Wednesday June 18, 2014

One of the top five things tourists want to see when they come to Alaska is moose. As we headed back into Denali National Park we spotted not one, not two, but three moose! Yes, it was a mother and her two cute energetic calves. Again, Denali has 9,000 square miles of terrain and this little moose family had decided the vegetation next to the road tasted the best. Terry is a huge baby animal fan so she just vibrated in her seat as she watched the twins. The only thing more adorable then this would be watching twin calves playing in the lawn sprinkler.

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When planning this trip I asked Terry to name some of the things she would like to see and do. "The sled dog show at Denali National Park!" Well, it had nothing to do with trains, but what the heck! I've had a dog almost every day of my life so yeah I was looking forward to it too. Besides, it was free.

We had gotten up early so we would be sure to get a good seat. Ha! We were the first ones there! This allowed us to visit the entire kennels all by ourselves. No kidding, except for the staff, no one else was around. What a treat" "Yes, you can pet our Alaskan Huskies." And boy did they like being petted.

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And although some were chained to their mini log cabin homes they still managed to play with one another.

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The sled dog program lasted half an hour and included an employee hooking up five of the Huskies to a sled for a circular run around the area. Denali is unique in that it is the only national park with a working dog sled kennel and has done so since 1922.

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imageAs we prepared to leave the park it turned windy and cold and a light rain began to fall. We stopped to grab two more geocaches and then made a brief research stop at the Stampede (formerly the Healy Hotel).

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 21, 1976 a gun battle erupted between The Brothers motorcycle gang and Alaska Railroad employees in the Healy Hotel. At least 25 shots were fired (urban legend estimates over 250 rounds) and three people were injured: Bikers Gerald "Pee Wee" Protzman, Robert "Robot" Lemmons and ARR employee Don Hatmaker. "You can see daylight through the walls all over the place. They shot holes in the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the bar, and the bottles; there was tomato juice and blood all over the place." said one Healy resident. Ten state troopers from Fairbanks and Nenana responded. Thirteen people were taken into custody for questioning, but no charges were filed or arrests made.

Over the years the hotel was relocated and eventually purchased by Princess to house their managers. We took a couple of photos of the building and then wondered if the bullet holes were still visible inside. We checked the front door and found it locked. [Important side note: A year later I was on Facebook and saw where a Princess employee posted a photo of this building. I asked if some of the bullet holes were still visible. They stated they had indeed seen the bullet holes. However, a Princess manager (and good friend of mine) said the building was totally remodeled and he has never seen them.]

I've been intermittently researching this event since Jim Dennis posted his version of the story on my website on December 15, 2000. Our visit to the Stampede was just one more piece of the overall picture I am creating. There's more to come in my June 19 journal entry.

Despite the rain the drive back to Anchorage was haltingly beautiful. The cloud cover is known for bringing out the intense blue in the snows and glaciers. As if the scenery wasn't exciting enough I unknowingly decided to up the ante. I looked down at the gas gauge on the car and found the needle drawing close to that big letter "E". Consulting our car GPS we discovered the nearest gas station was located in Trapper Creek. I said a little prayer every 30 seconds or so in hopes we wouldn't have to ditch the car and make a long cold, rainy walk into town. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief when I spotted the Trapper Creek gasoline station. It didn't matter the price per gallon.

Right next door was Wal-Mike's and the quirkiness of the exterior told us we just had to stop. Prices were pretty steep, but you could find antiques, novelties, toys, kitchenware, automobile parts, plumbing, electrical, heating stoves, antlers, hunting knives, a life-size Sarah Palin cardboard cutout, custom license plates, hand made jewelry and a live reindeer.

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Our last stop of the day was Boy Scout Camp Gorsuch in Chugiak. When Terry and I made our first trip to Alaska in 1986 her cousin Scott Powell, a ranger at Camp Gorsuch, opened up his home to us. It served as our central. Scott was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He slept on the couch so we could sleep in the comfort of his bed. He drove us to and picked us up from the Alaska Railroad depot. He allowed us to eat in the Scout dining hall.

For 30 years Scott served the Western Alaska Boy Scout Council, 25 of those years as Camp Ranger and Program Director for Camp Gorsuch. Scott died doing one last good deed, helping hired workers erect a large dining canopy. At the 2005 National jamboree he and three other Alaskan leaders were electrocuted when the center pole came into contact with a power line. Camp Gorsuch erected a monument in memory of these four men and Terry wanted to stop by for a brief visit. If not for Scott's generosity Terry and I may not have visited Alaska and this website would not exist.

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Jim Somerville has always been a gracious host. In 2002 he took me up in his Super Decathlon free of charge (well, except for buying him breakfast at Peggy's Restaurant) so I could snag some aerial Alaska Railroad photos. He has repeated this generous offer for almost every one of my trips! Unfortunately, this trip was packed too full of activities to fit in a flight, but Jim was kind enough to provide me use of his car for the later part of my trip. We checked into our hotel, dropped our bags of in the room and returned the rental car. Jim picked us up and we then dropped him off at his home. We finished the day out by re-provisioning at Wal-Mart, taking Papa John's pizza back to the hotel, doing laundry, dumping photos and updating our trip journal.

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