On the road to, and in, Denali National Park

grizzly track

Grizzly Track

A bit of a look back at our time in Alaska, so far:

In nearly a month in Alaska we’d had precious few days without rain or heavy clouds. Our hopes of seeing much took a first blow when we tried to drive across the Denali Highway to Denali a few days after entering from Canada. A hard all night rain produced a serious leak over our bed, and the sky looked like more to come, so we beat it to Anchorage to get the link fixed. We wouldn’t have seen any of Denali anyway. We went to Karen’s RV, and the tech assured us he’d fixed the problem; except it didn’t work.(Karen agreed to refund our money). We met Barry and Joyce Weiss, friends of friends in Tucson, and they took us for a hike Flattop and had us for dinner. We also got in a bike ride on one of the Anchorage trails, with some tantalizing blue patches. Anchorage is the best place in Alaska to see a moose, and probably a grizzly, though we apparently just missed that pleasure also.

We had two weeks of rain, save three separate days, one hiking along Turnagain Arm (just missed a bear encounter, same day, same trail), one in Kenai Fjords National Park (wonderful) and one at Homer (great bike ride). We enjoyed some great boondocks on rivers and lakes, but the constant rain and black skies began to take a toll.Bergie bit from Portage Glacier

Back in anchorage we had two more nice days, one spent on the leak and one getting an oil change. We did have a great pizza at Moose’s Tooth with Barry and Joyce before turning north in hopes of temperatures above 55F, and at least a little sun. By this time we’d pretty much given up on seeing Denali. We had see the mountain from the Turnagain Arm trail, very far away, impressively so.

Turning North:spawning salmonA spawning salmon in Denali State Park

We went back to Palmer, mostly for the library, but also the “famous” farmers market. All three of the farmers at the market complained of the rain and lack of sun this year, and their vegetables proved their point.

We tried to find some wi fi at Wasilla and it wasn’t easy. The library seems a volunteer operation only, but the highway is lined with big box stores. We judge a town by its library, not number of highways and stores, all are important, but not as welcoming as a well-loved, well-supported library. It was raining, so we couldn’t see Russia. Wasilla seems to be a good place to bypass. The lady at the visitor’s center was brutally honest about her town, not something we expect from Chamber of Commerce operations. Good on ya gal!Alaska RV Travel 2010

Alaska RV Travel 2010

Talkeetna was very worth visiting, though the pouring rain kept us from walking the charming street. We did enjoy the library. It was in an old house, but had great wi fi and lots of visitors. We could have stayed for days, but were expected the rain to continue, and it did.Caribou in Denali

Caribou in Denali National Park

On the George Park’s Highway headed north we found saw a few little blue patches and decided to stop at the Denali Viewpoint South, to give the mountain a chance to peek at us, and a hundred or so other tourists. It stopped raining, and the distant clouds, over Ruth Glacier, began to rise and larger blue holes broke through the gray. We decided to stay as long as it took to get a peek of the mountain. In late afternoon we were rewarded with a bump on the south ridge, and finally the summit. Within minutes the clouds closed in again, but our hopes were so high we decided to park for the night. We had a windshield view of where the mountain should be, just in case, and we awoke several times to check. No luck.

At Cantwell we drove a few miles of the Denali Highway to a boondock with a spectacular view of the wide glacial tundra valley. We took a nap, and when we awoke there were fresh caribou tracks by Turtle’s steps. Then the sky fell again and was raining by morning.

Giving Denali A Chance:DenaliDenali at Last, Sunshine at Last

The rain continued the last few miles to Denali National Park entrance, and we almost drove past, but we decided to go to the Wilderness Access Center to at least check the weather. The forecast — mostly been wrong so far — looked a little better a day out, so we decided to camp at Riley Creek and see. We had time to hike a couple of miles and happy that the rain stopped.

The next day we discovered that a biker/hiker campground 23 miles in was available, and the weather was already improving. By noon we’d loaded the mountain bikes, and we were off. The traffic was not bad, the hills fairly long. We saw the mountain (hooray!), two caribou, a family of ptarmigan, a snowshoe hare, and a huge set of grizzly tracks. We arrived at Sanctuary River with plenty of time to organize our camp and stow our food safe from bears, and from attracting bears. No bears. Oh, wrong! Claire surprised me with Lucky! She figured if our little stuffed panda had traveled through Tibetan Sichuan and all of Southeast Asia with us, he ought to come on this little trip too. I was very happy with the surprise. Claire says I’m easy to please. She knows how.

Bob Rogers filtering water in Denali national Park

Filtering Water

After packing up everything the next morning, we decided to stash our gear in the bushes (no food) and ride further into the park. We hoped we could get a lift on one of the green buses (they have racks for two bikes). The landscape becomes more spectacular as you get deeper into the park. We didn’t however see anything more than a few small critters; still no bears, except Lucky.Cycling Denali

Cycling Denali

We waved down a green bus that was almost full, but had room for us, and our bicycles, and the driver agreed to stop for our gear. Claire and I were separated, and amazingly we able to talk to two different groupings of the same Chinese family. We had a lot to talk about and they really enjoyed hearing about how much we enjoy traveling in China. Most of the family is U.S. citizens from Chicago, but the patriarch still lives in China and is just visiting. He told Claire he really missed Chinese food.Bushwhacking Denali

Bushwhacking Denali

We stayed another day, took a green bus out 15 miles and hiked most of the day, most of it cross-country; still no bears. But we did have another day of sunshine.Flower of the tundra in Denali

Flower of the Tundra

Bus on the Denali park roadDenali Bus

Fox Scat in Denali with bones and furFox Scat With Tooth and Fur

It’s been sunny since we crossed north of the mountains, and hot, 85 each day. It’s a challenge to go from days of mid 50’s to mid 80’s, but we like it. Both of the roads we had planned to take from here back through Canada are restricted due to flood damage or fire. We hope the fire is out before we get to the Stewart Cassier south of White Horse.


On the road to, and in, Denali National Park — 1 Comment

  1. Bob/Claire,
    When we are back in TUS I would love to show you some up-close bear pix. I spent a summer as a volunteer park ranger in the Denali back country. I’m sad you had such terrible weather. It can be an exquisitely beautiful place.

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