Alaska RV Camping Travelog – Day 9
Denali and Mt McKinley
Woke to a chilly 32 degrees–not as cool as predicted but feels plenty cool to us! Partly cloudy but looks as the weather may improve as we head south for Denali. Brian noticed a note on the office that said if no one came around to collect our money, we should pay at the “Two Choice Café.” So we decide to walk as it doesn’t seem like anything is too far away in this tiny town. We do take Casey as he needs a walk too!
We arrive at the “Two Choice Café” just after 7:00 and the place is just opening. The owner is there and tells us we get a complimentary coffee for staying at the RV park. This is the best deal in Nenana! We decide to stay for breakfast and select from the two choices…..Ham and Eggs or a Belgium Waffle…that’s it, take it or leave it! We take the Ham and Eggs and poor Casey’s tied up to a pole outside and barks the whole time!
Walking back home we see lots of fish on what looks like a clothes line….they are dried by the sun and then they are used for feeding the sled dogs in the winter. There is also a tripod shaped item which is placed on the ice in winter and that’s how they know the ice is breaking up in the spring. It has a tall white center pole marked in feet and it’s REALLY tall. I shudder to think of the deep snow and dark days.
This section of road is known as the Parks Highway, now that the skies have cleared we are afforded some excellent views of Mt. McKinley but they are very distant. It’s a huge snow covered peak towering about the rest of the Alaska Range and we discuss how tall it really must be if we can see it from where we are! Near a town known as Anderson which is at least 50 miles from the Denali Park and Preserve entrance according to the Milepost Magazine. This is a winding, hilly drive but the road is in good condition.
We do pick up some truck traffic and realize they are coal trucks from a nearby coal mine at Healy. Up to this point in our travels, towns have been virtually non-existent with the exception of Tok and Fairbanks. This is the most civilization we’ve encountered in Alaska so far. And believe me, they are nothing like town‘s in the lower 48.
We begin to see more lodges and cabins and suddenly we are driving through McKinley Village. This would be the touristy part of the park with many shops, hotels, and restaurants. It’s a typical park border village on a much smaller scale than what we’ve become used to.
We enter Denali National Park and Preserve, and the most unusual thing seems to be there is no entrance station! Also there are no views of the mountain from The Visitor Center! Time is 10:40 am and Brian seems to think we better book a bus tour for today since clear days in the park are very rare. We do sign up for the 12:00 bus tour out to Fish Creek–it is an 8 hour trip and the furthest you can go into the park currently due to snow deeper into the park. They also mention that we could take the 11:30 bus trip if we show up at the “Wilderness Access Center” just 10 minutes before the bus leaves….yeah, right-it’s 10:50 now! We also have to check in for our camp site which we do, and then quickly head back to the camp ground to get set up. Somehow Mom and I manage to make sandwiches and get our lunches together and we hurry back over to the bus stop! By some amazing stroke of luck we arrive for the 11:30 bus, the bus driver gets on and off we go!
We had been keeping an animal tally up to this point on our trip….well, today was the day we stopped. It would be impossible to keep track of all the wildlife we saw on this trip! We also have 4 spectacular views of Mt McKinley/Denali and our bus driver (Dave) makes lots of stops for pictures. He is also very informative about park features and animals. We see 10 Grizzlies both cubs and adults, over 100 Caribou and Dahl Sheep, birds, Grouse, Ptarmigan, Marmot….. WOW! There are restroom stops and also places to walk around and stretch your legs. This is a 63 mile trip each way, and 50 miles of it are gravel, so breaks do feel good!View along road in Danali National Park
The following picture is of Mt Mckinley from 35 miles away. This is as close as we could get, and the picture really doesn’t begin to show the massive size and presence of this highest of all mountains in North America.
There is a lot of bus traffic on this road as many of the area lodges have shuttles into Denali as part of their tour packages. We can understand why you don’t have the option to drive your own car in here, except to one camp ground. At the Toklat River there is a visitor center, restrooms, and the opportunity to catch a different bus if you’d like. We do take the earlier bus as the day is getting a little long for all of us. We are treated to two enormous grizzlies running in the brush next to the bus and then they suddenly appear directly ahead of us in the road! Of course I can’t get a picture of them, I’m too excited just looking! They are FAST! 40 miles an hour and I would have never believed they could be so quick with the size they are! Our new bus driver (Keith) seems ready to be home too, and he says he’s not stopping unless someone wants to. Well, no one lets out a peep, and we’re home a bit after 7:00pm.
By the time we get to the motor home it’s 7:45 and we‘re all tired and hungry. The bus trip was great but the trip out of the mountains seemed much longer than going in. Brian starts the grill and we have potatoes, steak and tilapia.
Seems I am always finding something wrong for Brian to work on and today is no exception! We have no hot water! Of course I tell Brian when he’s just climbing into bed! He checks a couple things and decides to work on it in the morning.
Road notes: Only 72 miles today, but it seems longer due to our time on the bus. We are whipped! The Parks Highway is in fair condition, but with lots of frost heaves our speed averaged just 45 miles an hour most of the trip.
Tomorrow…RV Camping Journal Day 10 – Riley Creek
Yesterday…RV Camping Journal Day 8 – Fairbanks to Nenana