We left Anchorage early afternoon for the 2 hour drive to Talkeetna. We drove from state highway 1 to highway 3 up through Wasilla, taking the Talkeetna spur road just before the Susitna rive bridge. In proper fashion we timed it right around Amelia’s nap. Timing long drives around her naps is a travel multiplier. She gets the rest she needs, we can make time on the trip without unduly stressing her capacity or resorting to our toolbox of toddler pacification (e.g. toys, books and if the situation is dire, the tablet). Aside from enjoying the natural wonder of Talkeetna and the quaint town, we were crossing our fingers that the weather would allow us to charter a fly-over of Mt. Denali.
It also allows us to have some individual time. We drove past Thunderbird Falls along the route and pulled over. Lori pulled up Facebook, Amelia napped in her reclined car seat, and I took the 20 min hike to the falls solo. The brief moment alone in the wilderness means a lot for a Dad that doesn’t get too many minutes without work or family pressing on him.
Once Amelia work up we pulled over at the Iditarod Sled Museum in Wasilla, AK. The dogs were up for the seasons in October when we came, so I don’t feel like we can give it a fair review, but without that there was little to see and experience for a family just pulling over for a few minutes.They have a small collection of memorabilia and several movies, but unless you’re sled dog aficionado you may want to pass off-season since you can’t actually see the dogs.
Denali Brewing Company, on the other hand, should make your must-see list. The brewery maintains a small tasting room just south of with a few tables, one server. We’re probably a sucker for a well timed beer tasting but, an hour or two into your drive a flight of beer may fit the bill. When we pulled up the first snow of the season was just beginning to waft down from the sky. By the time Amelia was bored with watching us sip beer there was just enough snow to entrance a two year old who only sees it on trips. The wonder in her eyes made all the hassle worthwhile.
Lori made a pit stop at a thrift shop and picked up a sled that had a rope. I pulled the rope and Amelia squealed. I’m sure the locals were amused to watch a pair of loony Texans treating 1/2″ of snow like a winter wonderland, but you take what you can get.
We drove into town for dinner at Mountain High Pizza Pie. This local joint is a slice of foodie heaven without pretensions. We got the Game On pizza for the house made reindeer sausage and fresh basil. The shop maintains a great selection of local beers, books, crayons and sundry children’s toys, which will come in handy since your pie will take a bit longer than your standard chain delivery pizza parlor. Be prepared to pay a premium for this kind quality, it’s worth it.
After a successful drive and amazing dinner, our luck seemed to have run out. We found our Yurt successfully and I prepped myself for the manliest of activities, providing warmth for my family by burning the shattered carcass of a tree. With the temperature inside a balmy 19 F, the pressure was on. While our yurt had electricity for lighting, heat was provided by one small wood burning stove. Now… in Texas fires are for grilling and indulging pyromaniacial tendencies. I quickly discovered that just because I could get charcoal to a good grilling heat did not mean I could manage the kindling, core logs and draft of our wood stove effectively. It required half a box of matches and a youtube instructional video and still our yurt was not warm.
I called up our host frantically and… cue the real issue, which was not my fire making skills per se, but our Texas sized expectation. When I described the inferno inside our stove to our host she replied “That sounds perfect, I can’t believe you’re not sweating your butts off! Open a flap in the yurt if you get too hot.” Faintly reassured that I was on the right track, we bundled Amelia up in her strongest fleece pajamas and secured her in KidCo Peapod (Full review pending) and settled in for bed, hoping it would heat up soon.
Our host’s instincts were right, which we discovered at about 1 a.m. in the morning when, drenched in sweat, our toddler woke us up in a fit of tears because she was too hot. I swam out of our raised bed and set about making Amelia comfortable, which amounted to stripping her down to her pull-ups and trying to manage the rapidly dwindling fire and air flow into the yurt to achieve a good balance. When we woke the next morning shivering to dying embers it was clear we still didn’t have the balance quite right.