Attitude Check in Denali National Park

Since writing this, I’ve learned more about the protection of the park through the Wilderness Act of 1964 and have a better attitude!

Maybe we’ve gotten used to having glorious nature to ourselves. In Yukon, especially, we’d pull off the road to camp, with stunning views and walks on the tundra in every direction—no one around us, no limits to what we could do. Plus, it’s been a very long time since we camped in a national park.

We’re in Denali for a cold, rainy, grey week, in a campground far in the interior of the park, but with limited access to the park, oddly. Tracy and Doug seem to have adjusted their expectations, but Melanie and I are still working on that.

Where We Can’t Hike

The park is giant (6 million acres) and it has just one road that goes 90 miles into the center—and then you turn around and go out. That’s it for driving, which is cool with me.

Except, the interior half of the road is closed due to a landslide a few years ago. We knew that.

We booked in the farthest-in campground you can now get to, Teklanika, so we could get at least this far in. There’s a checkpoint partway down the road where only campers are allowed through, and only once to park in the campground, then once to leave. You may not drive on the road during your stay. We knew that, too, and that’s also cool with me.

How you get around is on shuttle busses. Here’s the rub.

A) We’re discouraged from riding a bus past the checkpoint, so really we can go only in the blue area, above. So, no visitors centers, no sled dog demonstration. That’s because

B) the buses are so crowded you often have to wait for the next one, and you could easily get stranded far from your RV for the night. And, man are the buses crowded. Even in the area you’re allowed to ride, you don’t get on the first bus you’re waiting for, and once on the bus you’re sitting right beside some geezer who complains he hasn’t seen any animals but goats. (Dude, they’re sheep, and they’re the reason the park was created.)

C) And, even in that allowed area, in some places you’re not allowed to walk off the road. You’re welcome to hike, but on the road. You have to hike on the road. This we did not know coming in.

So this is how we’re seeing the park so far: riding on crowded buses peering between heads to see glimpses of cloudy landscapes. This is us getting off the bus for a bit at the checkpoint, where we’re not allowed farther.

I did take this pic from one of the bus stops. We know the mountains are out there! We just have to get to them, despite not being able to get on flights or take tours or go back-country backpacking—mostly because we can’t leave Banjo in the trailer for longer than a day.

Where We Can Hike

Tracy and I did take the bus yesterday morning and jumped off at a spot he’d picked out on a topo map that looked hikable (in the allowable area). We bushwhacked through shrubby willow and found paths made by moose.

They’d stomped through the willows, breaking limbs and tearing off leafy branches like a pack of Godzilla. It was glorious to see. There were so many piles of moose skat that, after about 30, we stopped thinking about how many and started thinking about how often, like every 20 feet for the entire day of hiking.

We didn’t see any actual moose, amazingly. Lots of Dall Sheep, and we saw caribou from the bus.

The hiking was wet and cold. Yeah, I was wearing full rain gear, but my boots have lost their waterproofness, and I didn’t think hard enough about getting the (free) replacement pair sent somewhere up here; they’re waiting for me at Finn’s house in Michigan. I kept my camera in a grocery bag inside my raincoat, so that was a pain to pull out, and just for shots that are not great because I’m still learning how to use the thing.

We saw one hiking group that day, and they were amusing because as soon as they saw us, they asked about grizzly. Believe it or not, they thought all the moose skat we’d seen was bear skat (bear at right, not from this hike, moose at left).

If that were the case, we’d all have been eaten minutes after we stepped off the bus! They were greatly relieved to learn they were on a moose path. Although we did all review the basics of wildlife encounters: run from a moose, throw rocks at a wolf, act the opposite of the bear (aggressive vs quiet). It helps me to repeat these often.

Even the little hike we did with the bushwhacking and wet feet was pretty damned impressive.

Biking the Road

Just toodling down the road with our bikes turns out to be full of wonderful views, as well.

During minutes of spotty sunshine, the difference was astounding.

This mountain is maybe Morrow?

It’s near Denali but not it, which we know because pictures people have taken of Denali right now show it covered entirely in snow.

Well, when it’s raining, we’re lucky to have Doug and Melanie to hang around with (Melanie and I have decided there’s no real strategy to Mancala; we just like the pretty stones). And when it’s not raining, we’re going to toddle around more.

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