Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

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Talkeetna

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This frontier community warms the soul

If you ask Talkeetna’s mayor why his town is a definite “must do” destination for those traveling on the Parks Highway, you might get a gentle rub across your shin or a pleasant purr from his furry throat.

Mayor Stubbs may not be the tiny town’s most talkative tour guide, but the friendly feline’s laid-back manner and quiet contentment seems typical of what visitors will find at the end of a 14-mile spur road about two hours north of Anchorage.
For Talkeetna is unlike any other spot in this vast state in terms of its relaxed residents, arts offerings, historical treasures and seemingly endless outdoor opportunities.

“There’s just something kind of spiritual about this place,” local song-writer Deb Wessler said between her solo guitar and banjo sets last summer at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, one of the town’s three historic restaurants and hotels. “This town is very intimate and very personal to me. Everything here seems to inspire art in some way.”

Also a professional electrician who helped wire Anchorage’s Loussac Library before settling in a Talkeetna cabin about four years ago, Wessler is among an array of local artists who have a multitude of talents and jobs here.

There’s Nick Condon, the Minneapolis transplant who puts on theatrical productions at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar while also bartending at the funky Fairview Inn, working at the local radio station, volunteering at the free food pantry, and serving as the town’s auctioneer.

“I think everyone does a little bit of everything here,” Condon said before ambling over to the hangar to help set up locally-made items to be auctioned off for the radio station. “I thought I was pretty hardcore when I moved here six years ago because I was hauling my own water and chopping my own wood — until I met people who shoot their own food and haul their water from a creek instead of from the inn or roadhouse like I do.”

There’s Ed Wick, a former hunting guide who now makes a living selling his scenic paintings and earrings his wife, Mary Ann, makes from porcupine quills. STUCKONU Quillworks is one of several art booths at the open-air market outside the Sheldon hangar. Handmade sculptures, bags, soaps, bone carvings and unique necklaces beckon those seeking items they won’t likely find anywhere else.

“None of it is made in China, which I think visitors really appreciate,” chuckled Wick, who was consulted for the Alaska-themed television show “Northern Exposure” when its producer stopped by Talkeetna in 1979.

Just down Main Street in Talkeetna Historical Society’s School House Museum, Talkeetna-born Jayme Spires directs Japanese visitors to the site’s various structures that date back to the 1920s and '30s.

Spires’ paternal family was among the first Minnesotans to settle in the Mat-Su valleys when her grandfather worked as a coal miner in Jonesville north of Palmer in the 1940s. One of the museum’s displays from that era actually contains her maternal grandfather’s handmade rocking chair and her granny’s quilts.

And like the rest of the town’s 800-some residents, Spires is not a one-trick pony. She’s not only the new manager of Talkeetna’s historic sites, but she’s studying to be a social worker and has done field work for the Bureau of Land Management as an Alaska native plant specialist.

“Oh, I also take part in the local production of 'How to Make Love Like an Alaskan,’ “ Spires giggled. “It’s funny. I grew up thinking I would go away and find the 'normal’ people, but when I went to Seattle I discovered they’re even crazier there. So I came back home and am here to stay.”

TALKEETNA ATTRACTION

Sheldon Community Arts Hangar
This community art center houses work from area artists. The center also hosts plays, concerts, workshops, readings, classes and, in December, the unforgettable Talkeetna Bachelor Auction fundraiser.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, with event openings varying by season
Where: 22249 S. D St.
Cost: Free for some events, fees for others; see online calendar
Phone: 907-733-7929
Web: www.denaliartscouncil.org

Talkeetna Historical Society Museum
Located since 1974 in the old town schoolhouse that was built in 1936, it’s packed with artifacts from the area’s Natives, aviators, mountain climbers, gold seekers and trappers. Be sure to ask for the walking tour brochure, which will guide you through the town’s other historic buildings.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily in summer; by appointment in winter
Where: In the little red schoolhouse, downtown Talkeetna
Cost: $3 for adults, free for children
Phone: 907-733-2487
Web: www.talkeetnahistoricalsociety.org

Mount McKinley Climbers Memorial
The awe-inspiring stories and sheer bravery of those risking their lives to conquer Alaska’s highest peaks still fascinate visitors from around the world. Those who paid the ultimate price are forever memorialized with granite plaques and a small garden near the heart of downtown Talkeetna. Propellers mark the graves of Bush pilots who perished.
When: Open year-round
Where: Talkeetna town cemetery, near the airstrip
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-733-2487
Web: www.talkeetnahistoricalsociety.org

Talkeetna Ranger Station
The staff of the National Parks Service Talkeetna Ranger Station have worked hard to refurbish and maintain the Mountaineering Exhibit housed in the local museum’s Railroad Section House.
This summer marks the 100th Anniversary of the first ascent of Mount McKinley (also known as Denali). Ambitious adventurers must check in at the Ranger
Station itself located at First and B streets before taking on McKinley or Mount Foraker. Informational displays, park information and interpretive programs are available throughout the summer.
When: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily mid-April to Labor Day; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday in winter
Where: Corner of First and B Street
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-733-2231
Web: www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/talkeetnaranger.htm

TALKEETNA EVENTS CALENDAR

Live at 5
Friday evenings are filled with live music in Village Park. Enjoy merry tunes while strolling through Talkeetna or grab a bite to go and plop down on the lawn off Main Street.
When: 5-7 p.m. Fridays, Memorial Day to
Labor Day
Where: Talkeetna Village Park, downtown
Cost: Free
Phone: 907-733-7929 (or 907-733-2330)
Web: www.denaliartscouncil.org or www.talkeetnachamber.org

Second Saturday Art Openings
Since Talkeetna is full of artists of all kinds, the Denali Arts Council’s Talkeetna Artists Guild celebrates them every month with showings in three different locations: The Flying Squirrel
Bakery Cafe off the Talkeetna Spur Road, the Dancing Leaf Gallery downtown, and the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar. Featured artists are on-site at all events.
When: DAC 5 p.m.-7 p.m., Flying Squirrel 3 p.m.-5 p.m. and Dancing Leaf 4p.m.-7 p.m. year-round
Where: Sheldon Community Arts Hangar and Dancing Leaf in downtown Talkeetna;
Flying Squirrel, Mile 11 Talkeetna Spur
Cost: Free for show and reception
Phone: 907-733-7929 (DAC), 907-733-
6887 (Flying Squirrel) and 907-733-5323
(Dancing Leaf)
Web: www.denaliartscouncil.org; www.flyingsquirrelcafe.com; thedancingleafgallery.com

Artisans Open-air Market
Visitors looking for fresh local produce and one-of-a-kind locally-made arts and crafts can find both just outside the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar.
When: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday-Monday in the summer
Where: Next to the Sheldon Community
Arts Hangar
Cost: Free to browse
Phone: 907-733-7929
Web: www.denaliartscouncil.org

VFW Fourth of July Parade
A favorite of local residents and visitors alike, this annual event celebrates local businesses, trades and the unique spirit of Talkeetna. The highlight for many is the
Moose on Parade auction where 4-foot plywood moose cutouts are decorated by local artists and sold to the highest bidder. Come early to stake out your favorite ungulate.
When: Noon, July 4
Where: Main Street, with the moose stationed around town for pre-auction viewing
Cost: Free; moose go to highest bidder
Phone: 907-733-2330

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