Learn from our mistakes. Here’s what NOT to do when backpacking in Denali National Park. We couchsurfed and camped our way from Juneau to Denali National Park and saw some of the most beautiful sceneries we’d ever seen.
The surrounding areas around Anchorage were so beautiful it felt like a crime to stay in the city. So we never did.
It was our last day in Alaska. I wanted to do was get in the rental car and do a road trip from Anchorage.
The options for a day trip from Anchorage was either to go north or south. The way north promises Talkeetna, “a historic, frontier town “. The way south would lead to Seward and the Harding Ice Field. We were afraid the weather would prevent us to see anything in Seward.
So we decided to go north
It rained the whole 3 hour drive there.
It was still raining when we arrived. We stopped at the Tourist Information Kiosk and ask her to point in the general direction of Denali – where we should’ve been able to see it during clear days.
She laughed and apologized for the weather. She seemed genuine about it as if the weather was usually under her control, but just not today.
Most people come to Talkeetna to get on one of the flight tours that give you a bird’s eye view of Denali – United State’s tallest mountain. In such a weather, that option was out.
We ducked into Roadhouse Cafe to avoid the rain. It was a family style restaurant and we shared a table with an Alaskan couple. They came from a town an hour away. Just like many other people I’ve met in Alaska, they were transplants from other parts of the country. I told them about my desire to move to Alaska someday.
“The best decision we’ve ever made” – the couple said about their move to Alaska.
Afterwards, because it was still raining, we stopped by at a coffeeshop. Again, we were roped into a friendly conversation with a group of Alaskans from Anchorage. Somehow we ended up talking about where we all came from. One women proudly claimed that she was one of the few who can claim that she was in Alaska when it was still a territory.
I’m falling in love with Alaska
It wasn’t the first time the idea of living in Alaska crossed my mind.
I’ve been to Alaska only twice but each time we feel a sense of connection with the land and the people. The people we’ve met have been really friendly. But more than that, Alaskans just love the fact they’re living in Alaska. When I brought up the 6 month of winter, our van driver scoffed “Winter is the best part!”
People love San Francisco, ‘but the rent price is astronomical!’ they quickly say. There’s no ‘but’ in Alaskans’ declaration of love.
Alaska is also full of quirks. Talkeetna is a prime example of that. Mayor Stubbs has been the mayor of Talkeetna for 15 years, leading the town’s 800 citizens with a gentle paw.
Paw? Yes, Mayor Stubbs, Talkeetna’s mayor, is a cat.
Now if only Alaska had a tech startup industry, I might have an easier time to convince Jack.
Matanuska Glacier is one of those glaciers in Alaska that you can easily drive to. You can see it from the highway. It’s also one of the few glaciers where you could, if you want, walk right across it, slip, and crack your head. And people do.
Say you want about her, without Sarah Palin, Wasilla would only have been one of the many small towns we pass by that we never paid much attention to. I’d say that putting Wasilla on the radar of travelers like us might have been her biggest accomplishment.
It started as a joke
“Hey, we’ll be passing Wasilla. We should look for Sarah Palin’s house.”
“Hahaha, right. You.. funny… you.”
(15 seconds of thoughtful silence)
“Hey guys, it’s actually right by the road. I have the address right here,” Aaron chimed in from the back seat.
Then of course curiosity got the better of us.
It was amazingly easy (so easy it was scary) to find out exactly where she lives. Some other blogger has put up not only a satellite map, but pictures of her house so we knew exactly when we found it.
So we got off the highway right after Wasilla’s Best Western, following a nondescript dirt driveway parallel the road following the directions Aaron was reading off his phone.
What were we hoping to do there?
Jack was hoping to get a picture with her. We scoffed, “Yeah, that’s likely going to happen” (not). I’m not sure if he thought we’d spot her grocery shopping or cleaning her guns outside her house or what.
Aaron whined about Secret Service and this being Alaska everytime we got within 20 ft of a “No Trespassing” sign, so he was clearly just hoping not to get shot.
The voyeour in me was just hoping we could actually get close enough to see the house.
The driveway to the house was extra long. The house was partially hidden by trees and there were “No Trespassing” signs all over (which we respected).
So that was a little disappointing. We didn’t get shot at. And Jack didn’t get his picture.
We did get to check out Lucille Lake, the lake on Palin’s backyard.
And we have the bragging rights that we saw Sarah Palin’s house. Or to be exact, the right corner of her roof. But still.
I’ve decided that it sucks being an Alaskan salmon. It’s all because they taste too darn good!
(Seriously, I don’t know why people bother with their farmed counterpart, with meat so pale dye needs to be added to it.)
Being tasty is good, but then everyone wants to eat you. Everyone.
Being an Alaskan salmon means fending off the bears – both black bears and grizzlies. During an Alaskan salmon run, bears can be so spoiled for choice they’d only eat the best part of a salmon: the skin and the eggs, leaving the rest for other animals to feast on.
Then there’s the Alaskan people itself. What Alaskans like more than eating salmon (have you ever heard of salmon bakes?) is fishing for them. Even late in the season we saw people fishing for salmon in rivers.
But the main reason I thought that salmon lead a tough life is that they literally have to suffer and die to breed.
Salmon (like many other animals) return to where they were born to breed.
When they reach breeding age, a salmon would ‘smell’ its way back up its natal body of water. Some species can travel up to 900 miles, drawn by an inexplicable pull to return to where its life started however many years ago.
They swim upstream regardless of obstacles on the way: jumping over waterfalls and dams. They stop eating. Their bodies quickly deteriorate, losing their silver lustre.
When (if, assuming they survive the bears and the eager fishermen) they finally reach their destination, they would spawn and die, their bodies completely depleted of energy. Their decomposing bodies sink to the bottom and become nutrients to feed their hatchlings.
I was fortunate to see a small group of Alaskan salmons making this very death pilgrimage during my last visit to Alaska.
We stopped at a small parking lot with a view of a glacier. There was a platform over a nearby river when one can watch these fish during salmon run season.
In late August, only the Sockeye salmon remains. Some of them have adopted a bright, red color. It makes them easy to spot in the shallow stream.
A little further upstream there was a small rise in the river bed that the fish would have to jump over. A small group of people had gathered watching one fish after another makes a go for it, only to be swept away by the current.
Then another fish decides to try his luck. With a couple of strokes of his tail, he flopped and climbed its way up!
We all cheered when the fish made it through. Phew! I didn’t even realise I was holding my breath. It felt like watching the Olympics all over again.
I wish these salmon luck. I wish they’d spawn many, many more delicious salmon. There’s something poetic about this life cycle. I’m both fascinated and horrified.
And just a little awed.
In Alaska, it is easy to feel that you’re a part of nature.
*Thanks to Hilton Garden Inn in Anchorage for having us over as guests
At $300 per person for the 3 day journey, getting to Alaska by the state ferry is not the cheapest, nor the fastest way to get from the mainland US to the 50th state.
For a drive-through glacier, you know – the type of glacier where you can simply drive to, park, and gawk at, Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau was still impressive.
So when our Couchsurfing host told us about Mendenhall glacier hike – we jumped at the chance.