Our travels today have taken us into Central Alaska and to the Tangle River Inn, 20 miles out in the tundra along the Denail Highway from Paxson.. This place is a haven for fishermen but only offers very basic accommodation. I guess that our tour company, GoNorth, included it because the next town uo the highway is too far to drive in one day and because it provides something of an ’Alaskan Experience’ You can guess which was Jill’s favourite accommodation – The Alaska Garden Gate B&B from the day before, or the basic cabins at the Tangle River Inn.
Near Palmer is a Musk Ox farm where this ice-age animal is grown for its very fine wool – much more fine that super merino wool, It is combed from its belly and made into very warm garments. It was used by the indians.
After leaving Palmer, we drove along the Glenn Highway for about 120 miles towards the town of Glennallen. I keep getting reminded of just how young much of the infrastructure in Alaska really is. This road originally only connected Anchorage with the farming area of Palmer but was, like many other roads, was made / extended in WW2. Interestingly. Anchorage doesn’t have one building over 100 years old. Although the biggest city in Alaska, it is quite young. At the time Alaska was purchased from Russia, the town of Sitka along the Inside Passage was the biggest city in the territory because it was a base for fur trading. It declined soon after the purchase and the nearby bigger city of Juneau, in the same area, took over as the state capital. Anchorage has only become large in relative recent times.
We passed through a tiny settlement of Chickaloon which has only a small population of under 30 people. Thee was a a ‘For Sale’ sign by the road and I assumed that meant the whole town was available for purchase. There are only a few buildings on the highway and most are abandoned, including this local motel. It’s not quite the Hilton though!
Following the Matanuska River, the road winds its way along a large river valley with very spectacular views. I tried, today, to write about something other than snow covered mountains but the Matanuska Glacier got the better of me. It is the largest glacier in Alaska that can be reached by car. Its face is covered by enormous layers of moraine that have been carried down the glacier and act as a form of insulation., As a result, the length of this glacier has not changed much over the decades.
In one place along the highway, we found a patch of dandelions that had already gone to seed. This is only the third week of June and there are still a few more months of summer to come. It just shows how the plants in this area have adapted to the cold climate.
We keep noticing two differences between life in Alaska and other places. One is that the towns are spread out with a building in one place and another well down the road in another. There are nor defined streetscapes where you can look at a row of buildings along a main street. Many of the houses seem to be surronded by junk – old vehicles and equipment. It’s as if it’s easier to leave unwanted stuff where it died, rather than to dispose of it. The other difference is that it’s very hard to find a good coffee anywhere here (as it is throughout the USA). Most of it is filtered coffee and we miss the espresso coffee that we are used to at home. Imagine our surprise when we came to this quirky coffee stall at the junction of the Richardson Highway and the Tok Cut Off. We couldn’t help but stop! The young man running it was standing in for his Grandma who owns the shop. He did an admirable attempt at creating a long black for me and a latte for Jill.
We found some very attractive pieces of nature along the way. This beaver pond was covered in yellow pond lillies. The beavers had built a big lodge and had very effectively dammed up the stream. As pretty as this is, I am told that the beavers have made much of the water in Alaska undrinkable. Most of the streams are infected with giardia. Local people have to either filter their water, collect rainwater or drill artesian bores. Unlike Australia where artesian water is hot, here because of the permafrost, it is cold enough to cause condensation on the tap. By the edge of the lake, were quite a number of attractive dragonflies.
Before reaching the Tangle River Inn, the road took us through some open areas of Tundra that reminded me of some of the places in which I had been bushwalking in the High Country and SW Tasmania. We had broad expansive views of undulating country with lakes and mountains of the Alaska range in the distance.