we have just returned from an incredible journey where we drove the entire length of road into denali national park. as mentioned previously, the park holds a lottery once a year each fall, letting 400 private vehicles enter daily for a 5 day stretch. you are allowed to meander along at your own pace, taking in the scenery with no bus schedule or transportation worries (or whining tourists). you must leave the park by midnight on the day you hold a pass.
this 190 mile journey led us into a tiny portion of the vast and rugged 6 million acres (think size of massachusetts, or half the size of wales) where fall is at its very end and the first signs of winter are encroaching full force.
the park of course, is dominated by the highest mountain on the north american continent, mount mckinley or denali, ("the great one" in athabascan language). measured from the 2000 foot lowlands near wonder lake (our destination at the end of the drivable road) to the highest peaks; at 20,320 feet, the mountains vertical relief of some 18000 feet, is greater than that of mount everest.
the mountain simply reigns over the alaska range, that 600 mile arc of mountains that divide south central alaska from the interior plateau.
we were fortunate enough to have the clouds part and give us a full show of denali in all its amazing glory through most of the drive.
we awoke early on monday morning in healy (12 miles north of the park entrance) and headed to the check- in at 7 am. (no small feat for this family) jade was upbeat at the prospect of seeing animals, especially bears and was eager to get going into the park. we were going bear hunting and he was intent on "shooting them with his camera"
the road was closed the day before due to snow at about the halfway point, (yes folks, snow. no pussyfooting around here. fall is about done). we didnt know if we'd be able to drive all the way in and if a view of denali was to be had, you've got to to make it past polychrome pass. (incidentally, the camping spot jeff and i were in during our 1996 trip here).
here are some photos of arriving at the wilderness access center getting our pass.
we were told by mr. grass (thats him in his early morning mug shot). that the road was closed at tolkat, but the crews were working on it. so off we went.
early morning clouds were abundant, but the promise of clear skys was also evident. heres what it looked like driving in. we were excited!
we made it to the visitors center at the tolkat river by 10 am and after some clearing skys, mountain goat and one big moose, we were told we'd have to wait for the crews to open the road. many cars came and went, turning around and heading out, (we were after all 53 miles into the park). but there we alot of us who just ate lunch tailgate style and waited for the ranger to let us pass on by.
finally at noon the gate was opened and about 25 vehicles poured ribbon like onto the road, spacing out nicely and resuming the drive. it wasnt too far past polychrome outlook to sable pass where we first saw this: an amazing expanse of mountain that cannot be adequately described with either words or by my sophomoric photography skills. none the less, this is a sample of what we saw. beautiful.
you can click to enlarge.
over sable pass and down through thorofare pass we dropped aproximately 2700 feet, arriving back into autumn swept tundra.
keeping watchful eyes for any signs of bear, moose and goat. we arrived at the end of the road around 4 pm. picniced at wonder lake campground where the camp robbers are as aggressive as they are in every other campground in america.
we spotted the bear with several others who were parked along side the road as we were winding our way back out of the park.
as we were heading back up thorofare pass there was this amazing griz hanging around the snow pack,digging around for food. had he meandered back down to lower elevation, there were plenty of dried up old blueberries everywhere, but here is was poking around all this snow. we hung around watching him lumber along the freshly fallen snow until he went out of view.
it was such a thrill. those creatures are beautiful and BIG.
jade didnt stop talking about it all 250 miles home.
overall i have to say it goes down as one of the most amazing and memorable weekends thus far in our alaskan experience.
PS although i havent checked- angie over on the link bar was supposed to be going as well and she is an amazing photographer. i'll bet shes got some great photos.