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!
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.
|Collecting Birch Sap|
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!
|Beaver on the Susitna|
|Class VI Rapids|
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|
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|
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...