Saturday afternoon, Sunday, Monday morning
We’re staying at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. It’s just outside of Denali National Park, but not near the ‘entrance to the park’ that everyone talks about.
Our Day in Talkeetna
My cousin had told me there wasn’t much to Talkeetna–and she was right. We visited a few touristy shops and then tried to have lunch at the Twisted Creek (Denali Brewing Company). There was a 30 minute wait and we felt a bit too hungry for that–and didn’t really want to stand around in the rain waiting for a table.
We ended up at Mile High Pizza, where the pizza was quite acceptable. Seating was in short supply, so we shared a table with another couple and after they left, another couple took their place.
I’m trying to avoid buying things that I don’t have somewhere to put–it’s one thing to love something and want it to be part of your home and it’s another to identify where in the home it is going to go. One thing I’m sure of is that I have more than enough small pretty things–and fewer than enough places to put them.
I did buy a quilted trivet–it was a beautiful one of orcas. Although there aren’t any orcas in Talkeetna, we did see them on our trip to Tracy Arm Fjord, and I hadn’t found any orca magnets.
I think we visited all of the art galleries but I didn’t find any of the kind of scenery photographs I was looking for, so ended up only buying the trivet and a really interesting magnet.
It was a one hour shuttle to the Princess McKinley Lodge, which we followed up with a nap (after I told Stan I wasn’t tired, I slept as soundly as he did). DD and Mike called, which got us both moving and the four of us went to the 20320 restaurant for dinner.
It turned out that the restaurants at the Princess lodges were all pretty similar–not much variety within each property and not much variety across properties. It was an interesting meal, because they were out of hard cider and ice tea and whatever desserts we chose first. It seemed to all of us that those were lacks that could have been remedied, even if the Lodge was down to its last few days of the season. Who runs out of ice tea?
Due to the rain, we skipped the hot tub after dinner. It seems funny that I don’t like to sit in the hot tub in the rain, since I’m already wet, but I really don’t.
I was tired enough that I hadn’t noticed during my nap, but when we went to bed, it was clear that the bed was horrible. There was a big cavernous spot in the middle and I had to sleep on the area closest to the edge of the bed to avoid falling into it. (I didn’t think much of the shower either–really poor pressure.)
The Weather and the Non-View
I like to say that here is no bad weather, only bad attitudes and bad clothing choices, but there are some things that are just no fun in the rain! Fortunately, the rain held off and didn’t start until after the ATV ride, but it was so cloudy and overcast the entire day that we couldn’t even tell we were in the middle of mountains.
I didn’t really expect to get to see The Mountain–everyone talks about the mountain “being out” (as if it goes inside and hides). We not only couldn’t see Denali, we couldn’t tell that we were even in a mountainous area. We were above tree tops and I could see all the birch and spruce. What we couldn’t see were mountains–not even the base of mountains. The cloud cover was so low that it didn’t appear that anything was beyond the trees at all.
Between the lousy bed, the spotty service, adequate foot (although Stan liked the prime rib), and no views, I didn’t really love the visit to this lodge.
The ATV Ride
When we got up Sunday (after sleeping badly due to the lousy bed), we caught the 8:00 shuttle into Talkeetna. Dennis (our ATV guide) had directed us to The Roadhouse for breakfast. One of our bus drivers had also mentioned The Roadhouse as a great place for breakfast but he didn’t care much for it for other meals.
The Roadhouse was a family seating kind of place–the signs said to just sit anywhere, so we did, across from two women who were there helping with a wedding. The couple to my right had just received their plates when we sat down, so I asked about the size of the woman’s plate–was it a “Half” or a “Full” Standard breakfast. She told me half, and the man’s pancake overflowed his large plate. So, Stan ordered “Half” of a “Standard Breakfast” and I ordered a pancake and a “Half” serving of eggs. I ate less than a quarter of my eggs–there must have been 4 or 5 eggs scrambled to make that “Half” serving. There’s got to be a lot of waste here!
When I went to the restroom before we left, I saw that the restrooms had showers–I guess at least some of the rooms at The Roadhouse aren’t en suite. They also allow for people to pay to shower there even if they aren’t staying at The Roadhouse.
Starting our Ride
We walked to the ATV meeting place and passed an older German Shepherd sitting on a deck on the back of an ATV. It turned out that was Cheena–our guide’s dog. Cheena came along with us on the whole trip. I’m not usually much of a dog fan, but he was a well behaved German Shepherd–friendly but didn’t jump or sniff.
We got kitted out in rain pants and rain jackets and boots and better gloves than what we’d brought. I took a short circle in the parking lot and didn’t feel I had good control of the steering and Doug had me do a ride around the building and do a circle 8. The ATV doesn’t corner very tight but I seemed to be doing okay. Stan, of course, didn’t have any trouble at all.
We took off through town and Doug stopped several times to tell us stories about the VFW and the airplane strip. After detailed instructions on how to ride through the 48″ wide bridge on our 45″ wide four-wheelers, we were off. I managed to get through the bridge without any trouble–and then we were on a flat pretty straight trail.
Off the track
To the left of the trail were trees–mostly birches and spruce. The birches were changing color but mostly not yet dropping leaves. To the right was a ditch, when then went up to where there was gravel, and then railroad track.
For some reason, even though I was weaving through the potholes and puddles fairly competently, I didn’t feel in control of the machine. I think the problems I’m having with my right hand contributed–and I hadn’t considered how my thumb would handle using the throttle. After veering off once or twice, I did lose control–down the ditch, up the other side, a bit on the gravel, and back down. And then I hit something–my hand and forehead hit the windshield (no helmet).
I managed to get out of the hole after that. It turns out there was a culvert there and that’s what I hit. I was pretty shook up and wasn’t quite sure what did and didn’t hit the windshield. Stan asked why I didn’t let up on the throttle sooner and I didn’t even know–I was trying to regain control I guess.
Doug finally noticed there was an issue and turned around and came back. I’d messed up the alignment and the windshield had a crack where it was fastened to the four-wheeler. ($150) I rode a bit longer but veered off again (but not badly) and then pulled over and stopped. I was really feeling tense and stressed and wasn’t enjoying the riding–especially since the ATV was pulling to one side now.
Doug suggested I climb up behind Stan and ride there, or that the two of the go back and get an ATV designed for two. I said I’d rather ride behind Stan. We’re both “bigger” people but we fit and I felt more comfortable and safer behind Stan than riding on my own. I also got to watch the scenery more. I also took a bunch of deep breaths to help myself calm down.
I guess I need to acknowledge that I’m no longer going to try to drive things other than cars. I didn’t like downhill skiing. I didn’t really like the zipline (although I’m glad I tried it). I didn’t want to drive the jet ski in Barbados (although I enjoyed riding behind Stan). For that matter, the first and only time I tried to drive Dean’s tractor I was scared to death. If we ever decide to go snowmobiling, I am definitely going to be a passenger and not the driver!
Doug’s family had homesteaded in Alaska and he brought us to the site of their original cabin. To homestead, the family had to live on site for three years and clear and prove 10% of their claim. His father had claimed 160 acres, cleared 16, unsuccessfully planted barley (success wasn’t necessary for the claim, though), and built a cabin. His father then passed before the three years did, and his mother stayed there, in the wilderness, with the two youngest children in order to hold onto the homestead.
Doug built an incredible cabin (and is still working on it) in another area of the homestead. The trail out there was quite thoroughly posted as no trespassing–one side was his and the other his neighbor’s–and both were clearly marked.
We had lunch at the cabin (after using the facilities). The refrigerator runs on propane so it is always running, but Doug had to turn on the generator in order for us to have lights. For heat, he runs a wood stove. We had sandwiches from the General Store in town and then he asked if we wanted to try target practice.
I told him I’d never fired a gun. Stan had done some shooting as a Boy Scout, but that was a long time ago. So, he set me up on a table that had a gun rest and showed me how to hold and shoot a 22 rifle. It was funny how my finger wanted to rest on the trigger–which is not allowed until I’m actually ready to shoot. After I felt comfortable, I turned off the safety, lined up the scope, and fired. Using his binoculars, Doug determined that I shot about 3″ off at about 9:00. I was thrilled–I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to hit the target–let alone be close. I took a second shot, which was also about 3″ off–this time at 6:00. The loud bang was kind of fun.
Then it was Stan’s turn. He took two close-to-perfect shots with the 22 (not using the gun rest I used), and then Doug asked if he wanted to try the 357. Sure, said Stan. (Like he ever says ‘no’ to trying something new) We got out earmuffs for this one and Doug showed Stan how it worked–and he made another amazing shot.
I don’t think I’ll ever take up target practice, but it was kind of fun.
After returning to Talkeetna we took the shuttle back to the Wildnerness Lodge, took a nap, and had a late dinner before repacking so we could head to Denali the next morning.
Saturday plans: We’ll get off the train, find a place to have lunch (see choices below) if we didn’t buy lunch on the train, wander around town, and see the handful of sights there are to see in Talkeetna. For Saturday evening, after we get checked in at the Lodge, there might be a hot tub with our names on it.
Sunday plans: ATV excursion–we’re taking an ATV excursion on Sunday, which means we son’t be staying at the Lodge all day at all. We’ll get up in the morning and take the shuttle into Talkeetna and have breakfast and an ATV adventure from there. DeVore’s Alaska Wilderness ATV Tours got great reviews on Tripdvisor and so we’re going with Dennis–it sounds like it’ll be a great day.
Dennis suggested we take the 7:00 am shuttle bus, which will be less crowded than the 8:00 am shuttle bus and make it easier to get breakfast at The Roadhouse in Talkeetna. He told us that scrambled eggs would feed both of us–he said they use 12 eggs. Heck, that would feed both of us and two random strangers! We’ll meet Dennis at 10:00. He said that as we come into town on the bus, if we’re sitting on the right side of the bus we’ll see the 4 wheelers lined up just before we stop. Currently, he has one other pair signed up–they’re from Australia.
I haven’t ruled out the possibility of flightseeing for Saturday afternoon, if we end up talking to someone who is offering it at a reduced enough price. I’m sort of mixed minds since I don’t really like to fly in small planes. I feel as if I should, but I don’t, really. On the other hand, the pictures I’ve seen from people who have done a flightseeing tour have been incredible. On the third hand, it’s very expensive. So, we’ll wait and see but it’s out there as a last minute decision for Saturday afternoon.
The fact that we look for breweries and distilleries everywhere we go does not make us lushes. The fact that we drink at those places is what makes us lushes. No, wait. That’s actually not true at all. Stan is the one who likes whiskey and beer–he samples and I keep him company (often ordering wine). Why don’t we ever visit a winery? That’s a really good question–we need to visit some wineries! Given that Talkeetna isn’t wine growing country, we’ll go with the brewery option at Denali Brewing Company. I’m sure we’ll have at least one visit there–there’s a restaurant as well as the brewery. My web search has left me a bit confused as to whether the associated restaurant is Twister Creek or the Denali Brewpub (perhaps there’s been a name change). Trust me–the two of us can find a nearby brewpub attached to a brewery no matter what they call it!
Shopping isn’t my major activity while traveling, but I’d like to acquire a few things–mostly art and an ulu. My mom brought me one from her trip to Alaska over 15 years ago and its handle is loose now. I’d also like to purchase some high-quality large photographs, suitable for framing. My preference would be for standard sized frames rather something I’d have to have custom made. So, I’ll look around art galleries and such. This will probably be our first such shopping day, unless we have time after the Tracy Arm Fjord trip from Juneau. I assume that we’ll do more shopping in Fairbanks.
Note to anyone considering buying an ulu. Uluit are not allowed in hand luggage on commercial US flights. I’ll be packing mine in my checked bag so it isn’t confiscated by TSA.
- Dancing Leaf Gallery has great reviews on Yelp! and looks like a great place to find interesting Alaskan art. Its website says they have Alaskan art by Alaskan artists.
- Aurora Dora also has great reviews on Yelp!. Reviews indicates it’s pricey, but we’ll definitely visit. She specializes in photographs of the Northern Lights.
- Denali Images Art Gallery is short on reviews–but the one there is says it’s worth a visit! Their website shows wildlife and scenery photography–scenery photography is what I’ll be looking for.
- The Susitna Salmon Center opened in 2014 and is listed on TripAdvisor under Art Galleries, Zoos & Aquariums, Museums, Shopping, Nature & Parks. That’s quite a lot for one Center–so we’ll have to check it out. It describes itself as a non-profit education center and art gallery, and part of the Aquatic Restoration and Research Institute.
My other shopping goal in Talkeetna will be snacks–and maybe Diet Coke for our hotel room. I’m looking ahead to our Denali Park day, when we’ll be on a bus all day (with stops, of course). We’ll enjoy the trip more if we have some granola bars or trail mix to augment our box lunch. If we’re in the park 10-12 hours, a box lunch is going to feel very far in the past by the time we get back to the Lodge!
- Dennis recommended the following restaurants: The Roadhouse, Mountain High Pizza Pie, Denali Brewery and Twister Creek Restaurant, Wildflower, West Wind, Latitude
- Note: Mountain High Pizza Pie is purple. That is totally a point in their favor, even if I am a horrible pizza snob and rarely trust pizza outside of Chicago.
- Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce. This is their map with business locations identified.
- TripAdvisors Top Things to do in Talkeetna
- The Talkneeta Alaskan Lodge has a Walking Tour map