Epic Scenery

2011 09 11 Fall sceneToday we ventured out to take a drive along Hatchers Pass – the scenic route between Palmer/Wasilla and Willow.

2011 09 11 Town of Wasilla2011 09 11 Wasilla Fishook Drive2011 09 11 River2011 09 11 Fall colours2011 09 11 Scenic views  dont lookThe weather was fantastic and the sun was out in full force. Unfortunately, so was the rest of Alaska. Usually on these rough dirt roads, we’ve found we tend to have it all to ourselves. Though, the warm weekend weather proved that the locals still venture out to see their beautiful State. So many in fact, you would you would think it was a theme park or something. Not what I was expecting, but who can blame them – the scenery was good, the berries were ripe and the fall colours were stunning on the sharp backdrop of the Talkeetna Mountain Range.

2011 09 11 On the road2011 09 11 Brilliant2011 09 11 Carved and covered with green2011 09 11 Stopping to take it all in2011 09 11 Clouds2011 09 11 The start of Hatchers Pass2011 09 11 Everywhere you look is  a picture2011 09 11 Endless2011 09 11 Wind2011 09 11 Take off2011 09 11 Valley2011 09 11 Switchback2011 09 11 Crowds2011 09 11 Hair pin turns for the Firebus2011 09 11 Rough road2011 09 11 Another severely shot up sign2011 09 11 On top of it allAlong the way, we stopped in a borough amongst the crowds to go berry picking – learning from some locals which berries were in season. Among the blueberries there were cranberries (the red ones), and an abundance of crowberries (slightly shiny and darker than blueberries). Both varieties were far more tart than the blueberries.

2011 09 11 Dramatic ridge2011 09 11 Rock climbing2011 09 11 Berry land2011 09 11 Berries everywhere  Cellphone snap2011 09 11 Blue berries cranberries and crowberries2011 09 11 Flowers with short spunky crowberry bushes2011 09 11 More berry picking opportunitiesAfter developing a bit of a stomach ache from too many berries we drove on. The road got worse before it got better but it began to flatten out and the views faded behind trees. We had trekked into ATV country – finding empty trucks parked in every possible pull off. A good playground no doubt.

Near the end of the pass towards Willow, we hit pavement again – intersecting with the Parks Highway (Highway 3) shortly after that. We turned north and found our way down another road which offshoots to the small town of Talkeetna – a cute little place. The town is comprised mainly of tour companies, restaurants, bars, and souvenir stores and again, there were folks out everywhere. On their bikes, motorcycles, walking their dogs, or out for dinner. When we arrived there was even a peace rally happening on the common grounds – the town was lively.

2011 09 11 Talkeenta2011 09 11 Husky roaming free2011 09 11 The answer to the large family vehicle2011 09 11 Sun setting2011 09 11 The paw prints confuse me2011 09 11 Giant chainsaw2011 09 11 Husky with a tree2011 09 11 Alaska Railway2011 09 11 View of the lake in TalkeetnaWe took the opportunity to get our growler filled at the Denali Brewing brewhouse and grab a couple slices of pizza before backtracking out again towards the Parks Highway. On the subject of pizza, I’m truly concerned that Americans think the topping of ‘Canadian bacon’ is actually the same as ham. It’s really not.

2011 09 11 Denali Brewing Co2011 09 11 Growler line upThe drive to Talkeetna was also our very first opportunity to see the Alaska Range and it’s crown jewel Mt. Mount McKinley (aka Mt. Denali), North America’s largest mountain. It’s hard to believe that a mountain with an elevation of 6,196m (20,327ft) could be so easily hidden by a bit of weather the last time we drove through the park.

2011 09 11 Alaska Range2011 09 11 First view of Mt Denali in the distance2011 09 11 Mount Denali  20 327 ftThe drive back from Talkeetna was a pure show of nature. Ahead of us we saw the endless trees with their golden leaves, the towering mountains behind us, the rising full moon to our left over some red Talkeenta mountains and the setting sun on the right.

2011 09 11 Mountains in the distance2011 09 11 MoonWe ended our day near Susitna River – camping down on the river bed with the full moon rising over the water. We laughed to ourselves that this was obviously a popular place because there were firepits every 100 feet; if it were a campsite we’d get charged about $15 for a spot like this (even without toilets or facilities). Andrew added it would me more like $37 because of the waterfront view. Unfortunately he’s right.

2011 09 11 Susitna River Bridge2011 09 11 Free camping on Susitna riverbedWe spent the evening by the fire enjoying our camp for the night. The moon was brilliant – so intensely bright it cast our long shadows over the rock. If we wanted, we could even make shadow puppets – not that we did..

2011 09 11 Fire buidling2011 09 11 Enjoying the fire2011 09 11 Hanging out2011 09 11 Goodnight moonAs an aside – we’ve been checking our fuel pump all day for a leak and haven’t seen one. It’s a head scratcher.