Talkeetna in the Winter

7My photography MeetUp group recently got together to explore Talkeetna, AK.  Although I’d been past the turn off for this little town many times on our trips to Denali, I hadn’t yet stopped in to check it out so this was the perfect opportunity to do just that.  We met up at the Roadhouse for breakfast and socializing first.  It was in the negative temps outside so the warm interior with yummy handmade specialties was a great way to start the visit.  There was a small bakery selection in the display cases and a variety of specialty syrups and sauces above.

abfThe staff pulled out several of the trays so I could get a better look at the massive options from specialty cinnamon rolls, to meat pies and unique Alaskan items such as “Rudy in a Parka” – which was an oversized version of a pig in a blanket but with reindeer sausage.  That’s what I chose to try and was very satisfied with it.

cdeAs we sat and ate one of the group members who comes to Talkeetna a lot told us about the history of the area and how the Roadhouse becomes a gateway for visitors from around the globe who have come to summit Denali.  During the summer months she said it’s not uncommon to have a variety of nationalities in this small room swapping tales, creating music and interacting.  Around the room there are flags for teams who have successfully summited the mountain and photos of some as well.

1234In one corner monies from around the world have been posted, sandwiched between terrain maps, team flags and more photos of successful climbers.
5And on the far wall was this interesting cuckoo clock.  I wasn’t able to get the history on the piece but imagine it arrived as a gift from a foreign visitor many years ago.
6With a full belly for warmth I bundled up and headed out in to the frigid temps to capture a few more of Talkeetna’s quirks.  I loved the textures of the old building and signs next to the smooth icicles hanging from the roof line.

89Across the street was a pizza place with eclectic artwork.  I can easily envision this place in the summer with dread headed servers taking patrons orders on the patio. A few more steps down the street was the beer garden of Denali Brewing which I’m sure is also another hot spot during the summer tourist season.

1011In the center of town – which was literally right next door to the brewing building on the main street – was the Fairview Inn.  It seems to be the major hotel in town.  I didn’t venture inside but the rules sign out front did make me smile because it’s definitely not something you’d see many other places.

1213Across from the Fairview Inn was Nagley’s Store, which looked like it had been pulled right out of a scene from Northern Exposure.  This is the towns general store for all your basic goods.  While the sign on the front of the building seemed relatively new, the two on the side of the building quickly reminded you that this place has been around for a long, long time.

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Next door to the general store was this little stand.  I’m assuming it’s a vendor booth during the tourist season but during the winter it’s a collection of local wildlife bones and antlers.14There were several signs around town describing early pioneer life and how Talkeetna was settled as a trading post.

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There were also some interesting art displays including this one that was above a house with several salmon inspired designs.  I got the sense that there’s a strong artist community here, which makes sense because the surrounding scenery is quite inspiring.  21

There were also a handful of historic cabins and homes that were preserved with signage describing how they were significant to the history of the town.1920Due to the extreme cold I didn’t stick around to read all the signs or investigate any of the sights in depth.  Instead I wandered the side street just off the main road taking in the sights and identifying spots I’d like to come back to check out in the warmer months.  But the snow and ice did have a special beauty to it as it clung to the buildings.

1718At the end of the main road I spotted this establishment, which I assumed was another brewery type vendor.  I just loved the Alaskan signage and door handle.  Next door was another historic cabin in need of a bit of restoration.

2224I stopped back into the Roadhouse to warm up since I could no longer feel my fingers and learned that the group planned to head over to the park at the end of the main road to see where the rivers met and the landscape opened up to views of the mountains.  This was obviously the main snow machine trail in town and access to nearby hunting areas.

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As we reached the riverbed I heard the train whistle nearby so I hurried down the trail and caught the train just as it made it’s way across one of the trestle bridges.25As I returned to the group who had set up to photograph the mountains I saw that one of the members had ventured out into the snow drifts where her shoe had gotten stuck and frozen in place!  Like most photographers, her primary concern was handing over her camera for safekeeping, then the group leader helped dig her out.
2627Once she was safely in the vehicle warming back up I got a few shots of the mountains, including Denali, which graced us with a fairly clear vantage.  The clear day made the panoramic view amazing.

2829panoI had to get back to town for an appointment that afternoon so I bid farewell to the group and headed back toward the highway.  Along the way I remembered to stop at a viewpoint I’d spotted on my way into town which gave another great view of the range and The Great One.

3132I’m pretty sure the Hubs and I will be back this spring or summer to explore a bit more when everything is open and I’d like to try the zipline through the trees at the edge of town.  I’ll be sure to share that adventure here when I do! 🙂Save

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Denali Road Lottery

9So apparently tomorrow turned into a week – but that’s how life happens around here.  Soon the projects that are pulling my attention in 200 directions will be complete and I can refocus on celebrating the holidays.

Ironically, I was feeling about the same way when we took our quick trip to Denali several weeks back.  Too much going on and not enough hours to get it done, but in desperate need of a break to recharge.  Fortunately winning the Denali Road Lottery gave us just that opportunity.  If you haven’t heard about the lottery here’s a quick recap – the general public pay to enter the lottery for a chance to purchase a day-long permit on one of four selected dates.  You can get the full details on the program here.  Both the Hubs and I entered this year and I won for a date in late September.  In that area of Alaska, September could still be fall but often, it’s the beginning of winter weather so we knew we could experience either.

The scenery was definitely fallish on the way to Denali from the Mat-Su valley.  The views reminded me of Colorado, but on a much grander scale.

12We went up the day before our permit so we could make the most of the trip.  We stayed at the McKinley Chalet just outside of Denali.  As we entered the lobby to check in I spotted this statue of Balto the famous sled dog from the Iditarod.

baltoOnce we were checked in and had dropped our stuff off at the room, we made our way over to the welcome center at the park to purchase our permit pass for the next day.  While standing in line I heard someone call my name and turned around to see a lady who had retired from the company I work for in line behind me.  We’ve run into each other on adventures like this a few times since she’s retired, so we had a good chuckle over it.

I had been to the welcome center once before but hadn’t had time to wander and explore, so I enjoyed checking out the many displays they had, including this large exhibit that had lots of information about the wildlife and local ecosystem.

wildlifecenterOf course we had to take a selfie with the giant moose, since you can’t do that in real life!  Other interesting animals were the adult and baby mountain goats, marmot and pika, which I’d never heard of before.

wildlifeselfiegoatgoatkidmarmotpikaThis display of the different types of volcanic rock in the park reminded me of similar exhibits we saw in Hawaii.

rocksIt was nice to see the local plants on display since most of them were now gone for the season outside.

flora2floraOther displays explained how researchers track the movements of predatory birds in the region and monitor the fault lines that formed the landscapes surrounding the park.

birdradiosfaultlineWe headed back to the hotel to get dinner and enjoyed the view from the dining room as we leisurely ate and chatted about the sights.3After our bellies were full we wandered out to the lookout on hotel property where a vintage tour vehicle was on display.  It was nice to see the time and effort the preservation groups had put into rescuing a piece of the park’s history so future generations could appreciate it.

86457Next, we hit the tourist shops where we tried out several crazy items like this mountain man hat that hid half the Hubs face when he tried to photo bomb me!

hatphotobombThere were also plenty of Alaskan puns on everything from T-Shirts to wall decor.  Here were a few of our favorites.

shirtakambearshirtakbearlyawakeshirtakchocmooseshirtakdeereshirtakhighlifeshirtakmealsshirtakmoosewmeshirtakpolarbearshirtakredbearshirtakredmooseAfter we had our fill of shopping we went back to the hotel where we decided to spend the rest of the evening at the new Denali square.  We browsed the artist gallery and the small shops around the amphitheater before snagging a spot at one of the many fire pit tables with a view of the mountains.

commonsWe sat enjoying the crisp air and the view as sunset faded.  Eventually we ordered a few drinks and some very yummy beignts with caramel sauce as dessert to our earlier dinner.  In fact they were so good, we had to order a second round!

firesideviewfiresidedessertWe stayed well after dark to chat with a group of tourists from the east coast of the US who joined our table.  We had lots of laughs as we shared the difference between real life in Alaska and what they see on TV.

The next morning we met up with friends we’d invited to join us on the road lottery and had breakfast together at the hotel before heading into the park.  Not far past the welcome center we spotted this big guy in the brush.

10As did several other park visitors.  He was apparently quite used to this chaos and wandered across the road right between the groups of cars before heading on out into the next field.

1211A little further up the road we spotted a flock of ptarmigan who were already switching to their winter camouflage, which made them stand out against the colorful vegetation.

13Soon the snow that had been forecasted made it’s appearance with a dusting over the low brush.  While not the look we were hoping to see, it was pretty in it’s own right.

14Now that there was snow on the ground we spotted these tracks on a hillside and all pondered what animal might have made them.

15We soon discovered the answer and watched as this ptarmigan darted up the hillside.

16It paused at the ridge to look back and before we knew it one had become many!

171819The weather made wildlife sighting quite difficult so we continued on to the Eielson Visitor center where there were several antler displays around the building.  The first was a caribou set that would have overlooked the view of Denali if it had been a clear day.  The most impressive was the two bull moose antlers that were locked together after their rutting battle led to them getting tangled.  Unable to pull free of each other, the encounter eventually led to both o their deaths.

202122The weather was cold and wet so we turned around to head back toward the park entrance.  Along the way we spotted a group of moose we’d seen on the way in and decided to sit for a bit to see if they’d come any closer.  All we could see of the bull was the very tips of his paddles above the brush, just visible through the misty snow.

23The cow on the other side of the same knoll was easier to spot.  She was very aware of the bull’s proximity and was keeping a close eye on her two yearling calves nearby.

24Eventually the bull decided to come out of hiding and show off his enormous rack.  The distance made his size a bit deceiving, but as the men in our vehicle noted very vocally you could sit a full grown man in his paddles and still have room to stretch!

2526We left the moose to woo his cow and headed down the road were we spotted a bear crossing the road in front of several cars on the hillside above us.  By the time we got to the same spot he was more interested in foraging in the brush, so all we could see was the top of his back.

27We came back through the lottery check point and were amazed at the difference in climate from one area to the other as we looked back across the landscape at this pull off.

28There were several more wildlife sightings before we left the park including this strutting male grouse who caused another slowdown in traffic and a small herd of caribou, including a few who had radio transmitters like the ones described in the exhibit at the welcome center.

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30A bit further, we encountered a massive traffic jam which meant there had to be something big nearby that was causing everyone to stop on the road.  I hopped out to investigate while the Hubs navigated the congestion.  A few steps from the truck I spotted antlers in the brush.  At first I thought they were a shed from a bull last season, but then I saw them move and realized they were still very much attached.

31I rounded the bend to see this cow standing nearby and a few more steps brought the bull into full view.

3233He was absolutely stunning there in the colorful grasses.  He didn’t seem to interested in his crowd of admirers and neither did his female companion.  So when the Hubs had finished making his way through the congestion I bid them farewell and hopped back into the truck.

34We headed back to the hotel so our friends could pick up their vehicle and head home for a final exam the next day.  While we were in the parking lot with them we noticed just how dirty the truck had gotten on the back-country roads.

dirtytruckThe mud was so caked on that you couldn’t even read the magnet sign for my photography business on the tailgate!  I took the rare opportunity to leave a message for other highway travelers as we headed home, much to the Hub’s dismay.

dirtytruckmsgAlthough our friends had to head out, we decided to enjoy one more meal with the view.  Since the Hubs was driving, I ordered my new favorite liquid libation.  Made with an Alaskan wine, this drink is a very simple sangria mixture which is probably why I like it so much.  In fact we bought a bottle of the wine used so I can have them at home occasionally and will know what to buy when this one runs out!

drinkIt was the perfect ending to our little get away.  And thanks to the very nice ranger at the welcome center who pointed out that we could buy an annual pass for the same price we expected to pay for the per head pass this time we can come back to enjoy the park again through next September!  Although we won’t be able to access the entire road system, it would be nice to see the park in the other seasons and compare the differences.  There just might be a few more weekend getaways coming up next year to this destination! 😉

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A Mini-Date at Alyeska

I had a photo session scheduled over the weekend out at Alyeska Resort, which is a well-known Alaskan ski destination and when I found out that the hotel was offering free tram rides up the mountain that day I asked the hubs if he wanted to make a day trip out of the booking. Game to spend his day off with me, he agreed to come along.

Although we’ve lived in the area for almost 2 years, I hadn’t been up to the hotel until recently when I was asked to shoot an elopement there this fall, but I didn’t get a chance to explore the area so I was excited to have an opportunity to check it out.   The hubs had last visited the hotel about 10 years ago, but that was before the tram was installed so there was plenty of new things for him to see too.

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It was foggy down by the hotel, but we heard that there was fresh powder up on the mountain which is why the hallways of the hotel were crowded with skiers and snowboarders waiting to head up the mountain when we first arrived. Luckily, most of them were already up top by the time we finished my session and headed up ourselves.

Just like when we rode the tram in Juneau we climbed into the fog bank hoping for the best.  The view on the way up made me feel all Christmasy inside!

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The fog started to clear as we approached the tram terminal at the top.

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This was the view as we stepped off the tram! Sorry for the glass reflections, but it was the only spot to get the shot.

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The view got even better as we headed out of the tram area and passed a small café which was PACKED with folks trying to catch a quick meal before getting in some more time on the mountain before the limited daylight hours passed. We hung out in a ski lift chair at the end of the walkway that was set up as a swing for a while just enjoying the experience.

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We visited the little gift shop/museum called the Round House which is the octagonal building seen in the photos above. They were having an end of year inventory sale and I found a pretty scarf that was super soft on sale for just $16! The view from the walkway of the Round House was absolutely stunning and just required a panoramic shot to capture the whole scene.

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I spotted another photographer on the walkway around the shop and asked if he would take a photo of the hubs and I with the beautiful background, which resulted in this shot. Notice that new scarf!? 😉

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Next we headed over to the Seven Glaciers restaurant where we sat in a corner with windows on both sides so we could see the tram as well as the people coming down the slopes.  Check out the amazing view!  Even the hubs had to do a panoramic picture!

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But I mostly enjoyed checking out this view… 10
As we waited for our food we spotted the same photographer who had taken our picture working with a bride and groom out on the edge of the slopes! Seeing him work, I felt bad that I’d set the camera to auto before handing it to him to take our photo! Oh well.  While we were eating I spotted these cool bells hanging from the ceiling. I’m not sure what they were from but they were obviously made by a crafted by a skilled artisan or two as the bells themselves had etchings and the collars they were attached to were quite intricate.

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We enjoyed our lunch, watching the tram come and go as the light started to fade and the number of people out on the slopes dwindled.

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We decided it was time to head back down the mountain and start the journey home. Although the tram deck looked empty when we first arrived from the restaurant, it soon filled with folks carrying their snow gear and ready to head back to the hotel for the evening, which made our tram back down much fuller than our tram up had been.

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As we descended, we entered the fog once again and slowly the hotel appeared as we approached. It was definitely an entirely different weather experience on the ground than it was at the mountain top.

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We headed back through the hotel pausing to warm up by the large fireplace where a moose mount sported some festive cheer.

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And as we left the hotel we spotted this polar bear who unlike the moose, didn’t look too excited about being dressed up for the holidays.  Maybe his scarf was a little too tight.

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We don’t have a lot of down time with our busy schedules, so I’m grateful we were able to fit some in around other activities. It was a perfect winter mini-date to get us excited for Christmas.

Fun in the Sun

Three-day weekend are always a treat.  I didn’t get quite as much done as I’d hoped, but I did make time to have some outdoor fun with our doggies.  Although it’s still pretty chilly, the sun was out for most of the weekend and we sure took advantage of it with a little round of ‘ball’ in the backyard.

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These giant balls were a gift from their Auntie Mere & Uncle Mark almost three years ago and they are still going strong, albeit with new rope.  Once the ground thaws and we landscape the yard I plan to put posts in and tie these up so they can play tether ball.  We had tied it to a tree branch but Tequila kept playing so hard she’d break the branch!  So for now, it’s perfect for tug o’ war.

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Stoli sure tried his best to win this match.  He tugged, and he pulled and he bounced…

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But in the end Tequila just had more muscle than him.  And when she trotted off with the ball after he gave up, this was the pouting face I saw.

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And then three seconds later he was back to playing! LOL.  He’s a happy pup, so he never stays sad for long. 🙂