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The distances are great in Alaska. We started in Fairbanks with a two hour drive to Denali, then a five hour bus ride into the park on it's only road. It was only 92 miles but at the 20 m.p.h. speed necessitated by the single lane and gravel construction, it took some time. And, the speed made for good wildlife watching and was welcome on the occasional hairpin turns that always seemed to be high up on a steep incline.
Once out of Denail, we boarded an Alaskan Rail train and headed south toward the coast. After a couple hours on the train through Broad Pass and along the Susitna River, a short bus ride took us to Talkeetna.
The weather was overcast, with the type of thick cloud cover that would have hidden Mt. Denali from our view had we seen this weather in Denali. Talkeetna is small and quirky town that seems geared to the tourist trade and mountain climbers who want to scale Mt. Denali.
It's claim to fame, in addition to its role as gateway for flights to Mt. Denali, is it's past role as the backdrop for a popular television series - Northern Exposures. If you are old enough to remember the series, you will know that the series featured a young physician who was posted to the town after graduation and followed him as he adjusted to the rural Alaskan way of life.
It was a nice break for a travel day. You can see the airport above. And, if you have been hankering for anything made from an antler, you can fulfill your desires in the shop below.
From Talkeetna it was on to Girdwood and the Hotel Alyeska for dinner and the night. Girdwood advertises itself as Alaska's one true resort town. Dinner that night was accessed by the ski lift shown below which gave a great view of the colors brought on by Fall.
The next morning we were off to Spencer Lake to see Spencer Glacier and raft down a nearby river. A bus and then a short train ride gets us to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. There, we load onto an ancient bus to get to the lake, riding through the high grass and brush on a single lane road. The river portion of our tour is cancelled because calving off the glacier has blocked the entrance to the river.
Our hostsare young and dressed mostly in cut off jeans, hiking boots and tee shirts covered loosely with colorful flannel shirts. They are enthusiastic and ready to get the trip off to a fast start. The bus driver welcomes us and then announces that we should prepare ourselves for a class 4 bus ride to our class 1 rafting trip.
She turns up the heavy rock music and takes off roaring down the gravel road. As we bounce along with branches slapping against the bus, her front-of-the-bus companion - who looks strikingly like a young Goldie Hawn - dances and lip sinks the words to the music. Our rafting trip is off to a good start.
Once off the bus, we hike to the lake shore. Off the buss, things are much quieter and calmer. We load into our rafts and row between the small icebergs that have calved off the river. Much of the ice is a deep turquoise-blue. The bus ride back has the same class 4 intensity of the ride in.
Once back in Girdwood, we are on our own for dinner so we head into town using the area's public bus system. Nothing to report on the way out but after dinner it is dark and we catch the Northern Lights again. Well, sort of.
When the shuttle bus arrives to pick up us, the bus driver is smiling, the air inside the bus has a musky smell and the music is blaring. The ceiling of the bus is lit up in reds and blues and greens streaks all moving in tempo with the music. The two young men from Girdwood sitting in the bus don't seem to notice. Perhaps, these northern lights are a regular occurrence.
We head back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow we head south to the Kenai Peninsula, crossing Moose Pass through Kenai Mountains and Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area, named for the inlet that itself was named by Captain Cook.
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Travel, history, and business with original photos.
Clinton Richardson - author, photographer, business advisor, traveler.
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