Today we get to sleep in after getting up early almost every day for the past couple of weeks. We get on the road by noon and leave Denali behind intending to stop for lunch in Talkeetna. Talkeetna is a 876 person village just 13 miles off the parks highway and is a popular place to stop before continuing to the Denali NP. Talkeetna offers a variety of flightseeing tours to Mt. McKinley, fishing tours, zipline adventures, float trips, and Alaska railroad scenic rides; it also boasts several prominent restaurants including a Wallflower cafe whose Master Chef Jerome Longo served as a White House executive chef during George Bush’s presidency. We inquire about fishing tours on the Susitna river in a visitor’s booth downtown and unable to find anything, grab lunch and continue on the Parks Hwy toward Anchorage.
Near the town of Willow, we take a left turn off the highway to a narrow Willow-Fishhook road. Connecting the towns of Willow and Palmer, this road is one of the most scenic drives in Alaska winding through a mountain Hatcher pass with views of green alpine meadows below and frequent wildlife sightings. It is not plowed and is closed in winter due to snow but is open throughout the summer for hikers, campers, and blueberry pickers. The pavement ends as soon as we start driving on Willow-Fishhook road and we have to drive slowly avoiding numerous potholes formed by frequent rains. The road slowly climbs up with a small creek running parallel and as the altitude changes so does the scenery and the weather. We leave the wooded area as the road opens up to the vast valley, at the same time the rain drops start hitting the windshield and the higher up we go, the stronger the rain grows turning into a torrential downpour as I am nearing the highest point of the pass. The road becomes muddy and slippery; potholes are now filled with water and make me drive even slower with no guardrails and a steep dropoff on the side.
As I get closer to the summit lake, a small relatively shallow lake with a pull out and a picnic area nearby, I hear thunder and see a bright flash of lightning. Thunderstorm is not the time to stay on top of the mountain, but there is no turning back, the road is too narrow and we have to continue through the pass despite the weather.As soon as the road starts descending into the valley, the rainstorm quickly turns into a drizzle with a blue patch of sky directly in front of us. Soon we hit the paved portion of the Willow-Fishhook road and see a turn to the Independence Mine Historic Park, an abandon gold mine offering tours and exhibits, but continue on before the storm returns.
The now paved road again parallels the creek as we near the town of Palmer and stop for a quick photo of the stream flowing through the stone formation.
Once in Palmer, we continue on Glenn highway that soon merges with Route 1 toward Anchorage. Next to the road in Palmer we notice state fairgrounds, all ready for a state fair inaugural day tomorrow, complete with vendor booths and amusement park. We already went to a Kenai fair in Ninilchik, but the state fair in Palmer is a lot bigger and longer, continuing for almost two weeks every year in the end of summer. We finally arrive to Anchorage just in time for dinner, meeting up with a friend for a take out in Yak & Yeti, a Himalayan restaurant in town and head for a picnic dinner at point Woronzof, providing panoramic view of the Cook inlet.
A small crowd of people gather next to one of the nearby willows watching a large moose feeding on the leaves and enjoying the evening sun. Moose pays little attention to the people and continues his dinner showing off his magnificent rack; someone in the crowd mentions the moose is almost 7 years old and visits this area next to the airport regularly. I take a few photos of the moose and go down to the beach to enjoy dinner and sunset.
Once it gets dark we hike back to the parking area and see another bull moose and a cow munching on the grass right next to the airport fence and ignoring the noise from the planes. It is ironic that after travelling through and camping in a prime moose habitat on the Kenai peninsula, we encounter the highest concentration of these beasts right in the city. Perhaps they do not mind people after all.