Matanuska-Susitna Borough, AK (July 2010)
Main Street, Talkeetna
We left Anchorage, heading up the George Parks Highway with Talkeetna on our minds. We cut up the Talkeetna Spur and arrived soon enough at the rural outpost situated along the confluence of three glacially-fed braided rivers, the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna. It's an unusual place for a number of reasons. Most unusual is that several hundred year-round residents live here in the middle of nowhere with stunning natural beauty around them and little else. Nothing of comparable size can be found for many miles until one gets much closer to Anchorage or Fairbanks. It had the feeling of a boomtown on this July day at the height of the summer tourist season: mountain climbers prepared to depart for the Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp on their way to the highest point of elevation in North America; fishermen focused on the salmon runs; geriatrics streamed from busses into the small downtown on the land portion of their Alaska cruise vacations.
A Rainy Day
Talkeetna had the fortunate accident of being the nearest sizable town to Denali (Mt. McKinley) National Park & Preserve. This keeps the town afloat in modern times but it's not the intended reason for its existence. Its original purpose can be traced back to the Alaska Railroad nearly a century ago. This was an excellent central location between Seaward and Fairbanks, and it became the coordination site for the line's construction. A town formed around it with access to the outside world via the new railroad. Many of the early 20th Century structures continue to exist today. The Talkeetna Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and forms a compact yet charming downtown of curio and artisan shops, restaurants and trek outfitters. People who live here year round have to be suited to the odd mix of busy summers and isolated winters. It is said that Talkeetna served as the inspiration for the fictional Cicely, Alaska in the old Northern Exposure television series, although filming took place elsewhere.
Denali is the big draw and views of the Alaska Range and Denali specifically are said to be amazing. What one often doesn't hear from the tourist brochures however is that Denali maybe peeks out from the clouds only one day out of three. Apparently we were there the other two days because we saw only rain, as is apparent from the photographs on this page. We knew it was going to be a bit of a crap shoot when we planned our Talkeetna side-trip. While it would have been nice to see Denali we knew the possibilities so we didn't feel disappointed.
A Jetboat Ride Along the Susitna River
What to do with two young children during a steady rain in a town built on outdoor activities? We'd pretty much covered shopping opportunities in tiny Talkeetna the first day. We faced the daunting possibility of being stuck indoors with fidgety kids with nothing to do. Fortunately we saw an ad for a jetboat ride along the river. It looked like fun and more importantly it looked like the boat had a roof that would keep us dry. We selected a two hour excursion. I suppose the rides aren't as popular when the weather is uncooperative because they used one of the smaller boats, and we were among a group of maybe ten passengers. The excursion included a wild ride along the river with ample wildlife viewing opportunities and a stop at a recreated Dena'ina Indian camp. The kids loved it so it pretty much saved the day. We stopped for lunch in town and returned to Anchorage in the afternoon.