The Railroad to Talkeetna

The bus ride to the end of the 92 mile Denali Park Road takes upwards of seven hours. Stops are made at every wildlife viewing, as well as mountain sightings, if you’re lucky. Some people ride the bus in and out on the same day. There are a few camp sites, but reservations have to be made almost a year in advance. A few people get off the bus to hike on the tundra… They later flag down an outbound bus for the ride back. I’m not sure if you need a permit for this, and there are some areas of high wolf and bear traffic where hiking is not permitted. Our guide also told us that there is a lottery for documented professional photographers and artists to drive their own vehicles and stay in park cabins. In return, they must send the Park Service a work inspired by their stays. These are hung on the walls of the various Ranger and Visitor Stations.


The ride out from the backcountry lodges is much shorter. The buses leave at 6:00 AM sharp and don’t stop for the run-of-the-mill caribou. The stops have to be special, like the photo of Denali above, taken at Ansel Adam’s famous reflecting pond at Wonder Lake.4A664550-EC27-48EB-BDB9-D98B49461B69Or an adult moose with massive antlers…


The buses arrive at the Alaskan Railroad Depot just after noon for drop offs and preparations for the ride back in with passengers getting off the train. Trains arrive from Fairbanks to the north, and Anchorage to the south. We took the southbound train, but got off in Talkeetna.


Talkeetna is a small town at the junction of three glacier-fed rivers, about 45 miles south of Denali. It is the staging center for climbers who attempt to climb the mountain during May- July. It is also a funky little town with good eats, brew pubs, and artisan stores. My daughter said it reminded her of Weaverville, the California town halfway through the Trinity River Alps.

A couple of stories about the Talkeetna Roadhouse before I crash. This is a family style eatery that reminded us of our favorite in Vermont, with a definite Alaskan attitude. For example, the pancakes are the size of a plate, and used to be served in individual skillets. You can order eggs, any style…”I’ll have my eggs, sunny side up, with just a slight drip to the yoke, please.” There will be a snicker and delivery of eggs scrambled. No matter how you order them, they’ll come scrambled, with or without cheese. You sit at any table with a open seat, and you pay more for the birch syrups. As you amble down the hall to the bathrooms, you pass the dorm-style rooms,  available for lodging.

On our first trip to Talkeetna about eight years ago, I recalled a story about a recent party to organize a second search for Naomi Uemura. Naomi, a Japanese gentleman, was an extraordinary mountain climber who took up the sport to overcome his poor self-confidence.  He had climbed the Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro, and Aconcagua, and planned a solo hike of Denali in the dead of winter. He prepared for it by doing a three year solo dog run from Greenland to Alaska.


Naomi started out in early February, and radioed from the summit. He made it back down to 18,000 feet, but was never heard from again.


The Roadhouse had just had a “Let’s Go Search for Naomi,” party eight years ago, but everyone got too inebriated to actually leave the Roadhouse. Our server whispered to us that searchers actually think they located him, but it was a great Alaskan excuse for a party.

More on Talkeetna in my next entry.

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