Denali, the “High One”, is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600 mile Alaska Range. I’m not sure you appreciate or believe it until you actually witness the sheer magnitude of 20,320 feet. Denali, or Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain on the North American continent. Temperatures at the summit are severe even in summer. Winter lows at just 14,500 feet can plummet to below -95 degrees!! Winds can gust at 150 mph. Earthquake tremors both mild and moderate are frequent occurrences. Numerous glaciers still radiate from the high peaks. You feel as if everything that surrounds you is huge and wild, yet at the same time, soft and tranquil. From the many species of wildlife that call this preserve home, to the variety of wildflowers and plants that carpet the tundra floor, to the wanderings of the river channels laden with pulverized rock from the glaciers, it’s a striking counterpoint to the lofty, isolated grandeur of Mount McKinley.
Backtracking to yesterday - I left Williwaw campground on the Kenai at 7am and drove the short distance to Girdwood to do the “chores” of motor home living – dumping the tanks, filling the gas tank, filling the water tank with potable water. I tried to get propane as well but there wasn’t anyone to fill my tank. I arrived in Anchorage at 8:15am. I wanted to go to the seafood/fish market on 10th & M (that’s even the name of the market) to get some halibut and scallops to ship home. Once that was accomplished I was on my way, or so I thought. It was such a beautiful day and I really didn’t want to leave the city after being in isolation for the past two weeks! The sunshine was especially stimulating! I drove north to Wascilla, a suburb of Anchorage, and pulled into a gas station to fill my propane tank. I thought propane might be less expensive in Wascilla than it would be the farther north I got. While there I noticed a Great Clips hair place and a bagel store so I visited both – got my hair cut and lunch for the road. By that time it was noon, and rather than shop some more (there was also a Fred Meyer) I thought I’d better get serious about driving north, as I still had a long way to Denali Park.
Can I say again how beautiful the day was? After days of cool rain, it was refreshing to see the sun. The added bonus was that you could see the mountain in all her glory – what a gift. I’ve been told that it’s the rare occurrence that you can actually see Mt McKinley and I believe it. When we drove south two weeks earlier we couldn’t see anything – what a difference this day was!
I arrived at the park entrance at 4:30pm and met mom and dad, who had traveled north on their own this day. We still needed to find a place to park for the night, as we couldn’t get into our designated campground, Teklanika (Tek), until the next night. Before parking for the night we stowed dad’s tow car in the visitor center parking lot, as you are not allowed to take tow cars into the park where we had chosen to camp for the next three nights. We toured the visitor’s center, squared away our reservations at WAC (the Wilderness Access Center) and walked around a bit. Then we essentially found a parking lot just outside the park entrance and parked our motor homes for the night, along with three other like minded campers. I didn’t put the slide out. In fact, I ended up just sleeping in my clothes on the sofa – just in case I was asked to leave at three in the morning. Luckily, I got a great night’s sleep, even with Cooper climbing up at 2am to share the sofa with me!
It’s 5am and I’m already up, dressed and ready to roll! The sun was peeking over the ridge at 4:30, adding a warm glow to the surrounding hills. It’s promising to be another warm sunny day on Denali and I’m looking forward to it. Yesterday I was told by my camping neighbor that they saw a lynx outside their window hunting for its food. I was also told that there are many wolves in the area – we are given strict instructions not to leave our pets or our possessions unattended outside the motor home. I’m told the wolves especially like your sneakers if you leave them outside overnight! Not that I ever do anyway, but I can just imagine a den full of sneakers that the wolves have snapped up from unsuspecting campers!
Well, I’ve finished my coffee….time to take Cooper for a nice walk since he’ll be inside all day.
The bus picked us up right outside our campground at 7:55am and we spent the next 9 hours on the Wonder Lake Shuttle bus. We made numerous stops to rest, view wildlife, visit Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake. I think we tallied at least 7 brown bears, many caribou, Dall sheep, moose, eagles, arctic ground squirrels, a wolf and the biggest gift of all – not a single cloud over Mt McKinley. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day than the one we just had.
Today was a more “typical” Alaskan day – cloudy with showers on and off – so, rather than leave Cooper for another 9 hour day (it was still a tough decision) and hike at Eielson Visitor’s Center, I opted for the sacrifice, staying in the campground and taking periodic walks with him between showers. I even ventured up the park road about a mile or so. When I got back I received another “warning” from a fellow camper about the lynx and wolves in our area. Someone spotted another lynx in our campground that morning. I voiced doubt that a lynx would actually go after Cooper but they assured me it would. I’m still skeptical but since it’s not worth taking a chance I stayed inside most of the day and caught up on my book reading! Seemed like a reasonable enough excuse to me! Wow..I haven’t read so many books in a LONG time – between the bears and all the other wild animals I’m warned about!! I think if I were an official Alaskan, it wouldn’t even faze me. Kinda like when I lived in Bend and took walks in the fields behind my house every day. Coyotes were a common sighting and I’ve even seen them fairly close by with their pups. Now and then you’d even be warned about a Mountain Lion (or was it Cougar) sighting and you would be given a lesson once again about what to do and not do if you were to encounter one on your walk. (just like the bears here) It never bothered me – I still walked those fields twice a day. I never saw the cats but I did see coyotes now and then. They seemed to be more scared of me than I was of them. I just say this because in the area I lived it was just something you were used to, the same way Alaskans are used to bears, moose, caribou, elk, wolves, etc. It doesn’t stop them from getting out in the wilderness like it stops me because I’m not used to it…but I must say I’m more used to it than I was when I first got here. Having a bear share the same campground In Williwaw for two weeks and you kind of get used to it –well…. somewhat! I still didn’t want to come face to face with one! I would be very brave until he’d cross my path again and then it would rise to the forefront of my consciousness and I’d be a bit timid for the next day or two until I didn’t see him and then I would be braver….In other words, I think I was learning about bear behavior and my behavior and how to mesh the two. Seems bears like to stay clear of me the same way I like to stay clear of them….it’s a mutual respect!
Tomorrow we’re on the move again. I want to spend time at the entrance to the park to connect to the internet so I can post my blog, upload some fabulous pictures of Denali, check my email, maybe do a bit of housekeeping….mom and dad want to hit the road so we may – or may not - be traveling together tomorrow. I think the route plan is to take the Denali Highway east. It’s a mostly gravel road but I’ve been told the views are worth it. I’m hoping the sky will clear up and it will be another beautiful day, but I also realize that we are currently in the rainy season (July and August) so I won’t hold my breath. I feel I’ve already been blessed by yesterday’s perfect weather so I won’t complain - no matter what!!!
Woke at 5:30am and was driving to the park entrance by 6am. Took me almost an hour to go 30 miles - the speed limit is 35mph in most places but I was going slower because of the early hour (more wildlife) and the rain. Yes, we're back to "normal" July weather! I'm parked outside the local mercantile where I could get internet service. I'm not sure we'll be driving over that gravel road today since it's raining and you can't see anything anyway. Just another day in paradise!