Saturday, June 18, 2016

Denali National Park, Week 1 - Stop 21 on our Trek North to Alaska

It poured rain all Saturday night, and we faced more rain on Sunday as we left Fairbanks.  All this rain in Fairbanks, a place that supposedly gets only 12 inches of precipitation per year.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

We spent the last week hooked up at Denali RV Park in Healy, AK, just 8 miles outside of Denali National Park.

Denali National Park has a weird system in place, different from any other National Park we have visited.  If you don't have the annual National Park Pass like we do, there is a $10/person/week charge to enter the Park, though there is no gate for entry nor did we see any specific area to purchase passes.  You can visit anywhere within the first 15 miles of the Park with your own vehicle or by utilizing their complimentary shuttle service.  In order to access any area beyond the first 15 miles, you must take a specific tour or purchase a shuttle pass for $34/person.

For those staying in an RV at Teklanika Campground within the Park, you must purchase a bus pass to access points in the Park beyond the campground at Mile 29.  All personal vehicles are prohibited.  So if you tow a car like Mike/Claudia do, you must leave it at the Visitor Center.  The bus transports you anywhere from the campground to Mile 92.5, the end of the Park roadway.  However, once you enter Teklanika Campground with your RV, you cannot go back to visit any point within the first 29 miles of the Park, where the Visitor Center, Mercantile, Sled Dog Kennels, Savage River hiking trails, etc., are all located.  If you drive out of the campground for any reason during the course of your stay, your reservation is canceled and you must repay to get back into the campground!  Does the Eagles song, "Hotel California" come to mind?

Hence our decision to spend a week outside of the Park before our stay at Teklanika Campground.  And a good decision it was!

On Monday we perused the Visitor Center displays, watched the film (Mom insists we do this EVERYWHERE we go), and participated in a wonderful ranger-led hike to the dog kennels where the sled dogs demonstrated their talents and duties.  (These are all things that cannot be accessed once we enter the campground.)  What fun meeting all the doggies!  These dogs are part of the Park Service Staff.  Rangers consider them co-workers in protecting this vast wilderness.  They are some heavy haulers, too, moving debris and equipment.  The sled dog ranger team travels 3,000 miles per year.  Each dog works about 9 years of his/her 14-15 year lifespan! 

2016 Canine Rangers

Sled Dog Demonstration

Canine Ranger Koven

Canine Ranger Sylvie

On Tuesday, Daddy, Mike, and I spent the day fishing at Otto Lake.  There were fish jumping all around us.  What did we catch?  As Yukon Cornelius would say, nothin’.

Otto Lake

Me’s thinks I should have joined Mom and Claudia in their nearby hiking and shopping endeavors!

More Beautiful Wildflowers

Horses in a Pasture

Christmas Shop at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge

Flower Bed at Grand Denali Lodge

Humorous Sign, But Oh So True--Huge Mosquitoes Here in Alaska!

On Wednesday, we took the Kantishna Experience, an 11-hour tour originating at Denali National Park Wilderness Access Area.  Our bus driver/tour guide Omar and Ranger Crystal were great, providing us with interesting facts about the Park and its colorful residents.  Mt. McKinley National Park, established in 1917, consisted of 2 million acres.  Renamed Denali National Park in 1980, it now encompasses 6 million acres, making it the third largest Park within the National Park system.  After 5 years as a National Park, it had a mere 7 visitors.  The powers to be decided in order to maximize visitors, an access road was required.  Work started in 1922 and took 15 years to complete through Mile 92.5.  But efforts certainly paid off:  today the Park hosts 400,000 visitors annually.

Cabin of Fannie Quigley, one of Denali's colorful residents from the past

The Park is home to 8 species of trees, 600 species of plants, 160 species of birds, 14 species of fish, 39 species of mammals, and 1 amphibian specie, the wood frog!  And we saw quite a few mammal specimens during our tour:  caribou, moose (including a bull sighting!), snowshoe hare, and fox!

A Bull Moose Bathing

Hoppy, the Snowshoe Hare

This fox was ordering himself some baby magpie bird for lunch!...


...That is until Mom Magpie Dissuaded Him!

We had absolutely gorgeous weather!  A gloriously cloudless blue sky; warm, comfortable temperatures; “a Sunshine Day” as the Brady Bunch would sing (I know, cheesy, eh?  But remember, I am a stuffed rat who adores cheese).   We were among the 30% minority to actually see the tallest mountain peak in North America, Denali, in all its 20,320 feet of wonder, splendor, and glory!

On Thursday we rode about 20 miles down the Denali Highway, once again getting a great, unencumbered view of Denali.

View of Denali from Denali Highway

We passed a few fishing holes, which Dad insisted we test out. Remind me, what is the definition of insanity?  We had 4 moose sightings, including a pair of young females.   We dined in the King Salmon Restaurant at the Princess Wilderness Lodge.  Terrific meal!  Dad had the king salmon while Mom ordered the Asiago cheese and herb crusted halibut.  I, of course, had some of both!  We shared mushrooms stuffed with reindeer sausage covered with melted cheese, and topped off with a dish of homemade huckleberry ice cream!  Yummy!

Mike, Dad and yours truly fishing off Denali Highway--insanity prevails

Two young female moose (sisters?) near Nenana River

On Friday, we hiked along the Savage River Loop Trail, Mountain Vista Trail, and Savage Cabin Trail, which also are located within the first 15 miles of the Park.  The latter two trails are where all the Park activities and tent accommodations were in its early days as a National Park.  It was fun to see photos along the trails of what things looked like back then!

Cabin from the Park's early years

We are blessed with a third day of great weather for viewing Denali.  This is unheard of!  And we got some up close and personal views of caribou, making it another terrific day of exploring Denali National Park!

View of Denali from Mountain Vista Trail

Caribou resting on shore of Savage River

All week long we were told about a mama moose and her calf roaming near the Park entrance.  Well today was our lucky day--we finally spotted them at Horseshoe Lake, while hiking the last trails we wanted to explore at the front of the Park.

We just completed a short hike up Antler Creek Trail near our RV park.  Now I've got to take a shower and clean behind my ears real good in preparation for spending the next 7 days boondocking in Teklanika Campground.   No cell phones, no internet, no electric—just us and this vast expanse of beauty known as Denali National Park.

View from Antler Creek Trail

Heading down the trail about  10 p.m., Alaska Time

P.S.  Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!  Hope you are loved half as much by your kids as my Dad is loved by me! After all, he rescued me from the agony of sitting all alone up on that dusty toy store shelf so many years ago!

I blew a whole month's allowance on this gift for Dad, but he's worth it!


My hero!  Thanks for rescuing me, Dad!

1 comment:

  1. Great pics! Did you guys take the bus tour or the shuttle? I'm trying to figure out if it's worth the extra cost for the bus - it's so confusing! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your visit!