In Talkeetna, we chartered a flight at Doug Geeting Aviation and flew to the 8000-foot elevation point of the east side of the mountain. Denali towered 12,000 feet above our insignificant aircraft. Our Cessna got us there and back safely, but I'll admit I'd had doubts, especially after asking our pilot how long he'd been flying through Denali's Great Gorge. The pilot said that this was his first season flying tourists and mountain-climbers to Denali. I noticed that the Cessna 185 had only one yoke (none for the front passenger), and when I inquired what would happen if he had a coronary, he merely said we'd be SOL. I envisioned what it would be like getting him out of his harness, opening his door, kicking him out of the airplane, and taking over the controls. Luckily, that didn't happen, and we glided safely to the remote runway in Talkeetna.
From Talkeetna, we drove north on the Parks Highway to the Denali Highway turnoff at Cantwell. When the 135-mile route was opened in 1957, it was called Alaska Route 8 and was the only road to Denali National Park, now only accessible from the Parks Highway. Most of it runs along the foothills of the Alaska Range to the north and through glacial valleys where you can see stretches of alpine tundra, enormous glaciers, and braided rivers. Along this breathtaking stretch of gravel road, we encountered grizzlies, caribou, and moose frolicking in their natural habitats. This stretch was the most secluded, spectacular, and remote part of our trip that could be reached by motor vehicle.
At the eastern end of the Denali Highway, just before Paxon, we stopped at the Tangle River Inn. Nadine Johnson, the proprietor of 30 years, convinced me to accompany her in singing karaoke long into the night.
The next morning, we rented a canoe from Nadine and navigated through the magnificent waters of the Upper Tangle River canoe route, enjoying the abundant wildlife along the way. This is one of the most remarkable canoe routes anywhere in the world and offers magnificent scenery within a pristine wilderness environment.
As we drove down the Richardson Highway toward Glennallen on our way to Anchorage, we made one final stop at the Matanuska Glacier. We parked the truck, put on our crampons, and headed onto the ice field for one last adventure.
Reflecting back on the trip from home, we never imagined Alaska could have so much to offer. The amount of wildlife along the way was a big surprise, and our adventures were incredible. America's Last Frontier is truly a land of unlimited exploration for any four-wheel-drive adventurer willing to rough it in the bush.