Judy and I have left Alaska, driven through Canada and our back in the Lower 48 (I’m writing this from the Grand Teton NP in Wyoming). There will be just a few more Alaska posts to finish up with our Alaska trip and then we can move on to more normal type posting, not just constant travelogues. I’m still going to be doing quite a bit of travel so I will post on that as it occurs, but we will spend more time in one spot so it won’t be constant like it has been for the last 3 months.
Because I lived in Alaska all my life this wasn’t a typical tourist trip, I’ve seen nearly all of Alaska so I just limited myself to a few things I had missed out on. I had four top priorities: 1) visit with my son who still lives in Anchorage 2) do the Fly-in Bear Viewing and 3) go flight-seeing around Mt. McKinley (commonly and mistakenly called Denali). As you know, I was able to do the bear viewing trip and I was able to get together quite a few times with my son so that only left the flight-seeing trip around McKinley.
The problem was that the weather on the whole trip had not been very good, but around Denali National Park it had been terrible! It was so bad one of the Lodges in the Park had to be evacuated because of flooding. To make matters worse, Mt. McKinley creates its own weather so even on days when there isn’t a clouds in the skies over Alaska, Mt. McKinley can still be in clouds. I wanted to take the most expensive trip that flew all around Mt. McKinley and then over the top looking down, so I had to have a good clear day or it was just a waste. The weather forecast was for Denali NP was poor all along but for about a week it had been calling for clear skies on the 4th of July. So after my bear viewing trip in Homer we decided to go back to Anchorage and wait for a good day to fly around Mt. McKinley. That way we could be visiting with my son while we waited.
Both Judy and I hate city camping so we wanted to avoid staying in Anchorage. I knew of a good campsite in the little town of Palmer which is 50 miles north of Anchorage (and on the way to Mt McKinley) so we ended up staying there for about 5 nights, I’ll give you a review of that campsite today. Most flights to Mt. McKinley fly out of the little town of Talkeetna, Alaska and that’s where we needed to be. We spent three nights there waiting for good weather so I’ll also give you a review of that campsite.
Palmer is a very pleasant little town about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Oddly enough, it’s a farming town! I know you don’t associate Alaska with farming but with it’s very long days and plenty of rain it actually has a thriving farm community. Back in the 1930s the Federal government gave farmers some land and paid to get them up here to establish the industry. And it prospered! The State fair is held here in Palmer every September and I can remember coming here many times as a boy and then later with my kids and seeing the 76 pound cabbages, 20 pound carrots, 60 pound zucchini and other truly giant vegetables. With 19 hours of sun very day, things grow big! Palmer is a very pretty little town. It has a 4g internet, a Safeway and Fred Meyer grocery stores and there is a Walmart and Target just 10 miles away in the larger town of Wasilla, Alaska.
Our campsite was literally on the edge of the Matanuska River which is truly a wild and beautiful river and was surrounded by tall mountains. We got a decent internet signal. If you are in Alaska, it’s a great place to camp. To get there from Palmer turn south on the Old Glenn Highway and you’ll very soon cross the Matanuska River on a bridge. On the south side of the bridge you’ll see a parking area on the river and that’s the camp site. If it’s not to you’re liking, keep going a few miles on the Old Glenn till you come to the bridge over the Kink River. There is a large gravel bar on the eastern banks of the river that is also open to boondocking. There were probably 50 RVs down on it when we were there.
Talkeetna was founded at the turn of the century by gold miners who were searching for gold in Alaska. Later, when the Federal government created the Alaska Railroad that ran from Seward to Anchorage and then on to Fairbanks it became an important stop on it. When climbing Mt. McKinley became popular, it became the airport that all the climbers few from because it was the closest one to both the mountain and to Anchorage. They could fly into Anchorage, take a taxi to the Railroad depot then take the railroad to Talkeetna, jump on a bush plane and go directly to the mountain. All the climbers who try to summit Mt. McKinley pass through Talkeetna because it has a National Park Ranger Station that is the only one that can issue permits to do the climb. (An interesting fact about that is they issue the climbers a human waste container and they have to bring it back full of the good stuff at the end of the climb!). It’s one of the very few Ranger Stations that is open 7 days a week so they can accommodate the climbers.
Because of that Talkeetna is a wonderful little town full of gifts shops and restaurants, but at the same time you will see some of the top climbers from around the world and all their gear. So it’s both a tourist trap and a genuine Alaska experience. The airport there is THE gateway to Mt. McKinley and so it was where I needed to be to take my flight-seeing trip. The weather report made it seem like a possibility of clear skies so we drove up there and found a campsite 11 miles from town on the Montana River. We drove into town daily and waited to see how the weather went because it is so volatile that even on a bad day it can open up and be gorgeous for a few hours. Because I was flying alone, they could almost always fit me on a flight. More about the trip in my next post.
If you’re going to Alaska, Talkeetna is a must-see! So I’m going to give you a map to my campsite if you want one, it’s at the bottom of the post. We loved this campsite but the mosquitoes were really bad and we had no internet. We got WIFI at a hotel in town after we bought a drink at the bar.