Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fairbanks to Denali

Left Fairbanks Tuesday morning and drove to Denali National Park.  First stop was for Sophie, who needed desperately to go outside.  She's been bothered with some sort of stomach issues for the last few days; seems to get better, then worse, then better.  We've been putting some pumpkin in her food that seems to help a little, but hopefully she will get over it soon.  Anyway, in the wagon master's meeting the night before, Chuck had told us about this place, struggling hard to keep a straight face, so we had to stop here for Sophie, and to get these pictures.  Probably don't need to say any more!

Anyway, we got back on the road and it continued to rain off and on, and stay pretty socked in with fog.  We had seen the weather prediction for Denali on the computer before we left and it didn't look good, but what are you gonna do?  Remember, Jack, it's the no worries, no hurries tour, so we'd just have to make the best of it.  The next stop was Nenana, a place famous for it's Ice Break Up Classic.  This is a pool where you pick a date, hour and minute that you think the ice on the Nenana River will break up.  They have a big tripod that they place out on the ice in March, hook a cable from the top of the tripod to a tower on the bank of the river, and when the ice breaks up enough, the tripod falls, pulling the cable taut and when it pulls loose it trips a clock and that's how the winner is determined.  We stopped at the small visitor center when we first came into town and the lady there explained how it worked.  Last year 22 people picked the right date, hour and time and split the pot, but one year she said one man won it all by himself and pocketed $350,000.  Gambling is prohibited in Alaska by state law, but when the law was passed, this tradition was so entrenched that the Ice Break Up Classic was exempted from the law!  Anyway, we bought a ticket and picked April 22, 2016 at 5:05 PM.  There has only been one other year when the ice broke up earlier than this, but we figure with global warming, there's a chance--he, he!  So Trisha filled out the form while I paid the lady the $2.50 entry fee--amazing that so many people enter this, to enable the pot to be as big as it gets.  Anyway, as we were walking out I said "Wouldn't it be something if we won this?"  I mean, remember our luck with the Moab, Utah rodeo two years ago, right?  So who knows?  Anyway, it turns out that Trisha had put her name on the form, so she said, "Well, if I win, I'll share it with you."  "Well, of course you'd do that," I said.  "After all, I paid the $2.50"  Trisha's response:  "Well, I'd pay you back!"  Some deal, huh???

Anyway, we walked through the small town, and it was getting really chilly!  We saw the mural on the wall of the general store, some bars that were open already, even before noon, with sounds of folks inside--I guess when you live in a place like this, not surprising.  Anyway, we walked on down to the railroad depot and talked to the man who was running the small gift shop there.  He pointed us to the place where the tower is by the river where they attach the cable from the tripod, and explained how they go out in March and first dig a big trench in the ice to put the base beams in place, to keep the tripod from sliding across the ice in the wind before the ice breaks up.  Anyway, then we went to the cultural center down by the river and had a good time visiting with some of the local folks there.  It wasn't too much, but still had some interesting exhibits.  Talking to the people working there it once again reinforced how remarkable it is that people are so drawn to this place--truly pioneers in the Last Frontier--to live a really challenging lifestyle, but I admire people who make this choice.  The woman also explained how last year due to the lack of snow they had to change the normal route of the Iditarod, and Nenana was the first checkpoint on the race.  This had not happened for 25 years, and if the normal snow patterns return, Nenana will no longer be on the route.  So I got a beautiful t-shirt with the graphic describing Nenana as the first checkpoint.  And, while we were there, an Alaska Railroad train came by across the river, then crossed the bridge not too far from where we were and came by the cultural center.  Pretty cool, and you know how much I love trains!!

There was also a lovely little log church which we really enjoyed, a small Episcopal mission church founded in 1905.  They had beautiful woodwork inside, with lovely designs on the ends of the pews, a gorgeous stained glass window and lots of intricate beadwork on the altar coverings!

Got into the campground near the national park where we are staying, after much delay due to road paving work.  Ordinarily you wouldn't think crews wouldn't pave in the rain, but when you have such a limited time to do road work, I guess you can't give up any of the available days.  It was pretty hairy driving, though, as even though we were following  a pilot car in the one way traffic, the construction equipment was still coming toward us and there were only inches of clearance to spare!  pretty intense! We got to the campground and it is one of the rougher places we've stayed.  They had told us in advance that a lot of the campgrounds in Alaska would be a lot more primitive than what most of us are used to in the Lower 48 and this sure fit that bill.  Extremely tight spaces and lots of mud.  But we made it in okay.  We were all a bit apprehensive when we had the wagon master's briefing, as we knew we were going on the bus tour the next day, but it sure looked like we were not going to see too much due to the weather.  Boy we were wrong!!

Here's our first stop along the way----

 Then back on the road, with rain, rain and more rain!

In the Nenana visitor center, with the little mockup of the tripod and tower. The red can was where we deposited our entry form
 Some beadwork the woman was working on

 Here's Trisha, putting "her" entry form into the can!!
 Some early pictures of the tower and tripod when this first got started
 One of the earlier tripods
 Outside the visitor center

 Fire danger is all the way into the red zone!

 Mural on the side of the general store

 One of several bars, already doing a brisk business at 11:00 AM

 St. Mark's Episcopal Mission church

 Candles on this chandelier!

 Beautiful window

 Woven beadwork on the altar cloth
 Birch bark offering baskets
 Stately aspens in the church yard
 the tower and the tripod

 The old railroad depot

 Pictures of last year's break up.  The tower first tipped toward the tower, putting slack in the line so it didn't trip the clock for several days

 Lovely pelts

 Just love how they have so many burled posts in their construction

 A barge on the Nenana River

 Never gonna see the mountain if this weather keeps up!

 the construction

 Our RV campground
 The small building where we had the wagon master's briefing
 Daisy in her long johns when we got to the campground!!  You may be able to see, too, that she is wearing balloons on her feet since it was so wet and muddy.  We didn't have any balloons, so we put baggies on Sophie when we took her out.  Fortunately the weather warmed up the next day and it dried out pretty well.
 The boardwalk of shops along the main road--nicknamed Glitter Gulch--some interesting things, but lots of typical tourist trap stuff, like authentic Alaskan souvenirs made in China, and the requisite fudge places

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