FIRST TRIP to Alaska: Pam R.

In Travel Stories by scott

Pam and her trip leader, Bill Bankston (not the ranger, tho’)

“My first trip to Alaska was in August of 1983.  I was chosen as the cook for a team of 15 Sierra Club members assigned to a 10-day trip to help clean up an abandoned mining site in a remote corner of Denali National Park.  Having grown up in Los Angeles and living in Arizona at the time, I pictured Anchorage as all log cabins (and igloos?) and decided I’d better ship all our provisions from Tucson–only to find I could have purchased everything here, up to and including pheasant under glass and roast of eland (at the Carrs on Huffman, in the early 80’s, remember)–not that any of that was on our menu or budget!

“Drove in a Rent-a-Wreck to Talkeetna, where we picked up the mountaineering ranger who would be our liaison on site for the work project.  On the way north from Talkeetna, I marveled at the beautiful mountains that reminded me of the Tetons–then lifted my gaze above the cloud layer behind those peaks to the huge white massif towering over them, my first glimpse of Mt. McKinley. 

“We took the bus out the Park Road to Wonder Lake and were flown in to our work site by Lowell Thomas, Jr.  During our 5 days there, I saw my first grizzly bear strolling past our tents, and frost-nipped my desert-adapted toes during our clear, star-spangled 20 degree nights. The second 5 days were spent hiking the 30+ miles back to Wonder Lake, crossing river after river, listening to wolves howling at night as northern lights swirled overhead, and glorying in the views of the Wickersham Wall during the clear autumnal days. 

River crossing in Denali National Park

“On the Alaska Railroad trip back to Anchorage, I gazed at what I now know as Pioneer Peak, and thought to myself that this was a place that I could happily call home.  And it has been, ever since that ranger asked me to come back in September, a month after the trip, to “help put the roof on the car port” (!) he was building for his new home in Talkeetna, and after he asked me to marry him on his subsequent visit to Tucson that October.  I pulled up stakes, reassured my parents that I was indeed of sound mind, and introduced my Labrador retriever (who actually would “come”, “sit”  and “stay”, imagine that!) to his Alaskan huskies on the car-and-ferry trip north in January of 1984. 

“It truly was a “3-dog night” as we camped out near Tok in minus 20 degree temps, which I now appreciate was indeed a heat-wave for that time of year in that country.  Been in Talkeetna every since, and still pinch myself for my good fortune those many years ago that brought me to this good man, and this Great Land!”

Strolling with Denali in the background!

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