We were very happy to wake up to sunshine this morning. The weatherman had predicted clouds and rain for the next four days. Sunny with high clouds gave us a good chance of seeing at least some of Denali on our drive toward Anchorage. We were going about 2/3 of the way and stopping for the night in a small cabin on the spur road to a little town called Talkeetna. There are places along the drive that you can see Denali and we kept an eye on the peak as we headed south. At the Chulitna Overlook there is a clear view of the mountain, right down the road and the mountain was clear to the top. It was a long way away, but with our zoom lens we were able to get some nice shots. The spot is obviously well known as a good viewing area because there were five tour buses in the lot. Denali is 20,320′ above sea level and is so high and wide it creates its own weather. Over 70% of the time the top is covered by cloud.
Once you were a fair distance from Fairbanks you entered the Alaska Range and so today ended up very much like the day we drove to Inuvik; gorgeous mountain after gorgeous mountain. Dragonfly Creek Overlook The National Park Service effectively limits the number of private vehicles in Denali. You can only drive the first 15 miles (24 km) of the road. The road is 92 miles (148 km) to the end and but you must take one of the many park shuttles to access any trails, and take a mandatory Ranger course before you do any overnight hikes. (The shuttle costs return for $80.75 per adult to get to mile 30 and takes about 4.5 hours. It takes up to 12 hours return to go all the way to mile 92 for $194.00 per adult.) There is only one camp ground in the park and it is within the Entrance Loop near the Visitor’s Center. The majority of people stay at campgrounds or hotels at places that border the park boundary to the north or south. Healy is 12 miles north of the Denali Entrance and the places was chock-a-block with hotels and cabins and white water rafting and tour companies.
The Nenana River Canyon is at Healy and we stopped to get an earthcache and to view the river. There is a great bridge that parallels the road that has little jut-outs so you can get good views of the river. Talk about a view point. This hotel is perched on top of the bluff. We learned a new word – or words – today: rock flour. It is the ground up particles of rock from the glacier that flows in the river. That is why the water is such a muddy grey colour. It is 194 km (121 miles) from Fairbanks to the entrance to Denali National Park. The Visitor’s Center was very busy, the parking lots were full of cars, and there were people everywhere. Obviously Denali is a ‘must-see’ on many Bucket Lists. I am amazed at how many foreign-speaking people were there as well. Lots of Germans and Dutch. All the animals in the large diorama were sculptures not taxidermy; which I was happy to see. A topographical rendition of Denali and the surrounding mountains. We had no plans to do a lot of hiking around in the park. We just wanted to try see the mountain and drive the road the allowable distance. The weather co-operated and we enjoyed a gorgeous drive. The scenery is so vast I stitch several photos together. They give a better scale of the expansiveness of the region. The image can be quite narrow though. If you look carefully at the center of this photo, the white mass under the line of clouds is Denali. This is the most commonly seen view of the mountain – half covered in clouds. Another word I learned today – gossan. The huge orange rock exposed here is a gossan. It is created by the oxidation of iron-sulfide minerals within Yukon-Tanana rocks. It is rust. Gossans often indicate the upper part of ore deposits such as gold, silver, lead, zinc, and other minerals. The area had been explored years before the surroundings became the national park, but it was never excavated. This huge rock formation (there are people climbing around on it and at the base) is at the Savage River parking lot – the end of the road. If you want to explore the park further or take one of the many, many hiking trails you must go from here by shuttle bus. The Savage River is another one of Alaska’s delta-like, meandering rivers with very wide beds and many streams. During early spring I am sure it is running water edge to edge. We stopped here on our return for lunch. I checked the meadow with the binoculars but didn’t see any critters. Denali is a park ‘teeming’ with wildlife, but we saw nary a one. At mile 3.5 of the road there are the sled dog kennels. They give a demonstration three times per day and we just caught the end of the 2 pm one. Around the ceiling in the sled shack (which is the oldest building in Delani National Park that is still used for its original purpose), they have the names of all of their former sled dogs. The dogs work until they are 9 and then they are adopted out. They breed all their own dogs at the park. This is Annie.To be continued….