Before planning this Alaskan adventure I was not familiar with the phrase "dry cabin". As I've mentioned in previous posts I'm not really an outdoorsy camping type gal. Now, that said, I have roughed it a few times and once even had to get creative opening a wine bottle without a cork screw in a hotel that had neither a bar or room service (gasp!). That event is a blog post unto itself but rest easy that no wine was wasted and I learned two valuable wine hacks from the experience (1) get screw tops if you can; and (2) a front door key can be Magyvered into a multi-tool when necessary. Ok back to the dry cabin story.
We were hoping to goodness that we'd get to witness the Aurora Borealis a/k/a Northern Lights phenomenon while in Alaska and that's the reason we took off on our road trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Chena Hot Springs (about 50 miles outside of Fairbanks) looked like a great spot to park a couple of nights and chase the Lights.
You know you can't control Mother Nature - heehee - was starting this sentence in reference to the unpredictability of the Northern Lights (so be sure you go somewhere you really want to be and that offers other activities just in case the lights are taking the night off) but then laughed to myself about the wording "you can't control Mother Nature" because, as I found out, a 'dry' cabin means no bathroom or running water.
There is a resort at Chena Hot Springs but they didn't have availability for both nights we were in town so I looked on Home Away and found a cabin that was available. This cabin is the only privately owned cabin on the property and gracious it looked charming. That's it in the photo and I took that picture so you know the pictures on the website were even more enchanting. It's located right there in the resort and if you stay at the cabin you have access to all the resort activities/amenities. My daughter (an avid hiker & camper) didn't hesitate to say book it but I paused a bit and kept rereading the Home Away description ["... Cabin is DRY with NO BATHROOM or running water .... Restrooms are a short 1 minute walk to Resort restaurant or pool lobby. Purchase ... swim pass for ... shower privileges."] No emphasis added here by me the words DRY and NO BATHROOM are in uppercase on the site. (Was that a warning or simply a way to ensure you know the facts about the cabin?) Ultimately, I booked the cabin because part of traveling is having new and different experiences and, I mean, since the bathroom isn't part of the cabin surely I wouldn't have to go my usual 5 times each night, right?
We arrive at the Hot Springs just in time to get the last two passes of the night for the ride to the top of the mountain to look for the Lights and have an hour before we need to get on the snow coach (um, nope a snow coach is not a bus- that's an entirely other post though).
Over the hill and through the forest to the cabin we go. Oh my goodness, the cabin is even cuter and cozier in real life and pretty darn close to the activities center, restaurant and pool/hot springs entrance. We layer up and head out to spend 9:30 pm - 2:00 am on the top of the mountain. We see the lights! (another post)
The snow coach drops us at the activities center at 2:30 am and we take the opportunity to use the bathroom then walk over to the cabin. Because I had been on Lights lookout the night before and got only a few hours shut eye I was super ty ty. The mattress felt like heaven and we were quickly off to sleep.
Weather.com said sunrise would be 9:15 but I woke up around 7:30 and, yep, had to go. Opened the door to see if perhaps -37 degrees felt warmer after a good sleep but that was a resounding NO! Yikes - it's pitch pitch pitch dark out there. Wait, did I hear a moose moving around? I'm sure it was a moose and thanks to my girl Googling them on the trip from Talkeetna I know they are one of the most dangerous animals ever. And, they aren't afraid of humans so don't move when they see you because the modus operandi of moose is to let you get right up next to them and then run your tail over with their 1200 pounds. Ok. I'm scared to walk over to the activity center by myself and my daughter is zzz'ing away over there under those warm covers. Now I've goofed around and really gotta go. Oops, I think I woke my daughter up when I scrambled back in the cabin closing the door quickly shrieking "moose moose on the loose". Oh well since you're up may as well walk over to the bathroom with me, eh?
You know how when you're in a hurry and have ten layers to put on to in all seriousness prevent frostbite and the first pieces are Under Amour that go on with the ease of a wet one piece bathing suit that is stretching to accommodate the winter hibernation pounds that haven't been lost- yeah - I hate it when that happens. Approximately 8 minutes and 14 pounds of clothes later we walk over to the activities center. Ah, the pause that refreshes (as my dad used to say). We wash up and start the day.
We aren't really back in the cabin until much later that night and we decide to watch one of the 67 dvds that are in the cabin. No internet or phone service when you're this close to nature (except in the activities center area) but that didn't bother us (not too much anyhow). Can't remember the movie but while watching it we started talking and then got to laughing. Most girls reading this will know where this is leading ... we started really laughing and then almost immediately we both had to use the bathroom. I guess all that practice this morning (or the fear that any potty accidents might attract a moose) paid off and we were layered up and on the path to the center in olympic speed!
All joking aside staying in this dry cabin was fun! (I'm told 'real' campers wouldn't even consider it dry since the facilities were so close.) The cabin itself was lovely and comfortable. Since camping isn't something I do often there's no need to speculate as to whether I'd stay in another dry cabin. However, if I'm ever at Chena Hot Springs again I wouldn't hesitate about booking this cabin again!
Happy & Safe Travels.
From Palmer we head out to Talkneetna. Talkeetna is a flavorful old mining town with only one paved road. The town also serves as base camp for many brave souls attempting to summit Denali (a/k/a Mt. McKinley). And we have plans to spend the night here.
We reserved a room through the Talkeetna Roadhouse. Roadhouses are common in Alaska along trails that were used by pioneers. I read that the Roadhouse was commonly the first establishment built in a mining town. The room we got is not actually in the Roadhouse but the upstairs level of the town museum. The town museum was originally the schoolhouse and is still painted schoolhouse red. We bring our stuff up and check out the room and then decide to see what’s going on in town.
This little town is super cool and everything is within walking distance. Gotta have on those layers and snow boots though!
First stop was a gift shop that had lots of goodies including a nice selection of items from local artists. While I was talking to the storekeeper my daughter was looking at some books about the local history. (Earlier, I had mentioned maybe taking a ghost tour but we found out that people that live in Alaska ain’t thinking about guiding a ghost tour outside when it is -10 degrees. Ghost tours are a summer activity!) My daughter noticed a book on Ghosts of Talkeetna. While flipping through we saw a picture of the schoolhouse but kept on going and didn’t read the story. When we mentioned we were staying at the schoolhouse our new friend at the gift shop told us not to worry that only "friendly" activity has ever gone on at the schoolhouse. I'm a scaredy cat so tried to pretend I didn’t hear a single word of that conversation.
After looking around another store (and taking pics in the fun cut outs) we walked down main street and stopped at Denali Brewing Company/Twisted Creek Restaurant for dinner. It was pretty easy to tell that this place is a local favorite and everybody we met was just as nice and welcoming as they could be.
Several folks we spoke to in town told us that they see the Northern Lights all the time in Talkeetna. WooHoo! We were very excited about the possibility of seeing the lights tonight! After dinner off we go back to our room which was really a little apartment. It had a kitchen, living room, one bedroom and one bath. In the living room there was also a twin bed. I took the bedroom so I could put a crack in the window to get cooler without freezing my daughter out of the house.
From what people told us and what we read we didn’t expect any Northern Lights activity to happen before 10:00 pm. So we cranked up Netflix and put on an episode of Criminal Minds. As the second episode was starting my daughter said she was going to take a nap but set her alarm for 11:00. I said no worries I would be on the lookout. Well, a few minutes after she fell asleep I went to the kitchen window to check. Nothing. But I did notice for the first time that there was a big dark wood rocking chair in the kitchen. Tried to push that from my mind but then of course all I could think about was the store lady saying ‘friendly ghost activity’. Looked online about the lights and read that sometimes the entire event lasts only ten minutes. So then I started getting up to check, yes, every ten minutes. Why did I say I’d be the lookout? Now I have to walk by the scary rocking chair thinking "please don't start rocking" every few minutes. Whaa.
At 2:00 I woke my daughter and said I was getting so sleepy and didn’t think I could keep looking out anymore tonight. She turned over and said “lookout for what?” For what?! Are you kidding me? Off to bed for me. Had to get up and look a few more times though. And then the fear of Casper & friends made me try to sleep with a light on (but who can sleep with the light on - not me). Finally fell asleep about the time my daughter was waking up. Of course.
Before getting back on the road to Fairbanks this morning we see “The High One” in all of its majestic beauty. That story next.
Happy & Safe Travels.
Because my daughter’s flight was late and she didn’t get to the hotel in Anchorage until very early (6:30 am) Monday morning, we decided to take the day at a leisurely pace with our primary goal to be in Fairbanks by Tuesday evening.
Breakfast - you always hear it’s the most important meal of the day - and besides that, for some reason when traveling I really like to have a good breakfast - so we took the hotel shuttle to a local favorite, the Snow City Cafe. Yummy. And as a bonus it was the Monday after First Friday so there was some cool artwork still on display. We left messages on the community chalk board. :)
After an egg sandwich and a frittata we took the shuttle to the airport to pick up our rental car. The rental car clerk asked me if I wanted the limited insurance because they only offer limited coverage for driving to Fairbanks. I thought he was joking but nope it’s a thing. Evidently lots of folks slide off the road and such when driving in the Fairbanks area because the temperature drops pretty good between Anchorage and Fairbanks causing worse road conditions. Anyhow. I stuck with my Geico coverage for the insurance but took the option of studded tires. (Those studded tires turned out to be a very wise decision - more on that when we get to Thursday!)
All I really knew about Alaska was that it was cold! Much research was in order to make this road trip interesting but I found out quickly that Alaska is so beautiful that we would never have arrived at our destination if we stopped to take pictures of everything that was noteworthy. That said, we got about 30-45 minutes out of Anchorage and made our first stop in Eklutna.
Eklutna is a very small Athabaskan Indian village. Come right off the highway and turn left and you’ll see the Eklutna Historical Park on the left. Because it was winter the ‘office/gift shop’ was closed and there were no guided tours. However, the gate was open and we were able to see the old and new church as well as the cemetery with the colorful spirit houses. This settlement dates back to 1650 and Russian Orthodox missionaries came here in the early 1800’s. The graves are a mix of the two cultures with the spirit houses of the Athabaskan and the three-bar crosses of the Russian Orthodox. These colorful spirit houses and the churches were interesting and easy to see despite the snow. (If you go in the summer there is a trail in the park that leads to a view of a glacier. You could hike around in the winter too I guess but since the path wasn’t clear we decided better not.)
On the road again … but we didn’t get too far before we saw a sign for a park and decided to pull over in Palmer. Very glad we picked this stop because it was here that we met a few friendly folks including a gentleman that was out with his camera and tripod. He filled us in on the moose activity in the area and shared some great tips for photographing the Northern Lights (after showing us some phenomenal photos he has taken over the years) with my daughter. Oh - don’t want to forget this - he double checked that our tires were studded after we told him we were headed for Fairbanks and gave us some good driving advice!
We’re not in Talkeetna which is where we spend the night and have a great time! Rest assured though we are in the car singing along with Van Morrison and relishing the beauty that is surrounding us. Palmer to Talkeetna is next - Part III.
Happy & Safe Travels.
Cold Destinations Have Never Been My Thing … But A Week In Alaska In Winter Has Me Reconsidering: Alaskan Adventure Part 1
Ok. I had just, and I mean only a day prior, finalized a trip to southeast Asia that would end on February 5. My daughter calls and says “hey, you wanna go to Alaska with me on February 6”? (What? Alaska, me, in the winter, right after Asia, how much fluffier will a ski coat make me look in pictures, me? in the winter with snow??) “Well, of course, I want to join you!” Maybe I wasn’t too thrilled about a week freezing my tabs off but I was excited about spending a week with my daughter - so I packed up and took off. (In the off chance anyone else finds themselves taking two polar (sort of a punny) opposite trips on the same travel I will share in another post what I packed and how I managed with extra luggage.)
After a 15 hour flight from Singapore that landed in San Francisco around 8:30 in the morning I was able to get through immigration and customs and on Alaska Air flights to Seattle then Anchorage and was in Alaska checking into our hotel room by 4:30 pm. Due to a snowstorm in Seattle my daughter's flight was delayed and she arrived arrived at the hotel around 6:30 am. Thank goodness I had gone to sleep instead of waiting up for her because evidently when you’re 26 a few hours nap on the plane is sufficient rest on which to start an adventure! (Was I ever 26? Not terribly reassuring that I can’t remember. Oh well, I do remember what I had for breakfast so let’s stay positive.)
Since I have more travel experience under my belt (and what a big belt it is :)), I suggested our itinerary which we discussed and agreed to generally follow. The weather was iffy and we didn’t want to rush on the first day so we flipped our schedule around a bit. It was nice to have that flexibility but I wouldn’t have counted on being able to change last minute if it was the busy summer instead of the slower winter season.
Over 6 days we: road tripped 998 miles spending overnights in 3 city/towns; beheld a completely unobstructed view of Denali (I can’t stop thinking “Mt. McKinley” each time I write Denali); stayed up way past midnight a couple of nights to watch for and then witness the Aurora Borealis; had fun dog sledding, hiking, hanging out in hot springs, making new friends, laughing for hours; and had an amazing crazy fun adventure.
Going on this Alaskan trip has caused me to view the cold side of Mother Nature in a whole new light. To say the scenery is magnificent and awe-inspiring would be the understatement of all time. My breath was taken away too many times to mention (though that won’t stop me from trying to tell you everything)! Yep. Alaska in the winter was worth wearing layers of clothes, hats, gloves and even being a tad cold at times!
Read Roadtrip Tales: Anchorage to Talkeetna.
Happy & Safe Travels.
Come along with this southern girl on my fun travel adventures! I’m taking the tours; seeing the sites; trying out the hotels; dining at the restaurants; cruising on the cruise ships; and sharing the experiences on this blog. I hope you enjoy reading about my travel escapades and that they will be inspiring and helpful when planning your own fabulous adventures.