Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Day Four and it's official, Alaska likes things BIG. We embarked at noon on a raft float down the Talkeetna River ("na" is the suffix in Athabaskan denoting "river of" - therefore, "Talkeetna" means "River of Plenty") It's a beautiful, relaxing float and raft guide, Bryce, was informative about both our surroundings and his extremely diverse life pursuits.
The tiny-looking blue boat on the left is the Talkeetna Queen. The owner, a very nice and completely insane friend of Bryce's took that drafter boat UP the Devil's Canyon, a nearby set of Category SIX white water rapids years ago, losing all his front teeth in the endeavour. Apparently, it's still viewable on YouTube videos from "The Wide World of Sportsl.
We floated down the Talkeetna nearly to the giant triple confluence that becomes the "Big Su" or Susitna (River of Sticks).
We wandered through "Main St, Talkeetna" for lunch but couldn't wait for a table at this place which came highly recommended (to everyone, apparently):
...so we decided to try this one across the street (also recommended):
We were forearmed with the knowledge that Mountain High's calzones were ENORMOUS so we ordered one to share. It was still HUGE.
We also discovered a yummy soda at Mountain High:
After lunch we headed back through town, catching a few quirky photo ops
en route to the shuttle that delivered us to the hotel to board the bus to take us to our last rail leg of this trip into Anchorage. The dinner shift!
I haven't written about train food so far because it has been mostly forgettable. The scenery has, by far, out-shone the food. Dinner was good though. Solid and tasty. Solid and tasty and pricey.
Jeff had the prime rib:
And I had the lemon halibut:
which, sadly, photographed blurrily.
Being our last train meal, I even treated myself to a glass of wine which was an unfortunate pinot grigio in a sturdy, train-tolerant glass:
Our rail guide had a long section of her script devoted to the praise of Sarah Palin as we passed through Wasilla. I was (easily) distracted by this cute little establishment spied through the window which, coincidentally, had a cop leaving just as our train whipped by:
Anchorage isn't much to look at but it is obviously an important rail hub.
They also have really nice hanging flower baskets.
(I thought it auspicious that the ones in front of our hotel are red & white ... to make the Canadians feel at home, eh?)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Day 3 and we headed off on our own first thing to hang with the Denali National Park Canine Rangers. Denali is the only one of 395 National Parks to have working sled dogs to patrol in the winter.
These are the resident puppies when they were born 8 weeks ago.
This is Clove now.
After the sled dog demo, we met back up with the group and boarded the train to Talkeetna (where I found today's shirt - thought "Phish Hard" would've been even funnier but that's me)
Talkeetna, the "Las Vegas of Alaska", is a bustling city of 500 year-round residents.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Day 2 started REALLY early in Fairbanks. At least, really early for holidays. We had to put our bags out for pick-up at 6am and be ready to roll at 7:30am.
Found today's shirt at the Denali National Park Gift Shop.
(Less true when one is on a strict schedule but a lovely sentiment, very typically reflective of the environment)
The bus took us to our train (the tour guide, Kate, delineated the difference between caribou and reindeer - "Reindeer can be domesticated. Caribou can't. Reindeer can fly. Caribou can't") which brought us to Denali National Park. I always appreciate good merchandising and the US National Parks Gift Shops have some of the most engaging marketing incentives around. There's a National Park Passport and a collectible tokens booklet. And Denali has two DIFFERENT stamps for the passport at its two centres. Colour me a happy tourist.
From the Visitor Centre, Jeff and I boarded this bus:
NOT this bus:
... which took us on a four and a half hour tour of the park, through the "front woods" into, you guessed it, the "back woods" with Tour Guide Steve who may be my ultimate trivia god. (The green bus which we did NOT board would've taken us on an EIGHT HOUR TOUR and after sitting on a train for three hours already, that wouldn't have been happy-making at all)
Our tour was INCREDIBLY informative. Steve covered topics ranging from Alaskan's Native Peoples to climate change to local herbology (I can now identify three plants that can kill or, at least, incapacitate a person. And one that can make you itch and turn you photosensitive for MONTHS). I used the good camera to capture the wildlife we encountered - a few singleton caribou and some ground squirrels - but managed to grab the iPhone for a couple of what the Denali Visitor Centre refers to as "Alaskan Fast Food"
Speaking of dinner, for the second night in a row, our hotel's restaurant is booked and closed to the public (in Fairbanks, it was a wedding) so we're foraging in Denali Village, a one street business strip Jeff likened to Chase or Blind Bau.
After some consideration, dinner tonight is NOT here:
Nor is it here:
(reportedly the most expensive Subway we will ever find)
Tonight's dinner greeter is this awesome chair:
at Prospectors Pizzeria (recommended by our guide) where I ordered spag and elk meatballs and Jeff ordered a pulled pork Hawaiian-esque pizza called the Maui Wowie (also recommended). Ordering a Hawaiian pizza in Alaska while "Hotel California" is playing (seriously) made for a really odd snapshot moment. Prospectors doesn't serve mozzarella "sticks". They serve mozzarella "bricks"
They also serve the most expensive pizza I've ever seen on a menu.
(I've heard of the Steveston Pizza specialty pizzas but have yet to physically see it on a menu and besides, those are custom orders where this is orderable at any time)
Regarding the titular 30%, we weren't lucky enough to see Mt. McKinley today but hope that tomorrow's trek to Talkeetna will be rewarded with that 1 in 3 viewing.