A red squirrel chattered outside the camper. Wet from three days of rain, the squirrel looked absolutely miserable but went about its daily business. Staring out through the windows of our camper Barb and I watched the rain forming puddles around the truck and listened to the constant drumming on the roof. It had been raining for 18 straight hours and we were starting to get a little stir crazy. Games and books helped but it is only a matter of time before I started looking at Barb out of the corner of my eye like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
That is pretty much how our 5 days in Denali National Park went. Rain, rain and more rain with only several hours of respite between showers.Mount McKinley, (renamed Denali last year) at an elevation of 20,320 feet is the highest point in North America. With a towering peak like that you would think you could be able to see it from miles away right? Well on a clear day you can but the truth is that McKinley creates its own weather and it is most often hidden by cloud cover. In fact, only about 1/3rd of the visitors to Denali National Park ever see the mountain. With rain forecasted for most of the time during our visit that was our big question would we see the mountain while we were in the park?
The park itself covers 6.1 million acres but only has one road which is 92 miles in length. Of which visitors can only drive about 19 miles without a special pass. The remainder of the travel must be done on tour buses which will take you from the visitors center to the end of the road at Kantishna or any combination of points in between depending on what kind of pass you buy.We had originally planned on staying 5 days at the Teklanika (Tek) Campground at mile 29 and buying a tour bus pass ($34 each) which would allow us to explore the park. But here’s the thing about staying at Teklanika, once you pass the checkpoint at mile 19 and park your vehicle at the campground you cannot drive your vehicle at all during your stay and have to stay a minimum of 3 days relying solely on the bus for transportation. We were okay with that part of the equation but after friends Les and Sue stayed there and told us how long the bus rides were we knew we were in trouble. They said that the bus ride to end of the road was about 6 hours one way even without any hikes, the 12 hour round trip would be way too long to leave Daisy in the camper. Even the shortest trip is 2 ½ hours one way, throw in a three hour hike and again we were pushing Daisy’s limits. So we changed our reservations from 5 nights at Tek to 2 nights at the Savage River Campground at mile 12 and the remaining 3 nights at Tek.
At Savage River we could drive the roads, hike the trails and manage our own time. We were still vacillating on whether or not to do the bus pass but after checking the forecast which called for 5 straight days of rain so we held off and took it day by day.
Be warned.... there is no diesel in Nenana Gulch right outside the park. You choices are Cantwell 30 miles south of the park ($3.20/gallan) or the town of Healy 10 miles north of the park ($2.85/gallon). You can guess which one we chose right? The one next door to the 49th State Brewing Company of course!
|Feeding on Hikers!|
What we did learn during our stay at both Savage River and Teklanika is that the beauty of Denali is not confined to bright sunny days. There is mystique and beauty on even the foggiest and overcast days. We got out between and during lighter rains to hike and explore the areas surrounding our campgrounds.
We were amazed by the number of different sizes and types of mushrooms and other flora growing around the Savage River area. Barb went on a mushroom photo spree!
Day three…. If we were going to buy a bus pass it had to be today before we headed to Teklanika Campground as once you are there, you are there. We drove to the building where you buy the passes and could get Wi-Fi (no cell service at the campgrounds) to see about the forecast. Rain the next three days……we decided not to get the passes. The main reason being leaving Daisy for so long but also another friend who recently blogged about her visit said you can’t really see too well out the bus windows in the rain.So off to Teklanika we went! At the checkpoint the volunteer asked to make sure had enough food, our waste tanks were empty and fresh water full. The road from the checkpoint to the campground is all gravel but in pretty good shape.
We had hoped to see some more wildlife while on the hikes. Moose, caribou, wolf and bear signs were abundant on each of our walks. Yet on each of our hikes we only saw signs, no actual live animals.
|Glad we did not run into the Griz that made this pile!|
|Bears love Soap Berries!|
After one hike we returned to our campsite wet and cold to find a Park Ranger and Wildlife Officer parked in front of our rig. We approached them to find out that two grizzly bears just past through within feet of our camper. Of course they did…. We just walked miles looking for them and they came to see us but we weren’t there!The park officials stayed for about an hour then walked the area with a shotgun and paintball gun before heading off. Barb and I had changed into try clothes, had a Baileys/hot chocolate and were laying on the bed reading with Daisy snoring contently between us. All of sudden Daisy wakes up and starts going crazy…..barking (as much as she can bark), smelling out the window and the hair was up on her back. I looked out the window and sure enough the bears had returned! I quietly snuck out the camper and got some pictures of them. The smaller one (~300#'s) was about 70 yards away while the mother stayed in the brush about 100 yards out. They stuck around for about 20 minutes eating Soap Berries and digging up the ground before they wandered off. It was interesting to see how they ate the berries. They would grab the bush with their front feet, bring the braches to their mouth and peel the entire branch of its berries while leaving the leaves intact. Very cool to see that close!
|Striping the berries off the bush|
|Mama hiding in the brush|
We never did see the mountain but in the end it really did not matter. The area received over 6" of rain this week which also caused a mudslide stranding tour bus passengers and employees. Glad we were not on that bus! Because of the slide the buses were not going to be able to go any further than the Eielson Visitor Center at mile marker 66 for the next couple weeks. Despite the rain we had a great time, saw some stunning scenery and had an incredible encounter with the grizzlies!