Alaska is a destination for people looking to experience spectacular scenery, vast open spaces, and abundant wildlife. Top attractions include fishing for halibut, witnessing a salmon run, and exploring Denali National Park.
There are plenty more opportunities than those to get a good taste of Alaska’s uniqueness. In addition to the amazing things we did in Fairbanks, we took advantage of some of those while spending time with family in the lower interior, near Wasilla.
Alaska is home to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, one of the most famous dog mushing contests in the country. The nearly 1,000-mile race takes mushing teams from Anchorage to Nome, following a freight route and paying homage to the important role of sled dogs in Alaska history.
Encouraged by our friend and Iditarod finisher Richard Burmeister and his wife Janet, we headed to the Iditarod Headquarters, which is not easy to happen upon if you’re not looking. While there, we watched a captivating video about the history of the competition, life on the trail, and care of the sled dogs.
Then we paid $10 each to experience what it’s like to be led by a team of dogs. Iditarod veteran Riley Dyche answered all of our questions about his 32 dogs and the race while a team of 10 of the pack animals rested.
As we climbed aboard a cart attached to the dogs, they stood at attention, eager to take us on a run. Dyche gave the command for the dogs to go, and off we went on a short course around the grounds, holding on tight as we picked up speed and the wind flew in our faces. It was just enough to give us a good feel of sled dog racing, at a very reasonable price.
Glaciers form when accumulated snow turns to ice and starts to flow downward under the pressure of its weight, collecting and moving rocks and sediment in its path. The majority of glaciers in North America can be found in Alaska, offering plentiful viewing opportunities.
We took a day trip and drove to the aptly named town of Glacier View to see Matanuska Glacier, the “largest in the U.S. that can be reached by vehicle,” according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Driving to, and even walking on, the glacier requires purchasing a tour, to the tune of $150 per person. We opted to forgo that and take in the panorama instead.
A turnout on the side of Glenn Highway provides the perfect spot to get out of the car, gaze at the glacier’s allure, and attempt to capture it in photos (they don’t do it justice). A short distance away is Mantanuska Glacier State Park, which features more photo and viewing opportunities. It also includes a trail with placards along the way, educating passersby about glaciers and flora and fauna in the area.
Somewhat off the tourist-beaten path, the little village of Talkeetna beckons visitors to its history and charm. Its location as the jumping-off point for climbing Denali, aka Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet, brings many to its borders. Others are drawn by the arts and crafts shops and eateries lining its quaint city streets.
On the National Register of Historic Places, Talkeetna is known for gold mining, the railroad boom, and a viewpoint for solar eclipses. We spent time there investigating its shops, watching the rush of the three rivers that converge there, and sampling locally made ice cream in unusual flavors: black licorice and fireweed -- a popular wildflower in the area.
With wide-open spaces and abundant daylight hours, Alaska is the ideal place to get outside and soak in God’s astounding creation. From kayaking on any of the many lakes to spotting wildlife, nearly everywhere we looked made us want to pull out our cameras and snap a photo.
After visiting Talkeetna, we headed to Denali View South, where you can get out and see the Alaska Range in the distance. You can even take a short hike to another viewing spot that overlooks a braided river, marked by criss-crossing streams and large swaths of sediment.
Clouds shrouded Denali that day, but we managed to glimpse the towering white peak. On another day, we saw it from about 60 miles away.
Another popular area, Hatcher Pass, offers consuming scenery and numerous hiking trails along its winding and ascending route. One led us beside a stream to expansive views of mountains and wildflowers. Some parts of the trail were a bit muddy due to recent snow melt, but the beauty all around us made the 3-mile or so hike very worthwhile.
The icing on the cake was watching a mama moose and her calf cross the road in front of us. We thank God for the blessing of being able to witness incredible scenery and experience the uniqueness of Alaska.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.