Hi, everyone! Did you miss me? I’ve been unconnected since we entered Teklanika Campground within Denali National Park, where there are no hookups, no internet, no television, no radio—just us and the wilderness!
Back in December when we made reservations, The Park agent said that there were only a few sites within this campground that could accommodate truly big rigs. We were encouraged to actually purchased two sites—one for our 42” fifth wheel and one for our medium duty truck, “Big Boomer.” However, there are no “reserved” sites—it is first come, first served. They would not even guarantee two sites next to each other so we could hook up our solar to the rig. So we got all our permits a few days early and headed into the Park by 6 a.m. Along the route, we see Linda and Steve, folks who traveled part of the way to Alaska with our mutual friends, Kelly and Bill. They scouted the campground before they left it earlier that morning and provided us with a list of available sites suitable for our setup. And thanks to their efforts, one site is long enough and wide enough to fit both the truck and rig, and it is close to a site that accommodates the 40’ bus of Claudia/Mike. So, we blew $154 for a second site and received no refund. Bummer—I could have bought me a ton of cheese with that kind of dough!
The weather was mostly damp, cloudy, and rainy. We even experienced sleet while participating in a Ranger-led hike on Monday near the Eielson Visitor Center. Good thing we had the opportunity to view Denali (a.k.a. The High One) three times last week, ‘cause she hasn’t been seen since! The little sunshine we experienced usually occurs about 10 p.m. Makes me want to sleep during the day and be active during the night!
But the weather did not hinder our ability to explore, although I can’t say the same for the shuttle bus system! The system is very limiting, and much more complicated and convoluted than need be. As I mentioned in my previous post, you cannot go to any point east of your campground. You must determine how far into the Park you wish to travel at the time you make reservations. You are scheduled for a specific bus to get to that predetermined point on your first day of shuttle bus service. After that, you can take any bus to any point between the campground and your predetermined final point, but there is no “reserved” seat for you. Every shuttle bus guarantees four empty seats when it leaves the Park Entrance, so you just hope a seat is available when the bus reaches you! Furthermore, not all locations are serviced by every bus. For example, there were only two buses to get us to Kantishna, our pre-determined final point at Mile 92.5 (the end of the Park roadway) and only two to get us back, one of which left within 45 minutes of arrival, leaving virtually no time to explore the area. The other return bus did not get back to the campground until 10 p.m.! One day we went to Wonder Lake, about 55 miles from our campground. It took us 5 hours to get there just so we could do a 7 mile hike, which took less than 3 hours to complete. Then back on the bus for another 5 hours! And did I mention these are not luxury buses, but instead school buses. It is insanity. We were glad we took “The Kantishna Experience” Tour when we stayed outside the Park, since we never did make it back to Kantishna this week.
The only good thing about the bus system is that the drivers are excellent at spotting wildlife! Although we viewed tons of animals, most were too far away to photograph. From the bus windows they looked like little dots in the distant hills and mountains. However, we hit the jackpot on Wednesday, seeing a total of nine bears, including two cubs romping around! One bear in particular decided to give us a real show! After scratching his groin, counting his toes, and washing his face, he came off the mountain and walked right next to the bus!
I learned all kinds of cool animal trivia, which will come in handy when I apply to be on Jeopardy for Rat Week! For instance, did you know that moose antlers weigh eighty pounds and can grow as much as a foot a day! Or that when bear cubs are born, they are hairless and their eyes are closed? Yet, by the time they emerge in spring, they are furry and ready to see the world. Or that the arctic ground squirrel is the only animal that truly hibernates. Unlike bears, who just go into a deep sleep, arctic ground squirrels’ body temperatures decrease to freezing and they have a heartbeat of only one beat per minute. If you were to dig one up out of its burrow, it would be frozen like a popsicle and look quite dead! Unfortunately, the arctic ground squirrel is at the low end of the food chain. They are breakfast burritos for bears, and are a source of protein for ravens, golden eagles, foxes, etc.
We logged some hiking miles this week, including trekking through several different ecosystems along the McKinley Bar Trail. However, there are few developed trails within this Park wilderness. We created our own, as the Park encourages, including hiking along the sandbars of the Teklanika River. I’ve never walked across a river before!
View of McKinley River from trail at Wonder Lake
Donning the latest mosquito net fashions at Wonder Lake
View of Alaska Range from Wonder Lake
Hiking along Teklanika River
View from Teklanika River
Our reward for tolerating all the rain--a beautiful rainbow!
Good thing we got to hike along the Savage River at the eastern end of the Park last week—upon re-entering civilization, we learned the area is now closed down due to bear activity.
Since campground guests are a captive audience, the Park offers a Ranger Program each evening in our campground amphitheater, which we attended regularly.
We met some great folks at the campground, including Christie and Art, mutual friends with Nancy and David from Amazon. It is a small world sometimes!
With what we know now about Denali National Park and if we did it again, we would stay longer outside the Park and camp at Teklanika only for the minimum requirement of three nights. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing!
As it turned out, we left Teklanika a day early anyway—Mike has not been feeling well and wanted to get to a V.A. doctor/hospital in Anchorage. Unfortunately, our reserved campground in Wasilla could not accommodate our early arrival. So we are now boondocking in Walmart for one night. Makes for a very short trip to get to the campground tomorrow--just three miles. At least we got to see a bit of Denali again when we visited Denali State Park along our planned route to Wasilla.
My favorite flowers--daisies reflect both beauty and simplicity
South View of Denali from Denali State Park
North View of Denali from Denali State Park
Alaska Veterans Memorial - Denali State Park
OK, I’ve got to sign off now. Walmart is running a special on Swiss cheese I don’t want to miss!