Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Moving to McKinley

Having never been on a cruise before or any sort of organized "tour", I was a little apprehensive about how all of the logistics would work:   How to meet up with the group, how luggage gets to its spot, etc. Of course,  I shouldn't have worried, but until you actually do something . . .
Our first morning, we had our luggage ready at 6:00 a.m. and they whisked it away soon afterwards.  As we boarded the buses, this was the scene on the sidewalk.  Since we were all going to the same place, I wasn't too worried, right?!
Our guide on the bus was wonderful.  He lives in a dry cabin in northern Alaska and works the tourist season as a guide.  He was a wealth of information about the area and about how the majority of Alaskans get by with just the necessities.   We were finally getting a chance to glimpse some of the beauty that was waiting for us.
We stopped for a break at one of his favorite places along the route.  I loved the fountain.
Once we arrived at the McKinley Lodge, we were greeted by "Doug, the Duct Tape moose".
It was a surprise to find that once again, we had been placed in a wonderful suite in the main lodge overlooking the observation deck.
On a clear day, we would be able to see Mt. McKinley from our room.  However, that day was drizzly and cold and Mt. McKinley was nowhere in sight.
In fact, we never saw her the entire time we were in Alaska.
That's our room up there on right.
After dinner, we took a shuttle to the town of Talkeetna.  Talkeetna is a quirky little town that the TV series "Northern Exposure" was based upon.   Just to let you know how quirky, the mayor of Talkeetna is a cat, Stubbs.
We had fun sight-seeing, souvenir shopping and posing for silly pictures before heading back to the McKinley Lodge.
The next morning, we got up early and returned to Talkeetna for a rafting trip down the Susitna River. It was quite chilly, so we were bundled up in rain gear, fleece and boots for the trip.

Getting INTO the raft was the most challenging part of this trip.  We made friends with the other couple, Bev and Rick, who were from Ohio and we shared lots of laughs along the way.
I mean, there was no bending at all with the layers and life jackets and boots.
The trip was wonderfully relaxing, however, and our guide, Jake, was great.
He was a native of Talkeetna and was not only entertaining but was very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna for the region.
Fiddlehead fern are very prolific in the area and also are quite a delicacy, as it turns out.  I'd hoped to taste some while in Talkeetna, but our time ran short since we stayed on the river an extra-long time.  (We were told that they taste very similar to asparagus)
The beavers are very busy on the Chulitna River.  Evidence of them was all around us.
Jake took us to a 35 year old beaver dam as well.  Only this year, has the water finally been finding its way around the sides of the dam (the dam is still water-tight), so, he observed that the river path will soon be changing again.
He'd even arranged a special treat for us as we pulled into a cove.  A singer-songwriter, Steve Durr, who camps on the riverbanks in the summer, was waiting for us just around a bend.
He played the banjo and sang original folk songs about his life in Alaska---somehow it all seemed a bit surreal in the silence of the river, surrounded by all of the lush, spring greenery.
Moving along, we caught sight of trumpeter swans, 
 an eagle in its nest
and loons near our take-out point.
This excursion was a wonderful beginning to our trip and it was hard to imagine that they could get any better.    
Talkeetna really was a great reflection of the Alaskan spirit in many ways--simple, artsy, quirky, peaceful and at one with nature.
The best part of it all?  Spending time with this guy and having him help me through the rough patches with concern and laughter.

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