Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Alaska - Road to Denali

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After a fun breakfast in Anchorage we were on our way north. Our ultimate goal was to make it to our hotel for the next two nights, the Princess McKinley Lodge, and stop along the way to take in any sites. We were going to keep an eye on the weather to see if a flightseeing tour of Denali / Mount McKinley would be worth it. So far the overcast skies and slight drizzle led us to believe the answer would be no.

An hour or so into the drive we arrived in the city of Wasilla. All the suburban comforts were present: car dealers, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks. There were also many family owned restaurants, bars, and those tiny Fotomat-sized coffee stands (click here if you have no idea what a Fotomat was). We decided to turn off the main road and visit the Iditarod Trail HQ and Museum.

The museum itself was mostly a gift shop and a media room showing a video of the race. Outside the main building was a module of a checkpoint cabin and the kennels. Three small pups were asleep in a crate while a dozen or so adult dogs were leashed up in a common area. We were told to move off the path because the cart was coming through. We could hear the wheels rattling on the ground as a wooden wagon pulled by dogs came through with a couple of tourists in the cart. This was an add-on experience for $10 each we did not do.

We weren't all that excited about what the attraction had to offer until the man running things asked, "who wants to hold a puppy?" Dave texted Holly to get out of the gift shop ASAP as the three crated pups were passed around.

The day only got better from that moment. Back on the road we made our way towards the town of Talkeetna. Our plan was to have lunch at Denali Brewing's pub, check on flightseeing, and look for Mount McKinley views. As luck would have it the main Denali Brewing facility was on the way. We were drawn to it like it was a Route 66 roadside attraction and didn't care if it was 11am. Time for beer! The small taproom offered a few seats, many souvenir options, and at least 15 beers to try. We bought two flights that gave 5 of us a chance to sample 12 different beers. There was a nice mixture of dark, light, malty, hoppy, and sour available. Good thing we had limited luggage space or we would have brought home several tap handles (Dave restrained himself to only buying one). The bartender was from California (keeping tabs on born Alaskans vs transplants).

The skies were clearing up and the weather was looking good to make a flightseeing tour of Denali worth the money (not a cheap experience). After striking out at one place we called Talkeetna Air and secured 6 seats on a 4pm flight. We even got a group discount! With that booked we proceeded to town and lunch. Talkeetna is not large, maybe two dozen businesses in town. With the focus on tourism most businesses are restaurants, bars, shops, and ice cream parlors. After a nice lunch at Denali Brewing we took a walk along the river to try to get a glimpse of Denali/Mount McKinley. No luck at this moment. A few of us picked up some ice cream before heading off to the airstrip.

The flight will be covered in Team Tizzel's next post.  For now, we'll skip that and move onto our remaining time in the Talkeetna/Denali State Park area.

After our amazing flight tour we headed to our hotel, The Princess McKinley Lodge. It's owned by the Princess Cruise Line and caters to many people that booked the land package as part of their cruise. The hotel handles luggage and transportation for the folks booked through their packages.  We did not book through the cruise package so we were on our own for transportation and luggage handling.

The property was very nice! Guest rooms were scattered around the property in separate buildings while restaurants, the lobby, and the gift shop were housed in one central building. Rooms were comfortable and the grounds were themed with statues, ponds, and displays in all the buildings relating to mountain climbing and the region.  There was another bar/restaurant in a separate building that was adjacent to a lawn with several fire pits. Denali was visible from the hotel and we were treated to a nice sunset the first night. The other night it rained. We spent some of our free time doing laundry while enjoying the 20,320 Lounge. Our only complaint was the bad dinner in the "high-end" restaurant.  Food quality was awful, especially at those prices. Very disappointing since other quick-serve and casual meals were decent.  Was this a glimpse into our upcoming cruise?

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel's coffee counter (Proudly serving Starbucks) then moved onto today's activity. The State Park was home to Byers Lake. We were told we could do an easy 6 mile hike around the lake and have a nice view of Denali. Well the hike was easy from an elevation standpoint. The issue was a lot of the trail was overgrown and covered with Devil's Club. It's a nasty leafy plant with lots of prickers. Once we got to the far side of the lake we were treated to many great sightings of Denali. The bad news was we had to hike back to the car.

We survived the hike and enjoyed a low-key afternoon/evening of doing laundry and enjoying local beer.

The next morning we'd be off to our new lodging on the edge of Denali National Park.

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