Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nenana, Alaska

We’ve been wandering down the George Parks Highway at a very slow pace.  Our reservation for Denali does not start until Tuesday.  We wanted 10 days in a row, so Tuesday was the best they could do for us.  The result was a couple extra easy days.  All right by me.

The Parks Highway is the 300 plus mile route between Fairbanks and Anchorage.  It’s a very good paved highway.  Generally, it’s two lane, but there are passing lanes on the long hills.  The route goes up over mountains and descends to the rivers.  Our views, consequently, alternate between looking up at the mountains and down at the valleys.

We made a stop this morning at the little village of Nenana at the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers about halfway between Fairbanks and Denali.  Although small, Nenana, being situated on a major highway, on two rivers, and having a rail connection, plays a major role in supplying the small interior villages which have few other options other than river traffic.

Nenana is probably most famous for the annual Ice Classic celebration.  This tradition started in 1917 with the locals trying to guess when the ice would break up on the Tanana River.  Each February, a 26-foot tall black and white tripod is placed on the ice in the River and attached to a clock on shore.  When the tripod moves about 100 feet, the cable trips the mechanism to stop the clock.

Thousands of people enter their best guess as to when the ice will break up.  The tickets are now $2.50 and all you have to do is write down the month, day, hour, and minute you think will be the magic moment on the ice.  The jackpots are not too shabby, either.  Last year the eleven winners split nearly $400,000.  One year recently, there was just a single winner taking home over $300,000.  It’s apparently a lot of fun and the event officially brings in the arrival of spring.

We also toured the Nenana Cultural Center.  It was okay; mostly photographs and papers.  The gift shop, however, had some very nice locally made Athabascan crafts.

The old Nenana Depot is still standing and is now the Alaska Railroad Museum.  I think this is a work is progress.  There were some railroad artifacts and memorabilia, but there were also a lot of household items and agricultural tools all from varying decades.  The Alaska Railroad doesn’t stop at this depot any longer, but while we were there a train passed through town.  The Alaska Railroad engines were pulling Alaska railroad passenger cars, Holland America Tour cars, and Princess Cruise Lines cars.  The Cruise ships have to get their tourists to the interior somehow.

We stopped briefly at St. Mark’s Mission Episcopal Church.  This mission was established in 1905 and continues to meet in the original building.  We didn’t stay long as it was almost time for their service.  Very small, but very nice inside.  The sun was in a bad place for a photograph outside, but it was streaming through the stained glass above the alter, making the inside glow.

We are spending the night at a turnout about 30 miles north of Denali National Park.  We have out our front window a view of the mountains.  Tomorrow, we’ll be driving down to Healy, the small gateway community outside Denali, for an overnight to get everything recharged for a 10-day stay inside the park.

That’s all for today.  Hope all you Fathers had a special day.  Thanks for tagging along.

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