Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Talkeetna; Old Alaska at its Best

Talkeetna Alaska is a living museum of small town Alaska. On a spur road, 14 miles from the Parks Highway (which links Anchorage and Fairbanks via Denali Park,) it is worth the detour. This was our second visit to the town and both times it was sunny and Mt. McKinley was in view. We are told only about 30% of the visitors ever see the mountain due to weather. How lucky are we?
Any town with a cat for a mayor must be special and Talkeetna is special. Mayor Stubbs was duly elected by the locals and watches over town from any warm spot he choses.
The snow is nearly gone but the winter road sand remains. It’s difficult to discern the paved streets (the highway in and a few in town) from the rest. Main street looks like a Hollywood set though the old looking log buildings are truly old. There is Nagley’s store, in a log building that has been moved several times. The Fairview Inn is old and I’m confident could not survive a move. But it offers a “fair” view of Mt McKinley on the outside and an interesting view of the local bar patrons on the inside.
Mayor Stubbs the Cat

Mayor's home and leading emporium

Fans of the TV series “Northern Exposure” would feel at home here as Talkeetna was the inspiration for the series that involved a New York doctor sent to a small Alaska town, a inn run by a couple of widely different ages, a locally owned radio station and a lady pilot. While the series was filmed in Roslyn Washington the characters came from the annals of Talkeetna life. For an interesting description of the town visit Australian Travel.

The Fairview Inn on the Outside

The Fairview Inn on the Inside

          The nearby airfield is busy, particularly in the summer, with “flightseeing” trips and staging climbers on Mt. McKinley for their climbs to the top. Most climbing parties begin their trek being airlifted to a mountain glacier, beginning their two week accent from there. Though it’s early May, according the park service office, there are already 110 climbers on the mountain. It’s a big place.
Anchorage is a nice urban place. But Talkeetna represents the Alaska we really enjoy.

The dilemma, to eat in or out: We are equipped and stocked to eat most of our meals at our campsite. But we have found that isolates us from the locals and their stories of life in Alaska or life in general. In Mendeltna and Kodiak our servers were most enjoyable companions. Monday, in Anchorage, we shared a table with an elder from a Bristol Bay tribe who was full of fishing and freighting stories we would not have heard elsewhere. So we will continue to mix eating in with eating local when a place of interest presents itself.

In Talkeetna, based on the recommendation of locals, we chose “The Roadhouse” for breakfast. Its “Roadhouse Special,” a family style platter heaped with eggs, potatoes, meat and bread, comes with a five star rating. The cinnamon rolls and sourdough pancakes are also highly rated but I settled for the sourdoughs and they were exceptional. As for meeting people, we shared a “family style table” with two men who were in town for “bush flying” lessons. Both were experienced pilots but were in Talkeetna to learn how to land on river bars and glaciers. Most interesting!

On a sad note: A decade ago we arrived in town with friends and they and my wife opted for a flightseeing trip to Mt. McKinley. I opted for the bar at the Fairview Inn, but that’s another story. They selected an air service run by two women with the motto, "Two Babes and a Bird." Pilot Kelly gave them an incredible ride which included landing at the climbing base camp on a glacier. Sadly, on this trip, we learned that Kelly later lost her life in a flying accident near the mountain.

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