Denali National Park

Tuesday (7/4) we traveled from Fairbanks to Nenana, AK.  We did not have a chance to celebrate the fourth of July holiday in a traditional way.  The sun set at 12:33 AM followed by a sunrise at 3:23 AM.  I woke up at about 2AM the other night and noticed our solar panels were generating a small amount of electricity from the twilight!  So, it never got dark enough for fireworks.  On Wednesday, we drove south along the Parks Highway, heading toward Denali National ParkFirst, though, we stopped to enjoy an excellent meal at 49th State Brewery in Healy, AK (just outside of the national park). Unlike most other restaurants we visited in Northern Canada and Alaska, this place had plenty of staff and an abundance of menu choices.  They even have a replica of the Magic Bus from the Alaska movie “Into the Wild” (the original bus location was about 15 miles west of here).  You can see the bus replica in the photo below. We enjoyed a great meal before we headed into the wilderness of Denali National Park.  

Sorry for the smudge that was on the windshield, but you get the idea.
Great beer paired with fresh halibut. What else could we want?

Our first stop in the park was at the Denali Visitor Center, where Laurie got her National Park passbook stamped, and we watched a couple of interesting movies about the park in their large theater.  The large visitor center complex has a lot of selfie opportunities with their well designed and informative displays. 

I told Laurie that I thought we'd see a moose on Wednesday. Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw.
Dall Sheep are present in the park, as we'd find out the next day.

I had made advanced reservations to stay at the Teklanika Campground, because this is the furthest point that you can drive your RV when camping inside the National Park.  Private vehicles are normally only allowed to drive the first 15 miles on the solitary park road.  Park buses shuttle people the rest of the way.  However, if you have a reservation to camp at Teklanika, you are allowed to drive your vehicle another 14 miles further into the park to reach the campground sites.  This enabled us to explore the park road at our own pace on Wednesday afternoon, and enjoy the favorable viewing weather. The drive on the Denali road is hard to describe.  Vast is the first word that comes to mind.  Far off mountains enclose a massive valley that follows glacial rivers. Your view goes for miles in all directions, and all that you see is wilderness.  Photos and words don’t properly capture this massive landscape. 

The Alaska range of mountains can be seen stretching across the horizon
The gravel road winds through valleys, following glacier fed rivers like this one.

We drove the road during the late afternoon, and it felt like we had the park mostly to ourselves.  Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, and is usually shrouded in clouds.  Only 30% of the park visitors ever get to see the mountain.  The weather cleared enough on Wednesday afternoon to allow us a few glimpses.  While we never got a clear view of the whole mountain, we felt lucky to see as much as we did!

We got a pretty good view of Denali on our drive to the campground on Wednesday afternoon.

Teklanika Campground provides primitive camping sites almost 30 miles into the park.  Lucy was not allowed on any of the park trails, so we spent a lot of time walking the roads of this remote campground.  We both enjoyed walking through this spacious campground.  It was much nicer than any RV park! 

Arctic ground squirrels chirped at Lucy everywhere we went, which often caused Lucy to go bonkers
Wildflowers were plentiful along the campground roads, and we also had some mountain views.

Thursday (7/6) I took the park transit bus further west into the park from the Teklanika campground.  Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and rainy.  I still managed to see some wildlife, including a band of Dall Sheep and a few Caribou.  The cloudy conditions did not allow for any views of Denali, but it was still enjoyable to see more of the park. 

Got to see a band of Dall Sheep on the side of a mountain while traveling on the transit bus
Also got to see some caribou, including this guy resting himself on a hillside.
Denali Park Transit buses like this one shuttle visitors further into the park as far as the East Fork River area.
Look closely to see a park bus crossing the Teklanika River to get a sense of the scale of this river valley.

After a relaxing couple of days in the Denali wilderness, we are now ready to move on.  We begin heading further south into Alaska’s central region.  We have an excursion scheduled for Sunday in Talkeetna that may allow for more mountain views, assuming the weather clears up.  Then, next week we will head south of Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. 

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