This morning we could see just a glimpse of the bottom of Mt. Denali from the deck of the lodge. I was way more excited than I should have been, but it is most often completely obscured by clouds.
We were scheduled to leave the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge at 12:30 to catch the train in Talkeetna. We decided to leave early via the Talkeetna shuttle so that we would have time to explore the town. We ended up with our same bus drive from the day before, Sydney, so he again let Sara give the safety talk. He also let her exit with him at Talkeetna and greet the passengers as they got off the bus. She even made $5 in tips!
Talkeetna was originally a bush town that was only accessible by boat, plane, or train. It was not until the 1960s that it could be reached by road. Just like the lodge, it is located on the Chalitna River. The name “Chalitna” means “river of sticks” and got it’s name because of all the logs in the river from erosion and beavers.
Gold was discovered in the area in 1905, and by the 1920s the population of Talkeetna was around 1,000. By the 1950s, it was only around 100, so the United States enacted a Federal homestead program that offered free land for people willing to live there for at least five years.
Talkeetna is the city where anyone trying to climb Mt. Denali starts. From the small airstrip in the town they take a plan to the first basecamp around 7,200 ft. Many of the buildings in town were decorated on the inside with flags from teams that had summited Denali.
Once we made it to town, we first spent some time in the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum. The main building of this museum is an old schoolhouse that was built in 1936 and covered to a museum in 1972. This building was dedicated to the history of the town.
There were two other buildings, one dedicated to the construction of the Alaska Railroad, and another about climbing Mt. Denali. This last one had a large topographical model of Mt. Denali that was fantastic. The first person to summit Mt. Denali was Hudson Stuck on June 7, 1913.
After the museum we went to the Talkeetna Ranger Station that had lots of artifacts and information about climbing Mt. Denali. I especially liked a display that showed all of the different kinds of boots that have been used over the years in climbing Mt. Denali.
From there we had lunch at the Roadhouse, which was originally opened in 1917. After lunch everybody but Papa tried some Fireweed Ice Cream that is made from the fireweed wildflower that can be found all over the interior of Alaska. It was quite tasty.
We boarded the shuttle to the train station around 1:15pm, and then waited for the train at the Talkeetna Depot. The train arrived at 1:55pm and we boarded on our way to Anchorage. The train car was beautiful with glass all the way across the top on the second floor.
Because we were in the caboose, we got to spend a lot of time on the back platform, and the scenery was absolutely stunning. There was one lake that appeared almost white due to the high temperatures causing glacier melting. I would guess that we spent about two hours of our three hour ride on that platform.
On the train our guide was named Martha, and she had been a dental hygienist for 33 years before beginning work on the train. She told us that Anchorage was the largest city in Alaska with a population around 300,000. This accounts for 40% of the population of the entire state.
Anchorage started as railroad construction camp for the building of the Alaska Railroad. Congress approved funding for the railroad in 1914. Today the city has no sales tax, and there is also no state income tax, however there is an approximate 18% cost of living premium due to shipping costs for everything being delivered to the city.
The average temps are in the 60s for the summer and in the 20s for the winter. It was 74º when we arrived, and our bus driver said this was only the 4th or 5th day it has been above 70 this summer.
We checked into The Hotel Captain Cook, and then went to the Glacier Brewhouse down the road for a yummy dinner. After dinner we walked down to the Anchorage Coastal Trail for a walk, and even climbed out on the mud flats by the ocean.
Tomorrow we head down to Whittier to board the Coral Princess cruise ship.