Wasilla, Alaska: Where the gravel is even more famous than the ex-mayor

Text by Andrew Burmon; Photograph courtesy of djcnOte

John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate produced two questions from the press: Who is this person and where is she from? Over the course of the last two weeks, Ms. Palin, the media, and the Obama campaign have sought to answer the first. Now, we answer the second. Our Adventure Guide to Wasilla, Alaska, begins below.

Getting There:
According to the town’s tourism board, Wasilla is accessible by Pontoon plane, train, automobile, or “better yet” dogsled. It is midway between the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys (to sound like a local, call the region “Mat-Su”) on the George Parks Highway, 43 miles north of Anchorage on the way to Fairbanks.

What to Do:
Ready for some physical labor? Excellent. Head over to the Independence Mine State Historical Park where you will be allowed to actually mine for gold. Feel free to bring a shovel, it’s totally allowed. But leave those guns at home. “Discharge of all weapons is prohibited at Independence Mine.”

The town’s namesake, a Dena’ina Athabascan Indian Chief, would have called Wasilla “Benteh,” meaning “among the lakes.” Of the many bodies of water within the small town (pop. 9,700) the largest is Wasilla Lake and the smallest is the adequately named Weinie Lake. Hook up with guide Scott “Scooter” Wiles from Alaska River Sports or rent a raft from the Wasilla-based outfitter ($128 per day, per raft; alaskariversports.com).

If rafting doesn’t feel quite extreme enough, you may want to rent an Argo. What’s an Argo, you ask? An Argo is an amphibious eight-wheeled ATV, able to do things and go places a regular four-wheeled ATV can only dream about ($60 per hour; alaskatoyrental.com).

Things to See:
“We grow amazing gravel here,” says Cheryl Metiva, executive director of the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce. And it’s true. Wasilla’s largest export is their fine gravel, which beautifies many a New England cul de sac. Check it out at the source, then stop in at the Iron Dog—snowmobile racing’s answer to NASCAR. With some luck, you’ll be able to bet against sometimes racer Todd Palin

If your taste for bone-chilling competition has not yet been sated, head over the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Committee. The race doesn’t start until March but feel free to buy a shotglass or a belt-buckle (iditarod.com).

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At Wasilla’s Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry, the Auto Fuel Exhibit displays a collection of antique gas pumps and other pieces of petroleum memorabilia. Other highlights include a steam mining drill and a collection of tractors. Also visit the library, which is open until six most nights and has a diverse collection of books.

Where to Stay:
The Mat-Su Resort has tradition American fare with a uniquely Alaskan flair (caribou and fried mozzarella), plenty of taxidermy on the walls, and a nice wine list. It’s also a resort (matsuresortak.com).

For more ADVENTURE-recommended trips in Alaska, click here >>

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