wildlife and we see more bears, Dahl sheep and Caribou. We travel to the end of the road to Kantishina. Originally a gold mining settlement it now is home to a number of upscale resorts where folks pay a hefty price to stay in private establishments within the boundaries of the park.  The stop here is brief to view a homestead cabin and walk along the creek where we look for traces of gold.  The scenery here is pretty underwhelming when compared to the rest of the park.  On the return trip we stop at Wonder Lake. The only thing this body of water has going for it, is on a clear day it reflects Mt. McKinley.  But it’s overcast and rainy so no wonderful reflections.  However, there are an abundance of wild blueberries that are ripe for the picking so we get a couple of handfuls to munch with our lunch.  Past the Eielson center we spot another grizzly, loping up the hillside.  He stops, digs, pounces and comes up with an arctic squirrel that takes him moments to devour.  He digs around some more but the other squirrels have left the den. We joke about returning later to put some flowers on the spot where the squirrel met his demise.

Grizzly
Our third shuttle ride is completely different.  This time driver number three has no commentary, only comes to a rolling stop for photos, and sometimes stops the bus in front of shrubbery, when he could pull up a couple of feet, so the passengers could get a better view of the animals.  Ironically on this trip we see wildlife closer to the road that any other trips. (go figure.) But our fellow travelers are fun and we entertain ourselves.


Dahli Rama
So after a full week in Denali, we have a lot of photos of wildlife, but the mountain has been shrouded in clouds and it’s rained every day.  But that’s OK we saw McKinley from the road when driving around Trapper Creek and Byers Lake, but we never stopped to take a photo.  (pretty lame huh?) Well as driver number three so dryly put it, “it’s just a big rock covered in snow.” Driving out the road is muddy and by the time we exit the park Dave and Dimples are in desperate need of a spa day!

Overall Denali is good and bad.  Lots of wildlife and incredible scenery, but the shuttle busses are pretty uncomfortable and you feel like you are on s school field trip.  A month in Yellowstone is barely enough a week in Denali is more that enough… time to move on…

k

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A HURRICANE TURN AND BEARS IN THE WOODS…

Heading north we cruise past Anchorage and enter Alaska’s heartland, the Mat-Su Valley.  Since there are no RV parks in Anchorage with a decent reviewer rating we choose to stay about forty-five minutes away in Palmer at the Mountain View RV Park.  Although the name of this park is hardly original, the mountain views here are pretty spectacular. The spaces are tight and the park is crowded since this is a popular stopping point for caravans.  We can only get a power and water site, but since these spaces are not full, we have a bit more room and the Wi-Fi is OK (after all of the caravan folks go to bed, and since they’re mostly old, they don’t stay up too late.)

Native Dancer
It may be a sacrilege to say this out loud, but Anchorage just has no appeal for us.  Just another urban center with malls and restaurants, albeit in a lovely location, but most of Alaska is lovely.  It just doesn’t float our boat.  There is one attraction of interest for us: The Alaska Native Heritage Center.  The theme here is “Changing Lives, Living Values” a place to explore the traditional and contemporary ways of Alaska’s indigenous societies and the success of these people as they continually adapt to an ever-changing world.  We start with a guided tour of traditional native dwellings of the five distinct cultures.  Here we learn a bit about customs and daily life of the early residents. The hunting, gathering and storing of food during the long days of summer and the efficiency of the shelters to protect the people from the harsh winters and the predatory polar bear. After the tour we enjoy a demonstration of the music and dance of the different groups. It is interesting that the dancers express themselves through hand and body movement while staying in place. The time for dancing, music and story telling is winter and the dwellings do not allow a lot of room for large body movement. There is also a demonstration of traditional games.  The emphasis is on strength and agility.  It’s mind boggling to see these young athletes kick a ball suspended high in the air over their heads with a short lunge forward and land on their kicking foot. In the Hall of Cultures there are interactive displays highlighting the arts, crafts and tools of the five groups.  Here we also meet native artists and see their contemporary expression of traditional arts.

Next, we head north on the Parks Highway through Wasilla (a suburban land of strip malls) and land in Trapper Creek at the Trapper Creek Inn and RV Park.  It’s a small park with an inn, gas station, café, public laundry and mini-mart.  Spaces are narrow but there are a lot of trees and it’s pretty quiet even though it’s right on the Parks Highway.  Wi-Fi here is excellent! 

The nearby town of Talkeetna is unique in many ways. A popular rumor is that fifteen years ago the town elected their mayor, Mr. Stubbs as a write in candidate and the town has loved him ever since. We actually saw Mr. Stubbs strolling down Main Street and into Nagley’s Store where the Mayor’s office is located.  What set’s Mr. Stubbs apart from other politicians is not his leadership qualities but his background.  Mr. Stubbs is a part Manx ginger feline! So what’s not to like about a town with a cat for a mayor?  In addition to it’s kitty politics: Talkeetna is the jump off spot for mountaineers climbing Mt. Whitney (AKA Denali.) There are a number of air-taxi services to take climbers to the base camps. The Alaska Railway has a depot in Talkeetna and the town entertains hundreds of tourists daily.  There are restaurants a plenty, charming hotels, art galleries and gift shops.  It is also located at the confluence of three rivers, the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna so there are lots of water sports and of course fresh water fishing. Stopping at the visitor center we inquire about the best not to miss attractions in the area.  We decide on boats and trains and pass on the planes

We visit the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum. It is a collection of vintage structures including the Ole Dahl Cabin #1 that is probably the oldest existing building in the town.  The museum houses a typical collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century memorabilia: trapping, mining, railroads, bush pilots and a few native artifacts. But it’s worth a stop to see the Mountaineering exhibit with the twelve foot square scale model of Mt. McKinley.

The Twister Creek Restaurant and Denali Brewing Company offer five-ounce samples of eleven brews for $2 to $3 each.  We pick five with alcohol contents ranging from 5.1 to 9.6 percent and a smoked salmon dip with capers, chopped red onions, cucumbers and a sliced fresh baguette. We enjoy these alfresco while people watching and soaking up the Alaska summer sunshine.
Twister Creek Resturant and Denali Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Collecting Birch Sap
We stop at the Kahiltna Birch Works and sample some Birch Syrup, and candies.  We also take a tour of the processing plant. Birch Syrup is interesting, similar to molasses but with some slight herbal notes. It would be a good ingredient for sauces, glazes and baking.  We considered purchasing a small bottle, but a large group showed up as we finished our tour and the lone employee was tied up giving them a tour. The syrup was good, but not worth hanging out for fifteen minutes...  If we decide we really need it later…they do have mail order.

Now all bakeries smell good, but the scents in the FlyingSquirrel Bakery and Café are beyond amazing! This place is so good; we HAVE to make multiple stops during our time here.  Their Rugulas are to die for, Lemon Coffee cake amazing and their Chai Cookies out of this world!
Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

Beaver on the Susitna
The five hour Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures Devil’s Canyon Tour takes us on the Susitna River and into the nationally registered Wild River Park of the “Devil’s Gorge.”  Along the way we see a beaver, three black bears, and some bald eagles.

Counting Fish
There are also fishing wheels and cones, but these are all for scientific purposes.  Scientists are catching, tagging and releasing salmon to study their movement in the river. The State of Alaska is doing its due diligence, environmental impact studies for the third time since the 1960s to build a hydroelectric dam further up the river.  The project is highly controversial and very expensive, and the current Governor of Alaska seems to be moving forward with this project. One wonders, who’s gonna profit big time from this project?  

Class VI Rapids
In Devils Gorge the jet boat blast upriver on class three and four rapids.  We stop at the base of the class six rapids and hang out for a bit taking pictures and bouncing in the wild waters.  It’s a real kick when our Captain Israel Mahay, has to turn the boat around to head back down stream!

After the boat trip, we stop at the Flying Squirrel Bakery and order a take out lunch for the next day’s adventure: The Hurricane Turn Train.  The train consists of two engines (one at each end) two passenger cars and a baggage car. This is the last regular flag stop train in the nation which means that it stops for anyone along the tracks who wants to be picked up. It is used by folks who live or have vacation homes in the wilderness (some are original homesteaders) as well as hunters, hikers and fishermen to take them to and from town to various stops along the line. (A local secret: Indian Creek is known for ten pound plus rainbow trout!) Some of the commuters on our trip are the scientists studying the salmon in the Susitna River.  It also stops for wildlife and will even back up to let folks take better pictures of bear and moose.  The atmosphere is casual; dogs ride along side with their owners. The Conductor, Warren is a kick and he is the reason that this is the number one attraction in Talkeetna on Trip Advisor.  He knows all of the regulars, the history of the area and makes it a point to talk to everyone.  Online we read that he would allow folks to ride in the baggage car with the doors open to take photos while the train is running.  Unfortunately the Alaska Railroad powers that be put a big kibosh on this practice.  So passengers are only officially allowed in the baggage car while the train is stopped. There are small open decks between the cars and this works for taking photos while the train is moving, but it gets pretty crowded at times.  

Hurricane Turn Train
We stop in Hurricane to wait for the train from Fairbanks to pass.  It’s a perfect time to enjoy our flying Squirrel lunch: a grilled cheese Panini with two kinds of cheese, salmon, sliced apples and arugula.  The sandwich is so filling that we decide to save our side dishes of curried potato salad, and Tai ginger noodles with green beans and our Chai Cookies for later. (We have them for dinner and both salads and cookies are outstanding!) Just past Hurricane, at the end of our line we stop in the middle of the bridge over the Hurricane Gorge, where we have an unobstructed views straight down three hundred feet into the gorge then the train shifts engines and we head back. On the return trip we stop to watch salmon spawn, pick up more travelers and stop at the Sherman City Hall where some of our fellow travelers pick up signed copies Mary Sherman’s book about the life of homesteaders in Alaska in the 1960’s. With so many amazing attractions in Alaska to choose from,  this is one of our favorites and gets a Dave and Dimples hearty approval!

The Next day we drive out  to Byers Lake in the Denali State park. The campground is lovely the lake stunning, with hiking trails and kayak rentals. We decide to spend a few days here hiking and maybe some kayaking before heading to Denali National Park.  The campground host recommends checking out Petersville Road so on our way back we check it out. This gravel road winds for about forty miles through forests and wetlands. There are large turnouts along the road with stone fire rings and folks are boondocking here.  The last ten miles of the road gets pretty sketchy. The recent rains have filled huge potholes (imagine small beaver ponds here) and we blindly drive through some of these along the top of the ridge.  The road has washed out a bit in some places. At the summit, about eight miles from the end of the road, we decide that it is best to turn back so we find the first wide spot in the road and turn around. No need to end our adventure with flat tires or worse.


Shrooms in the Forest

Wonky Bridge
Spawning Sockey

After doing boring stuff like laundry and cleaning, and foraging at Cubbies Marketplace we leave Trapper creek and head back up to Byers Lake. It’s raining, raining a lot, so we dry camp in the rain and spend a couple of days getting trailer fever and our kayaking plans get washed away.  When the sun finally decides to show we take a five mile hike along the lake and up to Cascade falls.  It feels good to be out and moving. The trail is beautiful with ferns and mushrooms. We cross a rickety suspension bridge over Byers's Creek that's seen better days but offers great views of sockeye salmon spawning. Along the trail we see a large fresh bear scat and hear the distinct grunt of a bear in the bushes by the creek.  We make lots of noise and the bear thankfully does not make an appearance. Now it’s on to Denali National Park...