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.

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