I have been trying to process all of our time in Alaska and finally have stopped the long roll here in Washington state to share our adventure with you. I will attempt to create a three part series for the blog.
We entered Alaska on a cold wet Saturday on May 18th after hauling through Canada. As excited as we were to arrive in the 'last frontier' we were not excited enough to get out and stand in front of the sign. Unlike many travelers we had decided not to wait for peak season to head for Alaska. Our goals were to get there before the crowds arrived and see what we could see. Although spring had not arrived in the higher places it was well on its way as we motored toward Fairbanks and some of the other ideas.
There were many opportunities in Fairbanks to learn about Alaska, its first people, and its history. One of our favorite places to stop was the Antique Auto Museum. We spent a full day wandering around looking at old cars, displays of period appropriate clothing, and videos or stories about travel in the earlier years of the state. The people as the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum were also wonderful. If you ever get the chance to visit go on a Tuesday in the summer when they actually take the cars out and drive them.
After three days in Fairbanks at the Pioneer Park lot that was still free and is only $12.00 per night after Memorial Day, we hit the road again headed for Denali National Park. We knew we were a little early for Denali but decided to book three nights at the Teklenika Campground. This is a no hook ups area that is an hours drive into the park. You can not take and RV and a car (toad) and you have to book a minimum of three days, but you are already an hour further into the park for when you catch the bus for your trip into the heart of Denali. One draw back to trying to miss the height of the season is that sometimes you are limited in what you can do. Buses do not do the full drive in the park until after June 1st so we had to walk for a lot of what we wanted to see. It was so worth it though with shots of the tallest mountain in the USA.
The critter count was high in Denali but if you want an even better view of the mountain itself the road to Talkeetna has a pull off where you can get a spectacular shot of the mountain. Denali is actually a very elusive peak that creates its own weather meaning that it is generally shrouded in clouds for most of the summer. Talkeetna is the town where climbers prepare to ascend the mountain and a stop at the rangers station is a must. If you make the run to Talkeetna, and it is worth the stop be prepared for some very steep prices on goods and services. This little town is an adventure town and the people who launch various activities from it seem to be willing to pay the price. We had an amazing raspberry cinnamon roll that only cost $6.50. Although the town was very cute and we enjoyed a walk around it our budget wasn't designed for places like that so we explored and moved on.
Leaving Denali we had been looking for a good boondocking site for the long Memorial Day weekend but two of the places we had checked out were closed off. In the Mile Post, a book that tells you what is at every milepost in Alaska we had seen a notice for a river where you could camp. The description indicated that there were some bad potholes on the way in, and that you had to cross a dry creek bed which could be a big challenge for longer rigs. As we zipped across the bridge over the Susitna river I looked down and saw a ton of RV's hanging out on the rocky embankment of the river. We quickly pulled over at the next parking area, unhooked the Jeep and did the drive to the river. It was perfect. We spent four lovely days right there soaking up the sun, enjoying the rain, and with just a bit of unsolicited music from our neighbors.
One of the biggest draws for us to the State of Alaska was that it is 'the last frontier'. There are wild spaces. This was our first taste of this in the sense of free camping sites.
Not only did we enjoy our stay along the river, it was from here that we visited Talkeetna and a birch syrup manufacturing shop, I also took the time to catch up on work and finish a book that had been sitting on my 'to-do' pile.
The Susitna was our first real taste of wild camping in Alaska and though we didn't see critters other than fellow campers and two dead moose that had been swept into the river at some point in the winter, we did get some down time in a quiet, relaxing, and beautiful place.
This type of camping was largely what we were looking for in Alaska and although we did find some wonderful places like it to stay on our journey, we were soon to discover that it was not as plentiful or as available as we had believed.