Denali, wild and shy – what a place!
During the next few days we will be at Healy, which is about 11 miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park. We are spending several days here as there is so much to explore, see and experience. One thing of note though is that every morning is a surprise in terms of weather. We wake up in sunshine one day, rain the next day or windy the next day. We have stopped looking at the weather forecast for it is never correct beyond the current day, if that.
Before going into the park we drove around town and ventured further from the entrance. We noted that the services an the park (e.g.hotels, gas, food and tours) are only open from May through September and go back to “wilderness mode” during the winter.
There is a lot of hustle and bustle in a nearby town where all the tourists go and cruise people stay and hang out. This place is humming and pricey as I had the most expensive fish and chips ever, $21 ! Three pieces of halibut and chips, but was very delicious. We also checked out the local brewery in town, 49th State Brewery where Steve liked the stout so much that he wanted to buy a half-gallon growler of it. Not available until after we leave, though 😦
Denali National Park is run efficiently and managed very well to preserve its wildness. It is six million acres of wild land and unaltered landscape. Although there are thousands of visitors entering every summer, entry is controlled and scheduled by bus system. They are doing this to not only reduce traffic on this one lane, winding gravel road, but also for the preservation and least disturbance to the wild animals.
It is not like Yellowstone National Park where visitors upon seeing an animal, pull over and get noisy and excited to take pictures. Here everyone is instructed to be quiet and if you talk the boss driver won’t hesitate to hush you. By controlling the visitor’s access and behavior toward wildlife, they have avoided any human deaths by bears in the park. And unlike Yosemite, the bus maybe full but not crowded as every seat is scheduled and paid for. If it worked well on the 4th of July, it must work well other times. On a side note there were no fireworks here on the fourth of July as it never gets dark here.
We scheduled the longest green bus trip, a twelve hour, 92 mile drive drive round-trip all the way into the park. This is quite a long trip – we stopped for every wildlife sighting. On this tour we had 17 grizzly bear sightings, we saw a herd of caribou, some Dall sheep that looked like white dots on the mountain, a shy Moose, ducks, eagles, and birds.
And as I mentioned earlier, everyone got quiet when we saw wild animals up close with cameras softly clicking. Steve was already sick of seeing moose after almost running one over, and one that came to dinner at our RV park . But we had to respect the rest of the guests who seemed to be awestruck at every sighting.
The bus tour offered not only wildlife but also unparalleled views of an ever changing landscape, and stunning panoramic views of the mountains. And speaking of mountains we also came here to see the centerpiece of the park, the tallest mountain in Northern America – Mt McKinley. The locals call it Denali meaning “the high one.” It stands with a summit elevation of 20,320 ft above sea level. Well, we weren’t able to see the entire mountain on this tour, but we did see a glimpse of the north and south peaks on our way in and out.
We’ll have another chance to see it on Saturday when we go back into the park for some hiking, then another REALLY good chance on the 10th when we are scheduled to land on a McKinley glacier during a flight from Talkeetna. Can’t wait for that!
We did some hiking outside the park, and being adventurous we aimed for a trail that we saw from the highway called Bison Gulch. We didn’t see the beginning of the trailhead so we decided to try a wall of shale rock at the nearest steep hill. Oh my, I had the scariest moment of my life. I was literally crawling for about 15 feet on a 35% grade of loose gravel. I dared not look down for I know I would probably panic. I kept my cool and and prayed that I would get out of this mess. Steve was ahead of me and seemed quite amused as he pulled me to the top. He was very proud of me for “making the grade”. Whew, that was close. Unfortunately, my $10 sunglasses fell off during the struggle and remain somewhere on that hill. The other hikes we did were inside the park with good trails. They were strenuous, but not as scary as the one we did on Thursday.
The McKinley RV Park where we are staying is not one of our favorite. The office workers are disorganized and incompetent, the sites are not level and big potholes on the driveway. The 30 amps did not work and was not fixed during our stay, so instead they gave us a credit back of $15 per day.