Denali National Park and Preserve (June 22-25)

Farewell Fairbanks, Denali here we come!

After checking into the Denali Touch of Wildnerness B&B in Healy Monday, we drove down to the Denali National Park and Preserve Visitor Center, made our reservations for the bus tour on Wednesday, then headed out for our first hike -- Mt. Healy Trail. It was short, but steep, and the overcast skies and drizzle didn't dampen our spirits.

Mike on the Mt Healy hike

Susan with sled dogs
Tuesday we did more exploring the Park, although the areas where you can drive your car are quite limited. We drove down to the Savage River area which is about as far as you can drive. Around the visitor center, we especially enjoyed visiting the sled dog kennels and watching the sled dog demonstration.

Back in Healy, we drove the short distance past our B&B to the Stampede Trail, not far from where Christopher McCandless became lost, lived for a time in an abandoned bus, and did not survive the ordeal due to his own ignorance and lack of preparedness. Locals didn't have fond things to say about the man, whose story was made famous in Jon Krakauer's book Into the WildThe book and subsequent movie glamorization has created enough of a buzz that jeep tours out to his bus have popped up.

We loved Touch of Wilderness. Besides being cozy and comfortable, with good breakfast fare, in the evenings there were excellent complimentary presentations held right in our living room. We took in two. One was about sled dogging by a woman who, along with her husband and 2 young sons earned their living transporting climbers' supplies up to Denali north face base camp. Laurent Dick, an accomplished mountaineer and photographer, gave the other presentation on his ascents of Denali. We came home with an autographed copy of his book, Climb Denali: A Reflective Journey.

Our last day in Denali we would spend 12 hours on almost 90 miles gravel roads riding in what was essentially a school bus. Native corporations were the sole concessionaires for the tour deep into the park and our guide was very knowledgeable.

The Eielson Visitor Center was great, and had the best vantage point for viewing Denali, which didn't cooperate and "come out" for us that day, which we learned was not statistically surprising. Most of the trip was wet and at some parts quite snowy, but the weather didn't seem to bother the grizzlies we saw foraging on a snow covered hillside or the grizzly family that sauntered down the road ahead of us. We also saw moose, caribou, fox and coyote.

Red Fox

Caribou herd


Us at Wonder Lake (note mosquito hood)
The former gold mining town Kantishna lie at the end of the road, but it wasn't much more than a place to turn around for us. On the way back we stopped at Wonder Lake, which is a great photo op in better weather.  At one point, an oncoming tour bus had broken down and was blocking the very narrow road. After a short delay, the bus was pushed out of the way and we continued.

In spite of wet weather and clouds obscuring Denali, our visit at the National Park was fantastic. Thursday was time to head south again, so reluctantly we packed up and headed for Anchorage where we had reservations for three nights awaiting us at Elmendorf AFB.

Denali punching through the clouds

It took us all day to drive the 250 miles along Alaska 3 because we had to keep stopping to look at and photograph Denali. Yep, the clouds were lifting and looking northward were outstanding views of the massive mountain. After a late dinner in funky Talkeetna, we finally arrived in the Big City. In full daylight.

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