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July 18, 2011 / Jim Fenton

Alaska Day 11: Denali to Knik River

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Alaska.  To see the introductory article in the series, click here

The day started, as many have, cloudy with a threat of rain. We wanted to revisit the store at the Denali Visitor Center, so we opted to have breakfast there as well. The choices were limited, and delivery time for those who ordered a hot breakfast was very slow.

This was one of the longer drives of the trip. This part of the Parks Highway was very scenic,  but we were plagued by slow-moving mega-RVs that were sometimes difficult to pass and most of which (particularly two with Arkansas plates) did not pull over when a line formed behind them. We stopped from time to time to look at things, even though it meant that we had to pass some of the same RVs a second time.

One of these stops was at a rather bizarre cross between a hardware store and a flea market called Wal-Mike’s in Trapper Creek. They sold Alaska license plates with just about anything you wanted on them.  There were also a lot of references to Sarah Palin, things like old campaign signs that were for sale, but we decided not to ask about her.  Picnic lunch was at a visitor center at the turnoff for the Talkeetna spur road. Although the visitor center was closed this time, the picnic tables were fine until it started to rain.  We had off-and-on rain much of the day.

Matanuska Experiment Farm

Matanuska Experiment Farm

After a quick drive through Wasilla (mostly harmless) we stopped at the University of Alaska’s Matanuska Experiment Farm just southeast of town. We explained that we were tourists and got a wonderful introduction and walking tour of the facility, led by the superintendent.  The work they’re doing includes efforts to try to understand losses in the moose population, use of local grasses for hay to feed livestock, tests of various potato yields in local conditions, and extraction of synthetic oil from wood pulp. Unfortunately this facility and others like it are losing a lot of their funding because agricultural research doesn’t have the popularity of many other Federal programs.

Our lodging for the night is the Knik River Lodge, south of Palmer and about an hour’s drive from Anchorage. Despite its relative proximity to Anchorage, you would think we are out in the middle of nowhere: it’s very quiet and secluded. The rooms are individual cabins on a hillside overlooking the Knik River Valley. Dinner was very delicious and served in a large circular tent (a yurt). We were happy to reconnect with a group from the Netherlands that we had encountered in Kennecott earlier in the trip.

Knik River Lodge cabins

Knik River Lodge cabins

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