On the Road to Denali

Breakfast at the Roadhouse. Holy Macke… er, Halibut! Never have seen such a pile of food (good food) on one table! Too intimidated to even take a photo. I guess when you’re ready to trek to the McKinley base camp, you need something really substantial.. Unfortunately, we were just climbing into the Jeep.

DSC_1929The skies had cleared after last night’s rain and mist. This was our first sight as we drove through the Denali Preserve, just before reaching the park itself. All these vistas are part of the Alaska Range of mountains.

DSC_1935The highway rolled on for a hundred or so miles, but fast road with views like these. It took us through dark green and white spruce forests, punctuated by streams and lakes, and gorgeous snow-capped peaks. The grasses were just starting to change into their Fall colors.

DSC_1939It’s the only substantial road in this area, and it’s amazing that there was almost no traffic, even on this beginning of the Labor Day holiday.

DSC_1944This part of the world does close up rapidly in mid to late September. And, the snows have already begun.

DSC_1946We made it to the Visitor Center in mid-morning, just in time for a Ranger walk that combined both the history of the area and a fascinating look at it’s flora. We joined a group of 7th & 8th graders from a school in Fairbanks — wouldn’t it be nice if we had a place like this in Bordentown for field trips.

DSC_1948Our ranger was quite a character, and was adept at handling the kids, even giving a younger loquacious one a “job” to keep him from dominating the conversation. He talked about the effect on the area by hunters, trappers and railroad builders, and the continuing friction between factions wanting to preserve the land and the inevitable  people wanting to develop it.

A little drizzle started, so he quickly put on the silly plastic hat covers all rangers are issued. You’d think they’d get some waterproof hats by now. We pulled up our raincoat hoods.

DSC_1955He also gave everyone cards, each describing an indigenous plant including its medicinal qualities. Marsha was one of the first to spot her’s, yes the Kinnikinnick (often used as a tobacco substitute or as a tea inducing a laxative affect).

DSC_1956Forest, glacial streams, suspension bridges. A lovely, quiet walk before we would get into the most rugged parts of Denali tomorrow.

DSC_1958The park has between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors in the summer months. In the winter (coming up quickly) there may be only 4,000, and many fewer rangers. Winter dog sledding, skiing and snowshoeing keep visitors happy then.

DSC_1962Had our first moose sighting at the visitor center which had some great exhibits. From there we drove up to out hotel, the Grand Denali Lodge. It’s built on a high bluff overlooking the park with a switchback access road (with no guard rails) and loads of ironic signs, taking your mind off the “treacherous” drive. It was worth the climb as…

DSC_1966…this was the view from the Lodge.

We ate in the bar area of the hotel at a window with this view. The food and beer were excellent (locally brewed beers are a good, key aspect of life in these parts).

Wake up was to be around 4 am tomorrow for breakfast and 6:15 am bus departure for our 13-hour ride through the park. Even so, we asked the desk to wake us if the Northern Lights appeared (a service the hotel provides).

Of course, our phones rang at 12:50 am. Linda and Josh answered, threw on some clothes and saw an hour’s worth of changing green and blue. I reached for the phone, knocked the radio, my glasses and eye phone to the floor. Rolled over and slept ’til 4. L&J were a bit tired, but could live with that having seen something very special. (Next night they didn’t call).

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