Talkeetna Alaska is the perfect small town, to me. Where else will you see flannel covered nomads driving ATV’s through town with their hunting dogs sitting on the back? It’s a town where you can order sourdough flapjacks for breakfast with a side of elk sausage. Talkeetna is situated 150 miles north of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, which has an airport, a Fred Meyers and a Nordstrom’s, all the basics. Talkeetna is a small town of five hundred people. The town is one little strip of a few shops, some amazing restaurants, and every tour guide you can possibly need to help flatlanders explore the bush. Yes apparently not only Southern California mountain people use this term. According to Sarah Palin, in her first book, the term is used by Alaskan’s to describe people from the lower forty eight states. Talkeetna is convenient to the Copper River, which overflows with King Salmon. It’s the town people stay in before they try to ascend Mt McKinley, and the town they rest in with
a chilled pint of Alaskan Amber when they return to the base of the mountain, exhausted and sun burnt. I would love to ascend “the mountain” one day, but it is a journey that takes weeks to complete. So instead I and my group of BFF’s chose to fly into Anchorage and do a two week Alaska road trip. It would be the vacation of a life time.
He’s probably covered in mosquitos right now
We started planning our vacation weeks in advance. We already had a lot of camping gear from the previous summer, backpacking in the Sierras. We did need to scour outdoor stores to stock up on mosquito nets, bug spray that was 100 percent Deet, and a case of Benadryl for Steven, who is allergic to mosquitoes, and just about every other bug. Mosquitoes are officially the state bird of Alaska.
Steven and Jenny flew up to Anchorage a few days before Ryan and I were due to join them. They explored Homer, the fishing town to the south of Anchorage where the folk singer Jewel hails from. They took care of picking up our rental car, a brand new Ford Focus, shiny and clean, but not for long. Ryan and I flew from Ontario, California to Anchorage, Alaska in early June 2007. The plan was to make our way up North, staying in Talkeetna for a few days, then camping in Denali, then staying a few nights in Fairbanks, before driving up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle for the Summer Solstice, and then back to the south to Anchorage. All we really knew about Alaska going in was it was beautiful, and full of mosquitoes, and Grizzlies who would kill you in a second. We were ready to embark on a lifetime of adventure shoved into two weeks.
As our plane descended near the Anchorage airport, my first view of Alaska was miles and miles of snow covered glaciers; the peaks glistening with white snow reaching up into the heavens. We crammed our necks to check out this awe inspiring view for the first time. I felt like we were the only ones on the plane so impressed. Ryan and I stood out among our neighbors packed with us into coach. Everyone else was dressed straight out of the Bass Pro Shop catalog. These were Alaskans; they wore dirty stained jeans, work boots and baseball caps. Everywhere we would go in the next few weeks, even though we dressed casual we would stick out, in our flip flops, logo t-shirts and the boys in their cargo pants. When we headed into Fred Meyers for supplies we were not wearing sweatpants with baggy t-shirts. Everywhere we went people could tell we were from California.
Steven and Jenny met us at our gate and we headed back to our B & B were we would stay at our first night. That turned out to be an extra bedroom in someone’s house in a quiet Anchorage neighborhood. It was only around one hundred dollars a night for the four of us, and did include breakfast, so it was really a good deal in the long run. Our last night in Alaska we would come back and stay at the B & B again. Everything in Alaska is expensive, one hundred dollars for lodging for one night is a good deal. Everything has to be flown up, so everything costs more. Our first night in Alaska we enjoyed the “sunset” from a little park overlooking a beach. The sun never really set, it got very low in the horizon, twilight like and just stayed there, glowing in pinks and orange; beautiful. After admiring the endless sunset we had a delicious dinner at the Whale’s Tail, a famous pub that always seems to make it onto the Travel Channel. The next morning we got up early and hit the
the “town” of Willow Alaska
road for Talkeetna.
Talkeetna is about two and a half hours north of Anchorage up the Parks highway. It sits at the edge of three rivers, the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna. You can tell where all three rivers come together because some of the rivers are dark and muddy with all the sludge that the glaciers bring down the mountain. Alaska has rivers reaching out like long gnarled fingers across the vast state from all the snow run off.
First view of the Mtn
The drive out of Anchorage is absolutely gorgeous full of poplar and birch tree forests, every once in a while you will see tiny one room log cabins. It’s crazy to think people live in these small one room shacks, but it’s easier to keep a tiny one bedroom cabin warm in the long winters when the temperature is way below freezing. Just outside of Anchorage is Wasilla, Alaska the town that Sarah Palin and Paige of Paige Jeans hail from. It’s also the meth capitol of Alaska. We drove straight through Wasilla. It kind of reminded me of San Bernardino at the foot of our mountains, but slightly greener and with more dogs and shotgun racks in the back of pickup trucks. We made a quick stop in Willow, a few miles up the road to take pictures of Denali, or the mountain as locals call it. We lucked out and it was a clear day. There are not many days you get a clear view of Denali, or ” the high one” in Athabaskan. That makes sense when you think of all the stoned gangstas driving around in bling bling Chevy Denali’s, high. Denali or Mt McKinley is the highest peak in North America; the summit is over 20,000 feet. The mountain is so cold it actually makes it own weather systems and it’s usually soaked in fog. Of course Ryan choose to stand on top of our rental car, as he needed those extra four feet to get his perfect shot.
There is very little population wise between Wasilla and Denali National Park. We passed many lakes; Loon Lake, Willow Lake, Houston Lake. The town of Houston was laid out on the banks of the Susitna River. It was a few little cabins, you blink and you miss it. According to the town’s website sixty percent of the town has indoor plumbing at this time and the rest use outhouses. Wow, that must be really cold in January when it is thirty three below freezing. We stopped at a tiny shack restaurant near here for a quick lunch, and then continued up the lonely highway passing almost no traffic. The Alaska bush is desolated only a few side roads here and there going who knows where. It’s stunningly beautiful with the mountain snow capped in the distance, green forests stretching as far as we could see.
Running from the mosquitoes
Just past the “town” the sign post pointed out as Montana, Alaska, we made a right on Talkeetna Spur Road, driving past Sunshine Lake, Question Lake, and finally making a right on Christiansen Lake Road. We headed up a dirt road and found ourselves in front of a cull de sac of wooden cabins; we would be renting one of the cabins for 3 days. The cabin was right outside of town, by about a mile. It had a large loft bedroom upstairs with at least four beds and a full kitchen. Plus it came with a Jacuzzi and we could borrow the property canoes and go out on Lake Christiansen! As soon as we unpacked the first thing we did was take a walk down to the lake to try out the canoe. Well first we coated ourselves in Deet, put on long sleeves and donned our mosquito net hats. The mosquitoes really were that bad out in the bush. As soon as you stepped out of the car they attacked you. We couldn’t drive with the windows down something I love to do, because the mosquitoes were that thick in the air. That’s the problem with vacationing in a giant marsh, with rivers and lakes everywhere. It’s so pretty but the bugs are out of control. Ryan was wearing a shirt with a giant target on it and we joked that it gave the mosquitoes something to aim for. Maybe it would distract them from Steven?
We walked down the deserted street to this pristine lake. There was absolutely no one around. There were a few houses built on the lake, with docks so the owners could just fly there float planes in. That’s when we decided we had to get a bunch of friends together and buy a tiny cabin on a lake in Alaska someday. Oh and one of us would need a pilot’s license. I wish I would have taken a few pictures out on the glassy and still lake, but when we set out in the canoe, I left my camera on the shore just in case the boat tipped over. We were so glad to have our mosquito hats, but I wish I had brought gloves for my hands. I actually ended up putting socks on my hands at one point. It started to get overcast at this point so we headed back to the cabin. By the time we had walked there mile back the sky was dark and ominous. Lightning and thunder cracked and roared and we starred out the window at a brilliant summer thunderstorm. Rain poured down for about twenty minutes then the storm was gone as fast as it had begun. The sky was blue again with a few high clouds. Almost every day we were in Talkeetna we would witness flash thunderstorms like this. I love the smell of the rain and the crash of the thunder. And the way it washes away the mosquitoes for ten minutes.
the drive along the Parks Highway
After a day of driving, we were too tired to make dinner so we decided to check out the local restaurants. The amazing thing about Talkeetna is there are about ten restaurants in town and everyone was so good! Okay we didn’t make it to every restaurant in Talkeetna but we tried maybe seven restaurants and every meal we had was phenomenal.
Our first night in Alaska we tried The Roadhouse. Jenny got a salad with blueberry dressing that she said was so good. I had a halibut sandwich that was out of this world. They must have caught the fish that morning. I have never had halibut that fresh in my life. After our delicious meal Ryan wanted dessert so we walked over to the little country store in town, the only place to buy supplies. We needed to stock up on some basics also, buying the essentials for breakfast and such. While Jenny was getting the supplies for her amazing pancakes Ryan grabbed a pack of Oreos and we went to check out… Seven dollars for a package of Oreos! Wow! Everything has to be flown into Alaska from the lower forty eight so everything has to be marked up in price. This was almost ten years ago now. I can only imagine how expensive supplies are now up there. Keep in mind this was probably the only supermarket within the two hundred mile range between Wasilla and Fairbanks.
After we finished our grocery run it was getting later, about eight p.m. so we headed back to the cabin. Of course the sun was still high in the sky like the middle of the day. We went back, cracked open a bottle of Australian Shiraz I had brought with us and played a few games of hearts. When we put our sleep masks on at midnight it was still completely bright outside, so awesome!