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Week 36: ending 7/20/2003
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 08, 2003 2:48 am    Post subject: Week 36: ending 7/20/2003 Reply with quote

Week 36: Week ending 7/20/03

Joan in Chicago: 80 degrees+ in Anchorage

Joan in Chicago: 80 degrees+ in Anchorage. Ron had dinner with Ron and Nan at Moose’s Tooth Pub. Moose’s Tooth specializes in gourmet pizza, and it looked really good. I enjoyed my Caesar’s Salad with smoked salmon on top. The smoked salmon was plentiful, but it was shredded!?!

Joan still in Chicago: 60’s and occasional showers in Anchorage. After a week of bachelorhood, Ron cleans motorhome in anticipation of Joan’s return.

Forecast is for steady rain and 60’s in Anchorage. Joan arrived safe and sound with Rita in tow. Ron sneaks up to Joan at the luggage carousel and says “Hey, can I reach that” as he nudges Joan out of the way. Joan thinks this is just another rude passenger until her sister gives Ron a hug. Joan insists she didn’t recognize him because of Ron’s tan. Ron says: “Harumph.”

Joan completes the motorhome rehabilitation (cleaning and laundry) while Ron finishes the job of making light-blocking inserts for all the windows so that Rita can sleep in darkness.

After we’re done with the chores, Rita is sound asleep at 10PM (it is 2AM Boston time) so Ron is relegated to sitting outside in a beach chair, with the laptop on another beach chair, and a detachable keyboard in his lap. The mouse is on a pad of paper, which is half under the keyboard, the other half sticking out for the mouse to move around on. All in all, a pretty neat way to surf the internet at 11PM with the sun still out.

Weatherman was wrong again. It was in the high 60’s, but it was a mostly cloudy day, with not a spot of rain. It’s very difficult to forecast here in Anchorage.

After a thorough car wash of the Tahoe, we are ready for sightseeing. We drive south along the Seward Highway, purported to be one of the moist scenic drives in the country. It lives up to its reputation. We stop in search of spawning salmon at an Interpretive Boardwalk and for whales at Beluga Point. Wildlife is not abundant at either stop, but the vistas are breathtaking, especially at Beluga Point. The rugged beach and mudflats in the foreground, glaciers in the background and the sea in the middle make for awe-inspiring scenery.

Dinner is at the Sourdough Mining Company with our friends, the Bakers, and is a favorite stop for caravans and tourist groups. The food is good, and the World’s Largest Chocolate Waterfall provides entertainment next door at the Alaska Wild Berry Store. A good time is had by all. We bid a fond farewell and safe travels to Ron and Nan.

We say goodbye to Anchorage RV Park for now. We head north along Route 1 and turn onto Route 3 towards Denali. Our first stop is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wasilla. The Visitors Center is free, offering exhibits and a continuously running video and merchandise for sale. The real pull, of course, is the dogs. A total of 30 adult dogs reside here, taken care of by Joe Reddington, Jr. JR, Sr., started the Iditarod Race, as a means of preserving the tradition of dog sledding.

For $5 per person, a team of eight dogs mushed by Joe, Jr., will race you through the woods. We all participated, after assuring ourselves that the dogs seemed well-cared for. The ride is quick in length, which we expected and fast in speed, about 15-20 mph, which we did not expect. What a rush! Afterwards, we visited with some of the other adult dogs, giving all a good rub or two. Four adorable puppies crated together persisted in sleeping the entire length of our visit, so we could only admire them and not play with them. Great way to start the day!

North we continue on the Parks Highway. We pull into the MatSu Valley RV Park, about 20 miles south of Talkeetna. The owners just purchased the park about 1 ½ years ago and are very attentive, as is their dog. We set up camp and set off for Talkeetna, which the Bakers had advised us offers spectacular views of Mt. McKinley. How right they were!

One rest-stop in particular is rather crowded with camera-toting tourists. It is a bright and sunny day and the entire Alaska Range seems in clear view, including Mt. McKinley. Its peak is not obscured at all. What a magnificent vista! The town of Talkeetna is actually closer to Mt. McKinley than the town of Denali. One of the tourists suggests another great viewing point at the Talkeetna Resort Lodge. Joan cannot find mention of the lodge in the Milepost, so we continue on the cutoff into town.

Talkeetna was the inspiration for the TV series “Northern Exposure”. The mix of tourists and locals we observe seem as eclectic as the TV show. The general store offers great buys at tasty popcorn for $1/bag and yummy huckleberry ice cream (among other flavors) for $1.69 for a sizable small dish. Dry goods are not as reasonably priced, but we did not here to go grocery shopping. The visitors info desk directs us back out of town to the Lodge and away we go.

The Lodge does offer a different vista, as well as two restaurants. We promise ourselves to return for dinner and head to the airport. We decide to take the plunge and take a flightseeing flight of Mt. McGinley. Ron chooses K2 Aviation to be our guides. When we reach their office, everyone else has had a similar inspiration due to the glorious weather. There are only two seats available on 2 of the 4 flights offered and not until 5 pm. Ron graciously allows the ladies to partake in the flying adventure. Rita and Joan choose the 1 ¾ hour tour with a glacier landing.

Just before departure, passengers are outfitted with heavy galoshes, to prevent slipping on the glacier. Our pilot is named Elwood. He brings us to a five-seater Cessna with an older couple. After a safety briefing, we are seated inside, Joan in the back seat solo, the couple in the middle and Rita in front with Elwood. Ron waves farewell as we roll down the runway. Our plane requires minimum space for takeoff and landing, making it ideal for glacier landing. It is not a spacious plane: Joan probably has the most room to maneuver, being in back by herself, but she has short legs. Both the male passenger and Rita, who are both rather tall, are rather cramped. Ron would not have been comfortable in this plane. The discomfort soon proves worthwhile with the spectacular views we are afforded.

The plane is outfitted with comfortable headphones and microphones through which we can communicate to each other and our pilot over the din of the plane. Elwood informs us that this is a 10% day, meaning that such clear views of Mt. McKinley are possible only 10% of the summer. We are truly lucky for such splendid weather. We fly over meandering river valleys and forests, getting ever closer to Mt. McKinley. Our flight does not fly around the Mt., but by the south side of it, as well as by MT. Foraker and Mt. Hunter. Our pilot tells us this is the best of the four routes K2 flies because we get so close to Mt. McKinley, without having to view its rather flat backside and we get to walk on a glacier. Our plane even has skis upfront for glacier landings!

Our landing is smooth and not far from the climbers’ base camp on Kahiltna Glacier (the longest glacier in Denali National Park at 45 miles long and 3 miles wide), as evidenced by tent pole markings in the glacial snow. Two other small planes are already there, but there is plenty of room for everyone. It is surprisingly warm on the glacier. The snow underfoot is a bit slushy, perfect for making snowballs, which we do. Elwood points out a privately-owned cabin and outhouse atop a peak between us and Mt. McGinley. The house is owned by Mrs. Sheldon, widow of Charles Sheldon who helped pioneer the establishment of Denali National Park. The cabin and outhouse and a certain amount of land are protected by grandfather laws for Sheldon’s descendants. The cabin is usually used as a rental unit, accessible only via hiking or a helicopter. It is empty right now.

Rita has walked on glaciers in Europe and points out the blue-green glacial ice peeking out from a wall of snow. Just think how old it must be! Joan gathers a glacier snowball for Ron’s enjoyment and we regroup in the plane. This time, Rita and Joan are seated in the middle, the tall man is upfront with the pilot and the wife is behind us. The return ride goes by quickly and we arrive safely. We thank Elwood profusely for the experience and hurry to share the snowball with Ron. Half of it survived the ride, so he is pleasantly surprised.

While the girls were flying, Ron found a cafe nearby which offered Internet access. So Ron was able to catch up on email and cruise the Net a bit. By now, everyone is hungry, so we return to the Talkeetna Resort Lodge for dinner. The food is presented beautifully, but the kitchen is slow in preparing it. The company is good, however and we enjoy reviewing Joan’s video and stills of the flight.

Click here to see Mount McKinley!

Onwards to Denali! Our friends Nan & Ron had warned us that the Rainbow RV Lodge, although the closest private campground to the Park, was a bit tight and lacking in amenities. As we drove by, we are thankful for their warning. Our chosen campground, Denali Riverside, however, is not much better. The spaces are wider, but utility poles are shared. It does not really matter, we are here for Denali, not for the campground. (But if we were to RV here again, Joan would try to camp at Denali RV Park and Motel at MP 245.1.) After camp is set up, Joan and Rita drive to the National Park Visitors Center to pickup the tickets for the 8:15 am shuttle bus ride on Monday. We want to get good seats, so it’s early to bed.
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