(Ron Writing) It started raining just as we were getting ready to leave this morning. We drove through rain for an hour or two and then the weather kept slowly getting better the rest of the day.
We spent the day driving south on Parks Highway (Hwy 3) with a 16-mile side trip on the spur road to the small tourist town of Talkeetna. There are several turnouts along this stretch of Parks Highway with nice views of Mt. McKinley and we stopped at most of them even though there was little hope of seeing the big one on this cloudy day. We also stopped to see the Alaska State Veterans Memorial, which is located along the highway in Denali State Park.
Talkeetna is the primary starting point for climbers attempting an ascent of Denali or some of the other high peaks in this area. A ranger station there specializes in providing information to the climbers and also leads the rescue efforts when they get into trouble. And they do get into trouble – 1,203 climbers have registered to make the climb this season and already there have been many rescues and 8 have lost their lives. 631 climbers have made it to the summit this year already. The climbing season ends in mid-July when melting snow and ice make the climb too dangerous. Over 100 climbers have lost their life on Denali since it was first climbed in 1906.
There are also many businesses in Talkeetna that fly the climbers to about 7,000’ on the mountain where they begin the climb. Most of Talkeetna is a “tourist trap” with many small gift shops and restaurants. When we drove into town there were at least 10 tour busses that had just hauled in several hundred tourists who were swarming the streets and sidewalks. We drove a loop through town and then headed back to Parks Highway.
We continued south to Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, AK. It was time to do some shopping at the WalMart Supercenter once again. It is reported to be the largest Walmart in Alaska and also holds the distinction of selling more duct tape than any other WalMart! Snowmachine racers apply duct tape directly on their face to prevent frostbite. Elena found the grocery prices somewhat lower than in Fairbanks.
Weather: Overnight low was 52°. Rain this morning, mostly clear by early afternoon, cloudy again by late afternoon.
Mileage: Today - 171 miles, cumulative since leaving AZ on 4-6-11 – 7,131 miles.
Tonight’s stop: Wasilla, AK