Denali to Denali NP, AK
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Very windy, 54F and sunny
Last chance showers. Since there are only vault toilets inside the park, showers were tops on the priority list before entering that park. We were on road about 9:45 and stopped at “Mercantile” just inside the park to pick up our camping and shuttle bus passes before driving to Teklanika campground.
29 miles inside the park, Tek is the campground deepest in the park to which RVs can be driven. The road is paved for the first 15 miles. From there on in it is gravel the whole way. (Did I mention grit?) There are two campgrounds deeper in the park but they are “walk-in” campgrounds, accessible only to tent campers who travel there by shuttle bus. Our “tin” tent doesn’t qualify.
We were lucky that first day. Usually Mount McKinley is cloud covered but today the “Tall One” was out! We first sighted the mountain nine miles in and, again, at Mountain Vista Overlook. We’re glad we saw her that day because the peaks were obscured the entire remainder of our four-day visit.
We were pleased to find that the campground had nicely wooded sites, spotlessly clean vault toilets and a stout food storage building. We spent the much of the remainder of the day preparing our daypacks for hiking including mosquito gear and our newly purchased bear spray. Afterwards we donned those packs and explored a small part of the Teklanika along which the campground is sited. Nearly all the streams in the park are braided. This one is about a quarter-mile-wide at this point. We wandered downstream and climbed an outcropping for a pretty view. No bears, or other wildlife threatened us, mosquitoes excepted.
Dinner was a Teriyaki beef stir fry with salad. Afterwards we attended the evening ranger program: “Smart Birds and Animals”.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Partly cloudy, very windy, mid 60s
It’s Sandy’s birthday today; we won’t bore you with how “young” she is!
Cool and windy, we put on our lightweight fleece plus down sweaters and walked to the road to wait for the shuttle bus due to arrive about 7:55. Shuttle buses are the only method of transportation from this campground for the remaining 60 miles of roadway into the park. The buses operate every 15 to 30 minutes. They have regular stops but you can get off anywhere you want and back on whichever bus has an available seat.
We took our first bus in to Wonder Lake, about mile 83, with stops at Polychrome Overlook, Toklat River, Eielson Visitor Center, a couple of rest stops plus anytime anyone yelled “Stop!” to observe wildlife or special scenery. The buses are modified Bluebird brand school buses, used because they are more lightweight than standard buses and more suitable to the gravel roadway. We had a good time on bus interacting with people sitting around us. Many areas of road are narrow with big, scary drop-offs along some stretches. As is often the case, we really didn’t see much wildlife and none close-up.
We encountered Barbara & Sarge, who we met earlier on this trip, at one of the rest stops. They were fresh from their drive to Prudhoe Bay to dip their toes into the Arctic Ocean. They said the drive was slow, because of the gravel road, and uneventful, except for the two cracks in their truck’s windshield from stones thrown up by passing trucks. We’ll probably pass on a stop in Prudhoe Bay.
The Tall One was not out. That was no surprise but we were certainly hoping. Just the view of the bottom of the mountain from Eielson was pretty cool. As only about 1 in 3 people who ride into the park see the mountain, we considered ourselves lucky for the previous day’s sighting.
Our last inbound stop was Wonder Lake, the closest the road comes to Mount McKinley. Wonder Lake has a reputation for being mosquito infested. Yep, it sure is! Departing the bus everyone was immediately covered with the little beasties! We used our mosquito nets over our heads and were glad to have them. On balance, the Wonder Lake portion of drive not very scenic compared to the other sections and we wouldn’t recommend riding all the way in unless the mountain was out.
On Mosquitoes: Curiously, even though we’ve encountered lots of mosquitoes inside Denali and on the rest of the trip, we haven’t been too bothered by bites. Maybe it’s because we are quick with the DEET and have worn long pants and sleeves most of the time.
On our way back out we took a short hike at Eielson Visitor Center. We didn’t spot any wildlife during the walk. However, we did have some, mostly distant, sightings along our drive including Dahl sheep, caribou, moose and a grizzly sow with two older male cubs. That’s not bad for one day but it wasn’t as good as some people saw riding other buses. And it lacked the excitement everyone hopes for of close-up views.
After the long day on the bus we talked with Anthony, from London, who we met on the bus. He and his wife, Chris, were just 48 hours in to an 18-month lightweight camping tour of the Americas. We offered a few insights on what to see while in the US and exchanged contact information. We then attended the evening ranger program: “The Scoop on Poop”, learning how to analyze our poop sightings. We finished the day with a simple but tasty dinner of ham and veggie soup from back home with applesauce.