7.12.2012

Alaska Road Trip: Day 16

We woke up to rain, and I felt a little sad that we hadn't spent more time appreciating the clear view of Mt. McKinley the day before. At least I got a picture. 

Our list of activities to consider in Talkeetna included a sled dog ride at Huskytown, riding the train to Denali National Park, taking a scenic flight, and buying a tie-dyed shirt. Lucy doesn't need any more hippie encouragement, so we skipped the shirt. And Huskytown was closed. Amy told us not to bother taking the train and that the very best use of our money would be on a scenic flight. Even though they are expensive, she told us they are worth every penny. With some hesitation (and because we had some extra cash from the sale of our trailer), we looked into flights. 

I went inside to check out K2 Aviation by myself. Right before I closed the car door, Steve told me that it was a good thing I was wearing my space jacket; maybe they'd think I was an astronaut and give me a good deal. 

There were so many options: the McKinley Experience, the McKinley Flyer, or as long as you're spending that much money, do you go all out for the Denali Grand Tour? And then should we add a glacier landing? There wasn't much of a discount for kids; they actually recommend having parents take turns and go one at a time while the other parent stays with the kids and plays on the playground. That didn't sound fun to me, and it was raining. 


And then I realized we had missed the first flight on the schedule and would have to wait for the next one, a few hours later in the afternoon. If it was raining in Talkeetna, would we even be able to see Mt. McKinley? And then suddenly I couldn't believe how much money I was considering spending. It was way too expensive! (Especially for Kaleigh, who would be more impressed with a pack of Skittles.)

I walked back to the car and gave Steve the rundown. We drove away and started to leave Talkeetna. But then Steve spotted these float planes and decided we needed to stop and check them out. 


He has a thing for float planes (probably from watching Northern Exposure); he's also attracted to buildings with vegetation growing on the roof. 


The sign says Mt. McKinley Scenic, but the business is called The Alaska Bush Float Plane Service


Steve was sold with the idea of landing on a lake. And Molly, the woman who sets up the flights couldn't have been more accommodating. The planes only hold five passengers, but Molly quickly offered to babysit Kaleigh while the rest of us went on a flight. Perfect! (She told us kids under the age of five usually fell asleep anyway.) She went and talked to the pilot and came back with a reasonable discounted family price that I could stomach. I couldn't decide whether to take the Explore Denali 1.0 Tour or the Explore Denali 1.2 Tour. (The 1.2 Tour is about fifteen minutes longer, takes you over the Climber's Base Camp area, and offers a view of the West Buttress Route that is used by most climbers.) So Molly told me we could decide in the air. Perfect again! 

Everyone was excited, except for Lucy. She gets a little nervous about things like this. Or she might be pretending. Or maybe it's a little of both?


We set Kaleigh up with the iPad and some treats. But all she cared about was if Molly was a grandma, and since she was, we were good to go.

Our plane: 


Our pilot (in the background):


Excited Rachel: 


Scaredy-pants Lucy:


Cool guy, Adam:


And cute husband, Steve: 


We flew over the Talkeetna airport:


And over some rivers:


We also saw lots of little lakes with cabins. People live (and vacation) on these lakes, completely dependent on airplanes to get them in and out. The Alaska Bush Float Plane Service has that name for a reason. In addition to Denali Flightseeing Tours and Wildlife Tours, they provide a lot of transporting to these remote areas in "the Bush".  

We flew up and over the clouds: 


And then we were in the mountains. I could not believe the view:


Those blue spots are glacier lakes. It looked like someone had dropped blue food coloring onto the snow. 


I was absolutely fascinated with them: 

 

The view was spectacular!


We flew right by the south face of Mt. McKinley. But without our pilot, we really wouldn't have been able to identify which one it was. All of the mountains were magnificent. 


And we were so close! 


It was probably ten minutes into our flight before I realized I had a two-way radio on my headset. The kids never knew they had radios, and we didn't tell them because I didn't want them all trying to talk to the pilot at once. I had them raise their hands when they wanted to talk, and then I passed them my microphone. 

Up front was Jason, the pilot: 


And Steve, who was pretty close to being in heaven: 


Adam and I were in the middle row; I was wearing my space jacket: 


Lucy and Rachel were in the back: 


We should have prepped the kids with some information before the trip because they were full of curiosity. I tried to limit their questions to the pilot because I didn't want them to distract him. Jason, how deep is that snow? Jason, which one is Moose's Tooth? Jason, which one is a glacier?

Without an aerial tour, it is impossible to comprehended the staggering depth of the Alaska Range. 


There were so many things to see that it was hard to decide which direction to look. 


The view was surprisingly clear. (Mt. McKinley is so large that it creates its own localized weather.)


So we decided to fly over the Climber's Base Camp. This is a bad picture, but the colored dots at the bottom of the photo are tents. We were also able to (barely) spot some climbers on the mountain:


The questions continued. Jason, how many people climb Mt. McKinley? (About 1200 per year; roughly half succeed.) Jason, how long does it take to climb Mt. McKinley? (About two or three weeks.) Jason, has anyone ever died trying to climb Mt. McKinley? (120. . . and counting. Four Japanese climbers died in an avalanche just one week after our visit.)

By the way, I just looked these answers up myself. I couldn't remember his responses because I was too busy trying to keep the girls quiet. Our pilot was nice, but he didn't seem accustomed  to endless questions from eight and nine-year-olds.

The views were breathtaking. It was another pinch-yourself-I-can't-believe-we-are-really-doing-this-moment.


Adam fell asleep towards the end of the flight, and by then, Lucy was all smiles.


Our landing on Fish Lake was fantastic. Lucy hurried off the dock, careful not to accidentally fall in, like she did at Jenny Lake. But Rachel happily posed for one last picture: 


What an amazing experience. And how glad I am that we stopped to check out The Alaska Bush Float Plane Service. They are a small, family-owned business and were able to personalize the trip just for us. I'm pretty sure that was the most expensive "impulse purchase" I've ever made, but it was well worth the price.

We drove on to Denali National Park and looked at four different places before we checked in at The Denali Bluffs Hotel. Steve pulled out his phone and used the super cool Monocle feature on the Yelp iPhone app. You select restaurants, gas stations, or even "everything" and then hold your camera and it pulls up nearby businesses. It's so great for traveling. . . and discovering things in your own city! This is what I get from my front porch:


Prospector's Pizzeria and Alehouse showed up as the highest rated restaurant, so we went there for dinner. 

 

The restaurant was so busy that we meandered down the street and got ice cream while we were waiting for a table: 


After an hour or so, we finally got a table inside the rustically decorated restaurant. We were relieved we had our iPad with us because our food took another forty-five minutes. Our server seemed bothered by us (probably because we weren't drinking) and the pizza was just so-so:


2 comments:

AmyJo said...

Wow! I definately have to go to Alaska!

Rebecca said...

AMAZING aerial pics! Wowser...you should blow one up really big for your casa.