The hill that is behind the town and across the river is called Toghotthele Hill. So when the first white men came to the area they couldn't pronounce it and it came out Tortella and that became the first name of it and the village. Then another guy came along and renamed if after an Athabascan Indian word which means "A good place to camp between rivers" Nenana and that is the official name still today.
In Nenana you can find many kinds of people....from Local Natives to trappers, gold panners, home steaders, and the guys that work the river boats. I'd say the people that live here are either born in the area or don't want to be near the big city of Anchorage!! They are living the Alaska Experience!
You can get all the information you want for the Nenana area right here at the Nenana Valley Visitor Center. The building itself is quite cool. The roof is made from sod so they must have to mow it several times over the summer. I'm not sure of the hours but it was closed when we visited. I guess you can call us the off-Season traveler!! haha You can't miss it as it's the first thing you will see after you turn off the Parks Highway.
There are so many cool activities that can be done at different times of the year from Gold Panning to Dogsledding!!
Here you can see the actual clock used in deciding the winner of the annual Ice Classic. Looks very high tech huh? It has been used to decide where a few million dollars ends up so it is a very powerful clock!! The clock is in the window of the small building. You may have to enlarge the photo to see it properly.
Every year some lucky person or group of people make the correct guess on the exact time of the Tanana river ice breakup in the spring....I've bought tickets for it in the past but have never even gotten within 24 hours of the time. If there isn't an exact guess they person that is the closest wins. The pot is usually over $300,000 for the winning guess. I'm not sure if there has been a single winner in recent history. The trick that alot of people like to do is to share the winnings. For example a group of 10 will all pick different times and each buy a ticket with the understanding that if one of those times is correct they will share the wealth.
I think it goes something like this.....Sometime in February a huge tripod is hauled out on to the ice and is attached to a long cable all the way back to shore to a building that houses a clock. When the tripod has shifted enough to pull the cable tight it shuts the clock off and that becomes the official time!! The tickets are sold all over Alaska but I don't think they take mail order or online payment for the tickets.
This is the Official Breakup Headquarters and you can see the Tripod that is used. The winning time is displayed in the window until the following breakup.
I think tickets cost $3-$5 each...gosh I can't remember....I'll fix this tip in February when I buy my ticket. If you don't hear from me for a while it's because I finally guessed the correct time!!
This has been an annual tradition since 1917!!
In the photo you can see the Mears Bridge which was named after Frederick Mears, Head of the Alaska Engineering Commission at the time of the completion of the Alaska Railroad. The Golden Spike was the last spike driven to signify the completion of the Alaska Railroad which at the time ended in Nenana. The golden spike was driven by President Harding at Nenana on completion of the railroad on July 15,1923.. The golden spike was removed after the ceremony and replaced with a regular iron spike....in case you're thinking of digging it up in the middle of the night!! haha The original golden spike was on display at the Harding Home Museum in Marion, Ohio then went to the Smithsonian Museum and over the years has come up missing!! I bet they can find it on EBAY!! haha
The spot of the golden spike is located to the left of the bridge in the photo.
The bridge is a Railway bridge only!!
There are some interesting displays outside the Museum just in case it's closed when you get there...like it was for me. There are a couple of plaques commemorating historical events, an old railroad mini-car and you get to see how the Depot looks to arriving passengers.
If you take a walk along Front Street you will find several attractions including The Alaska Railroad Depot Museum, Ice Classic Tower and Clock, St Marks Church, Nenana Cultural Center, Fish Wheels and some beautiful views of the Tanana River.
The Taku Chief is a tugboat that pushed barges on the Nenana,Tanana,Yukon and Koyukuk Rivers for about 30 years. Now it is retired and is located right near the turnoff from the Parks Highway. You can't miss it as it's located right behind the Visitor Center. It's a great example of the local wooden boats that run these rivers ! Now it's just a cool photo opportunity!