Monday, October 16, 2023

Landed a Plane on Denali

We woke to a sunny morning in Anchorage, Alaska and drove north toward Denali National Park.

We waved hello to Sarah Palin as we drove through Wasilla.

Talkeetna is so small that I don't think it's even a town. We are exploring Alaska toward the end of the tourist season so while I get the impression this place swells when it's warm, there aren't too many people around.

Talkeetna Air Taxi was situated in a fun log cabin-looking building next to a little air strip.

We got Ernie all suited up in his Stay Puft Marshmallow Man outfit.

I've been on a plane or two of varying sizes at this point in my life but I've never been on a plane with skis. Lydia's dad is a big plane nerd these days and some time after we sent him a picture of the plane he'd found its whole life story. The model of the plane is a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver.

We were issued some boot covers to keep the snow out of our socks.

The plane was delightfully retro. It's funny when I'm on a commercial jet I feel pretty safe, as though there are plenty of systems keeping us in the air and un-exploded. With this plane I felt like what was keeping it in the air was mostly prayers. And like, we were just on the honor system that no one is going to try to open the plane door or some other weird thing. Also the pilot is just right there at the front of the bus. There's nothing stopping you from giving him a lil smooch.

I was so proud of Ernie. He was very brave. I can't tell if us giving him a lot of experiences is what is keeping him chill or if he's just naturally awesome. Maybe it's a mix.

Really our only problem was that his earphones wouldn't stay on his head and we didn't want the noisy plane to hurt his lil Pooh Bear ears.


Maybe because we were flying over the mountains but we started to get hit with some gusts of wind. On a big boy plane that's usually mildly uncomfortable. On this pinewood derby plane it was actually pretty scary.

I have never seen anything like this before. The glaciers are made of ice but they still flow very slowly over time, so they have ripples in them like you're looking at a still photo of a river. I was really impressed by all the details everywhere. There were so many little cracks in the ice and little jaggy details on the mountains. It was amazing.

This was Big Ern's first snow so he had a lot to experience up here.

Why is it so cold, what is snow, why is it so white up here, what are those pointy things, and when can I have some milk?

There's a lot of mountains in this neighborhood.. but whichever of these things is Denali... it's the tallest mountain from bottom to summit on earth. Everest is higher but it is sitting on top of a plateau. Pretty much cheating if you ask me. It was called Mount McKinley until 2015. Thanks Obama.

So white. So glacier.

Our guide was telling us that there is a ridiculously fancy hotel nearby. I guess some family owned land up here and refused to sell, and the park grew and swallowed them up? Something like that. It's so expensive that you have to book a friggin' consultation with a member of the family to stay there. It's on my bucket list now.

And then we were up, up, and away back towards home base.

Look at those CRACKS.

Ern was such a trooper that some of the other people on the tour came by just to compliment him on his awesomeness after we landed.

We serendipitously saw a sign for birch syrup nearby and I was very excited to stop. There's this thing that happens when you travel that I cannot get enough of. You buy the same bananas at the store your whole life, not knowing there's 5 zillion sizes, shapes, colors of banana. The ones you get are only there because they are the most convenient for the Lords of Banana to ship to you. Well.. maple trees aren't the only trees that make delicious syrup! The government doesn't want you to know the truth. Well, I think the deal is that again, maple trees probably produce the most sap and so it's the easiest and cheapest to make. But I'm here to tell you that birch syrup is the bomb.

We started off with an informational video in the back room with all the syrup making equipment. They had a system set up in some areas with a series of tubes from each tree that sort of collects the sap automatically. I thought that was pretty slick.

I think this choo choo lookin thing is the evaporator.

It takes so good. It's very tangy compared to the maple syrup you get at the store. Those little bottles at the top center there showed the difference in the color and flavor of the syrup depending on which day it was harvested. It seems to be very labor intensive and is a lower yielding type of tree.. so it was pretty expensive as a result. I bought a little bottle but if I win the lottery I may buy the entire operation.

Not too far from the sap shop was the Denali Brewing Company. This may be a small town but these people have their priorities straight. Who cares if there isn't a hospital when you have booze, birch syrup, and airplane rides to glaciers?

There was a peculiar card system thing in place here.

When I first saw the little cards I was excited because I thought it was like "buy three beers get the 4th free" punch card situation. It was in fact the opposite. That was the limit you could buy according to state law. I don't know if it was to get around the law or just for giggles, but this wasn't just Denali Brewing. It was also Denali Spirits and Alaska Ciderworks and Meadery. So what was supposed to be a limit turned out to be a challenge that would knock you on your butt. You could buy three of each, plus tasting flights of each.

The one on the right was an exotic flavor. The Chaga Nitro Stout is made from a fungus that grows on birch trees. The word about that delicious syrup is out even amongst the mushrooms.

It was a very nice and cozy joint especially considering how far out into nowhere we were.

One cute little touch at our Anchorage airbnb is that they had a bunch of postcards hanging up for you to use and they even had some stamps!

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