|Main street, Talkeetna is lined with pretty shops|
Day 2 started with the snow capped mountains showing up on the horizon from our room window. The sun manages to hit the peaks at this angle by-passing the clouds and it is a sight to watch. We caught breakfast and the day was to be consumed mostly by driving. Denali National Park is about 235 miles from Anchorage. We drove through the town of Wasilla where the famous (?) or infamous (?) – depending on which side you are on – Sarah Palin lives and functions. There was a Day Fair that showcased these HUGE cabbages. These are about six feet tall – yes, they are so big that they stand as tall as the farmer. The long days in Alaska makes way for some continuous growing. Imagine how many days would this large a cabbage feed – not to mention about getting bored to death of drinking cabbage soup and eating cabbage sab-zi (Indian/Parsi term for minced, cooked vegetables with spices). We decided to take a look and went off by about 15 miles. After 15 minutes to park, we found out that the fair only opens at Noon and we were way too early. So we abandoned the effort and resumed our journey to Denali.
The drive was fairly easy with the sides mostly splattered with pines that were transitioning from dense to sparse with tree heights getting shorter. Around 1 PM, we came across the road to Talkeetna which is sort of a base camp to Mt. McKinsley climbers. The town of Talkeetna is about 200 strong that lives close. There is one high school about 15 miles away and there are no snow-days! The main street is riddled with cute shops – a chocolate shop, a few restaurants, a brewing company and a museum. As you walk towards the end of main street, you hit the Talkeetna river. This river was flowing so fast that it was just incredible watching it. The waters run off the snow capped mountains and the gradient makes the water run in excess of 35 mph. We had a good time watching it. Just off the river, there were carts that were selling food. One even advertised Vegan food!! We stopped at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and settled for some Vegetarian Queche which I found out that I didn’t enjoy so much due to its high egg content. Rama had a salad and the minestrone soup, which was quite excellent. The restaurant was very busy. I had a taste of my first Alaskan ale – a golden, brown beer with a complex taste as they put it.
|Grand Denali Lodge Lobby|
Resuming the drive, we were about 130 miles from Denali. As we got close, the landscape started taking breath-taking transformation. The land on any side was expansive and the wind was picking up. I was wondering what it be like to spend a night out here in the open under a tent – maybe, the tent wouldn’t just stand through the 8 hours, maybe a grizzly could find easy meat. But it was fascinating to step off the Traverse and take it all in. We arrived at the Denali Grande Lodge around 4 PM. The lodge is situated amidst awesome surrounding, much like the other three lodges. It sits right at the edge of a ledge and has a driveway that is 0.9 miles long that is pretty steep. The lobby of the lodge is a sight with lots of log wood and a view of the mountain side looking down. Just incredible! We got a room facing the parking lot – for the first time, it was disappointing on the trip. Make sure you ask the front desk for a room with a view; we were told that they could shift us to a better room the following day as the day was packed with cruise people. No big deal, as we weren’t going to stay in the room anyway.
|View from the lodges|
We freshened up and stepped out to check food. The McKinsley lodge had a nice restaurant with some vegan options, but the place was reeking of fish. That put us off and we decided to try out the Prospector’s Pizzeria. This was a boon in disguise as the food was excellent and the inside of the place was something to experience with lots of old photos of the area, news clippings, a bear hanging down and moose antlers lining up the walls. The pizza was probably the best I had eaten in a long time. After food, we spent some time in the gift shop but couldn’t find anything inexpensive. All artwork, made by local craftsman, were starting around $50+. This is something I found different from other places I have visited – souvenirs, even local artisan’s work – was unreasonable priced.
The day was yet again cloudy and raining and the rain had picked up by the time we got back to the hotel.