Talkeetna Alaska billed as “A little drinking town with a climbing problem” is nestled at the base of North America’s tallest peak, at 20,320 feet (6,194 meters), Denali (read about Denali in a previous post). Talkeetna’s entire downtown area is listed on the Register of Historic Places. Its wilderness location at the base of Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) and at the confluence of three wild rivers also makes it a center for outdoor enthusiasts, climbers, and tourists of all descriptions.
“Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain… Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it’s great when you stop.” – Chris Darwin
Talkeetna is the main hub for anyone attempting to summit Denali. Every climber has to pass through the Talkeetna NPS ranger station. This makes the town a pretty happening place for mountaineers. I took the opportunity to take a walk through the local cemetery just down the road from the campground where I made my home while in town. There is a very cool memorial that lists all of the climbers that have died while trying to summit Denali. It seems a fitting place and an appropriate memorial for these adventurous folks that gave their lives to the mountain.
“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” – Hermann Buhl
Talkeetna is remote—it’s not on the main highway and you don’t accidentally stumble across it. From Anchorage by road, it’s about 115 miles north on the Parks Highway and then another 14 miles down the (paved) Talkeetna Spur Road. It is also a scheduled stop on the Alaska Railroad, about 80 miles up-track from Anchorage and the starting point for the Hurricane Turn Train (more about that in my next post). The town can be quite overrun by tourists that are dumped out of the busses each day but a walk downtown is entertaining. The Denali brewing Company is a great stop for brews and food and the outside patio welcomes dogs.
Talkeetna is also a town with a healthy sense of its own ludicrousness. Its mayor since 1997 has been a 20-year-old cat – repeat: a cat – named Stubbs. The stealthy feline leader, who once rubbed shoulders with Sarah Palin (former mayor of the neighboring town of Wasilla), presides over a settlement that sits firmly on the tourist circuit thanks to its spectacular setting, well-preserved frontier history and a plethora of cruise ship busses. Almost all of the attractive log and clapboard buildings that line Talkeetna’s Main St date from between 1916 and 1940.
The history of how Stubbs became mayor is quite interesting. You may know of the popular general store in Talkeetna called Nagley’s – well, in 1997 the owner, Lauri Stec, found Stubbs in a box along with a whole litter of kittens in the parking lot of Nagley’s. She claims to have picked Stubbs from the bunch because she didn’t have a tail.
“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Jokingly, the story explains that Stubbs was nominated as a write-in because no one liked any of the running candidates… granted no other candidates were running since Talkeetna doesn’t actually have a major, but clearly people loved this cat. Now Nagley’s General Store also serves as Stubbs’ office for… you know, all of his honorary duties and such. Stubbs actually launched a write-in campaign for President in 2016 but was seemingly unsuccessful. He does appear to have a sense of humor as evidenced by his twitter feed and his thoughts about current events both local and national. Recent reports are that Stubbs is a bit under the weather but then who can blame him, politics can age a person quick and he is 20 years old – that’s really old for a cat!
“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.” – Christopher Hitchens
The RV park in town was full so we camped at the primitive Talkeetna River Park. Located right on the river the scenery was great right from the site but the campground was pretty run down with the sites ill-defined and run down. Still, the river view right from my front windows was beautiful.
Talkeetna is definitely a must see stop in Alaska!