Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Denali National Park, July 9-12, 2011

We drove the Parks Highway all the way to Denali National Park. We crossed over the Tanana and Nenana Rivers. The Nenana will travel alongside us all the way to the park. The weather and the road was very nice. Of course, we had a few frost heaves and bumps but nothing dramatic. I had to travel backwards through The Milepost as the mileage was measured from Anchorage. The entrance to the park was after crossing the Nenana River and at milepost A 237.4. Our campground is right near the entrance so we pulled right into the registration office. While registering for our site we were given a “B” site just like the young man had told me on the phone. I didn’t think that was right and even called back to confirm we would fit.
Well….when we checked in we were told we probably would not fit in a “B” site and there were no “A” sites left. We were able to unhook the tow and drive through the loops to see if one of the “B” sites would fit. We found a great pull-through, B103, in the Caribou Loop. Perfect! After getting set up, which was easy since there are no hookups, we drove to the Wilderness Visitor Center and checked in for our tour in the morning. We were given our tickets and told where to meet the bus. Since it was early in the afternoon we drove as far as we’re allowed in our car…the Savage River bridge and trailhead. On the way we stopped at a turnout just in time to see Mt. McKinley. Yes…we’re one of the lucky ones. The weather was clear and sunny and we had a nice showing in the distance. When we arrived at the Savage River bridge we were able to see one large male caribou on the riverbank just grazing on grass and shrubs. We considered a hike but thought it would be best left until later…it was too late to begin a hike.
We drove into “town” to check out where we would meet our tour tomorrow and found a cute restaurant, Pioneer Pizza, to eat. After stuffing ourselves with pizza and beer we eturned to our campsite and I took a little walk. There was a moose and her baby in our campground just walking through sites and munching on shrubs. I got some good close pics. I actually had to warn a couple that a moose was headed for their campground. They were turned away and had no idea what was coming towards them. That was very exciting.
For our first full day at the park we had scheduled a Tundra Wilderness Tour which travels by bus 53 miles into the park. Our appointed departure time from the Princess Denali Hotel was 7:40 AM. We arrived about 6:15 and waited in the hotel lobby. It was full of people taking one tour or another. Our tour bus pulled into the loading zone and then left…the bus had bad brakes and needed to be checked out before hitting the Park Road. We finally departed one and one-half hour late but were given a $50 voucher for the delay. It says we can redeem for cash…we’ll see.
The tour was great. Our driven was very professional and answered all our questions and seemed to know all about the park and the animals. We saw moose, caribou, grizzly bears and Dall sheep…and, of course, the most beautiful scenery. Mt. McKinley was not visible today but we had already seen it yesterday.
We only saw the bears because when the tour was at it’s end another bus driver told our driver that there were bears a little bit further down the road. He extended our tour just a little bit so we could see them. On our way back we saw caribou again. Our driver gave each of us a Tundra Wilderness companion booklet of photos and information. Our driver actually has about 5 pics in that booklet…one of the best photos, showing a pack of wolves fighting off bear from their moose kill. I consider us fortunate to have gotten him as our driver. After this tour we were exhausted…at least 8 hours on the bus bumping over the gravel roads and navigating around steep ledges a thousand or two feet up the side of a mountain. We got back home and collapsed.
The second full day we got up later in the morning and drove back out to Salmon River to do the loop hike. On the way we saw a mama moose and her baby walking not far from the road. We stopped a took more pics and just watched them move on by. We made it to the trailhead for the loop hike but could not find a place to park. We parked up the hill on a turnout and walked down to start the hike. We saw some grouse…it looked like a little family. One was on one side of the road and all the others on the opposite. “He” kept calling “lookout”! At least that’s what it sounded like to me. We finally made it to the beginning of the loop. The path follows the river to a footbridge and back down the other side. The WIND was BLOWING hard. It was not a hard walk and we made it around with no problems. We saw a family of ptarmigans. We were also able to see the old caribou again on the other side of the big bridge and he had two other caribou with him. On our drive back down the park road we stopped at the viewpoint and, yes, there was Mt. McKinley again. We are living right! We checked out the railroad depot and also the Savage Cabin on our drive back to the rig. We also made a trip to the bridge over the Nenana to take some photos of the water and the rafters. It was so windy we didn’t stay on the bridge long. It started raining after we got back home so we stayed in for the night and prepared for our next journey to Anchorage. It rained on and off all night. Denali was beautiful and it was fun staying in a campground right in the park. Next time we’ll need to stay at Teklanika Campground which is accessible only by permit and has a 3 day minimum stay. No hookups but it’s on the edge of the Teklanika River. That would be exciting!

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