The Wandering Tops

The Wandering Tops

30 May, 2015

Denali and Talkeetna

In our travels we have seen lots of wildlife incl bears, ducks, squirrels, gophers, bald eagles, moose, sheep, bicen, beaver, coyote, snowfoot hare, elk, Ruffed Grouse, Stacy Jay (bird) to name a few.

Only had a short drive today from Fairbanks to Denali National Park (six million acres with few established trails, the largest a ribbon of road) and was taken aback when we arrived as imagined it to be a wilderness camp area not a Resort type village environment.  Walked down the boardwalk passed heaps of tourist shops and also sighted the massive 'Princess Resort' which is one of the cruise ship subsidiaries.  Headed to the Pub for drinks (as did 50,000 other people!!) before heading back to the Motor Home to cook dinner.  Overall impression was not good at this stage as way too commercialized for our liking.

Boardwalk in front of all the shops at Denali N/P

Another view of the resort village area

Next day went on Tundra Wilderness Tour bus which took us into Denali National Park to 52 mile marker, then back again.  Once again was a bit disappointed as it was a huge commercial venture with 20-25 tour buses, all timed to perfection driving in the park.  No personal vehicles allowed in the park, so bus was only way to go.  In the peak season the number of buses increases to 80! Having said that the scenery was great driving up and down mountains on narrow gravel roads, and also through the Tundra & Arctic Tundra regions.  Additionally the bus driver was great and was able to enlighten us with the history and landmarks of the park as well as negotiating the narrow road and sharp bends magnificently.  Had a great view of Mt McKinley (20,320ft peak - North Alaska's tallest peak) and with blue sky it looked stunning.  As far as wildlife we did see caribou, dall sheep and a magpie but that was all.  No bear would be silly enough to sit on the side of the road and be totally covered in dust by all the buses!  Sounds a bit cynical but how Denali was marketed was completely different to what we saw.  Nevertheless, had to go and see for ourselves. Maybe we went at the wrong time for viewing wildlife!!!!

That evening we caught another bus to Alaskan Cabin Nite which had live entertainment depicting early 1900's Alaska, in particular the story of Fanny Quigley - a prospector, renowned for her bush skills, legendary Kantishna and Alaska gold mining character.  For dinner we ate Alaskan salmon, BBQ ribs, potatoes and sweetcorn followed by mixed berry crumble.  Was so full after demolishing this meal nearly fell asleep on the bus on way back to camp.

We traveled through this valley before arriving at Denali

Moose or 2

Even the mossies are big in Alaska!!

Denali National Park

Our tour bus, I'm surprised they don't have scratches down the side as they pass each other that closely

Denali National Park encompasses more than 6 million acres with only one access road which follows this valley.

Ptarmigan, this is the bird Chicken was going to be named after.

First glimpse of Mt McKinley from the north.

Some of the 400,000 people who visit Denali NP annually.

Note the road on the side of the mountain, just enough room for the buses to pass - provided one was stationary!


An Aussie Caribou!!

Another short day today - only driving 150 odd kms but needed to be in Talkeetna in time for our plane tour over Mt McKinley. The drive today was beautiful with view of the Alaska Range all along the road. Had an interesting Roadwork stop as we got talking to Ray the lollipop man and his dog Harley (husky, malamute, wolf combination).  Ray had a message that one of our Kiwi travellers Ross, was buying beer @ Talkeetna however after driving through roadworks and having a stop down the track, Ross pulled up behind us and of-course knew nothing of his promise of beer.  Apparently one of the group who left earlier decided to have a bit of fun and it was great that Ray, the lollypop man, played along.

Ray and his dog Harley - we had a great chat with him

Just a few of us held up at a roadworks stop

Mt McKinley on way to Talkeetna

Mt McKinley from the south as we drove into Talkeetna 

The flight over Mt McKinley would have to be a highlight of our trip.  One group which I went with landed on the Glacier, while the others including Hels flew over and around the mountain.  The scenery was absolutely spectacular and landing on the glazier gave you time to take in the moment.  We flew down between the mountains and landed on an airstrip used by the tour companies.  It was quite a sunny day and warmer outside the plane than expected.  Quite an experience. We flew over some small 2 man tents which hikers use as a base to explore the mountain.

Enjoying the snow after landing

Mt McKinley from the Glazier we landed on

View out the window while coming into land between the mountains.

Warm enough for short sleeves

Looking through the plan front window, with a mountain peak in front was a concern 

Talkeetna was established as a mining town and trading post and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with several of its buildings being historical landmarks.  Mountain climbers from all over the world come to Talkeetna to challenge Mt McKinley which adds international flavour to the town.  Enjoyed walking around the town taking in the many attractions offered.

Part of Talkeetna's colourful Main Street

Groovy coffee van, unfortunately not open.

View of Mt McKinley from Talkeetna

Photo bombed by a small high powered jet boat - what happened to the serenity!! 

So lucky as only 30% get to see Mt McKinley without low cloud and we had 3 days of great visibility. 

From Talkeetna it was a relatively short drive into Anchorage were we handed back the RV to the rental company.

26 May, 2015

North Pole and Fairbanks

**From Chicken we travelled on the Taylor Highway, then turned back onto Alaska Highway approx 12 miles from Tok - refer previous blog**

After completing the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction, we travelled on Richardson Highway to Fairbanks and called into North Pole to make sure Santa knew we were being good!!! North Pole is best known as the home of Santa Claus House.  Con Miller was a young entrepreneur who became a fur buyer and trader shortly after arriving in Alaska in 1949.  He opened a small gift store in Fairbanks and then moved it to North Pole.  Miller had already developed a reputation for playing Santa Claus to the Native children in Alaskan Villages and so he named his new trading post Santa Claus House.  Con and wife Nellie set about creating a dream that is still ongoing today.  Walking into the store is absolutely mind blowing and a few of our fellow travellers invested a few hundred dollars in the Store!  Just as well we live in a Caravan as Helen was very limited to what she could buy!  Worth calling into with every type of Christmas trinket you could wish to see.

Of-course we have been good, Santa!!

Reckon this would be fine for the Caravan, Geoff

Fancy seeing the 'Bundy Bear' here!!!

Nearly bought this one for our son Todd!
Exhausted from the Christmas shopping, headed into Fairbanks and camped at River's Edge RV Park which was lovely and we certainly had a great spot for Happy Hour.  Had a great meal in the Restaurant next to the park, Hels then decided to do the washing which she completed at 11.30pm in broad daylight!!!

Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city with a population of 32,000 and the Fairbanks North Star Borough has a population of almost 100,000, including military.  Once again the Gold Rush brought miners from all over the world and in 1903 Fairbanks was incorporated as a City. First stop on our Rest Day was Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum which is a fantastic museum featuring autos as well as regional history and vintage clothes.  There are over 100 vintage costumes exhibited and over 85 American-made automobiles restored in prestige condition with all but a few driven each summer. We were thoroughly entertained for hours and needless to say my camera was working to full capacity - Helen remarked that I would not have missed photographing one automobile!!  This was a great stop and with an entry fee of only $10 well worth the visit.  Helen was also blown away at the vintage clothes displays, in particular some of the beaded evening gowns on display in glassed cabinets - certainly both men and women would enjoy this exhibition.

Happy hour at the Fairbanks RV Park

Downtown Fairbanks
Our second stop was the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Centre where exhibits feature the land, the seasons and the peoples of Fairbanks, Interior Alaska and the Arctic.  This was an extremely interesting place to visit and so well displayed.  From here we had lunch at Soapy Smith's Pioneer Restaurant where we were 'entertained' by a waiter, then onto the Ice Museum which was housed in the historic Laceys Theatre.  We were treated to a movie about the Ice Carving Competition then were able to walk among the life-size ice sculptures (although did not stay long as the room was set at some unbelievably freezing cold temperature!), then watched as a sculptor carved a block of ice - making a flower etching.

Pioneer Park - 44 acre park that commemorates early Alaskan history with a number of attractions

The Ice Museum:-

Talk about having your drinks on ICE!!

We certainly did not stay long in the ice sculpture room - it was freezing!

Hels rode the ice mobile while a took a toboggan ride on the inside track.

Demonstration ice carving by a Sculptor

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum:-

1933 Auburn - Model 12-161A Custom Boattail Speedster. 12 cylinder V-type Lycomimg

The wild and flashy design of this car was not only skin deep, for this was one of the fastest sports cars of its era!

1936 Packard - 7 passenger convertible touring

I was really cranking this old girl up! (Helen's comment:  I hope he was talking about the car!!)

1920 Argonne - Model D2 Passenger Roadster

This is the last of only 24 produced - 4 cyl inline side valve

1934 Packard - 12 cylinder modified side valve.

The first to incorporate a built in radio

1917 Owen Magnetic - M25 touring

1932 Chrysler - Custom Imperial Series CL

1905 Franklin - famous air cooled vehicle. Note the period costume.
This is only a small sample of the vehicles and photos I took but what a magnificent auto museum.