Monday, July 21, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Days 31-33 Denali National Park

We left Palmer and headed for Denali on Saturday, July 19th. The weather was cool and cloudy but as we drove north the sun tried to come out from behind the clouds, and the Alaska Mountains came into view.

Alaskan Bridge Art at the Junction of the Glenn and Parks Highways

The Alaska Range, Viewed from the Parks Highway

At Alaska Highway Milepost 134.7 we did see glimpses of a mountain that we think was Denali. Little did we know that would be the only view we would see on this trip, as during the next two days the weather turned colder and rainier.

We Think This is Mt. Denali

Rain Clouds Vale Broad Pass in the Alaska Range

We were camped for 3 nights at Denali Riverside RV Park, which is located on the Tanana River. The location was great, being just 2 miles north of the Denali National Park. The view was panoramic as we watched rafters go down the river and the trains run along the other side of the canyon. The services at the campground were unfortunately less than satisfactory, as our electricity was an on again-off again proposition.

Rafters Seen from our Windshield

Another Windshield View
The Alaska Railroad Inches Along the Canyon Wall

On Sunday, July 20th we opted out of the organized group excursion into Denali National Park. Keith and I have both been on this tour more than once and have found it to be a long (6-7 hours) and uncomfortable bus ride, so we decided to tour the park on our own.

Private vehicles are allowed to drive the first 15 miles of the Park road to Savage River and that’s what we decided to do. Along the way we saw spectacular scenery as well as caribou, willow ptarmigan and moose. We caught the first two on camera, but were not quick enough to snap the huge moose that crossed the road in front of us.

Savage River Ranger Station
Enforces the Denali NP Road Private Vehicle Ban

Ptarmigan, the Alaskan State Bird

Caribou Browses Along the Savage River

On the way out of the park we stopped at the new Denali Visitor Center and viewed the animal exhibits as well as a 20-minute video on the seasons in Denali. Here we were treated to a beautiful mural of Mt. Denali, the best view of our trip.

Visitor Center Mural of Mt. Denali

We decided to try a local place for lunch called the Salmon Bake. Kathy had 8 oz salmon baked on a wooden plank seared with ginger and bourbon sauce (3.5 COWS) while Keith had halibut fish and chips (3 COWS). The ratings would have been a bit higher but the soggy warm French fries served with the meal were less than appetizing.

Denali Tourist Trap

We drove back to the campground, turned up the heat. When our fellow tourists returned from their bus trip we discovered we had seen more animals in Denali Park on our short trip than most of them had all day.

On Monday, July 21st our group went on a Husky Homestead tour. The 4 Time Iditarod champion, Jeff King lives with his family and 80 Alaskan Huskies on the shores of Goose Lake, just outside of Denali National Park. We saw demonstrations as the dogs used equipment designed to optimize their training like the dog-powered training carousel. We saw a short video on the swimming program that has been implemented has part of the training regimen and were treated to a very informative lecture on the relationship between the musher and his dogs. And of course we all were allowed to hold the puppies.

Our Friend Norma Holds a Puppy

That evening we attended Cabin Nite Dinner Theater. The all you can eat family style meal of salmon, ribs, corn, baked beans, salad, sourdough rolls and homemade blueberry cobbler rated (3.5COWS). The entertainment however was more like a drunken staff Christmas party of the 1990’s with the performers showing no musical or acting talent.

When we returned to our campground there were a dozen rafts going down the Tanana River. As we raised our hands to wish them well one rafter shouted up to us, “Any heat up there “ And that pretty much sums up our 3 days at Denali.

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