Sunday, October 7, 2012

Denali and Denali Highway

This is another one of those posts where the pictures speak volumes!  Longtime friends John and Holly Phillips came from NY to see Alaska in celebration of John's 70th birthday and 30 years of marriage.  We were blessed to be able to hang out with them for a few days and catch up on life sprinkled with a few tears and plenty of laughter!  They had a list of things they wanted to do including seeing Denali.  Denali is more often not visible than it is visible, especially the way the weather had been this summer and fall.   Interestingly enough, park rangers draw the view of Denali from the visitor center twice each day during the summer.  I don't know why, but it perfectly illustrates the point:  Denali drawings 2011-August-7pm.jpg  So when there came a sunny break between rain systems, we made plans to GO!  Denali is like a ghost when you drive in toward it the first time.  You catch a glimpse, but aren't sure what you saw.  Could that have been it?  So you look intently again, but you can't see it.  Then all of a sudden there it is again!  Finally you come to a point where there is no mistake.  There it is, dominating the horizon.  If you click on the pictures, it will take you to a larger view of them.  I've tried to optimize the photos to get good clarity yet not take forever to download.  Trust me.  It will be worth the view!

We had never been this close to Denali before, so we didn't know the best viewing spots.  We'd been as far as the lake spot above once before, but turned back as we didn't have time to continue on.  We'd heard that the Princess Lodges often had fantastic views so we pulled off to check it out:

They did have good views, but not as fabulous as we had hoped.

Then just a little way down the road there was a pullout with a great view.  By that point the clouds were starting to come in from the next weather system and Denali was already disappearing from view again!

We did manage to stay ahead of the storm and had an absolutely gorgeous day for travel.  At one point we went past this...  Well...  Ummm...  This thing.  But completely gorgeous all around it.

We stayed overnight just inside the park and made a quick stop at the visitor's center the next day.  Some kids never grow up.  John is standard issue Alaskan.  I kept telling him he fit right in!  Probably half the guys over 50 in Alaska can all be described as not that tall, wiry, bearded, grey haired or greying, a bit hard of hearing, etc.  I'll have to have Sandy Lee fill me in on the rest.  I started a "standard Alaskan" list but hers was much better than mine!

The views heading out of the park were as spectacular as they had been going in!

We had decided to head across the Denali Highway which isn't nearly as civilized as the drive had been the previous day.  If you think we are in the middle of nowhere, you're wrong.  We live on the edge of nowhere. The Denali Highway is in the middle of nowhere!  And it is dirt.  More than 100 miles of dirt!  According to Wikipedia:  The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles (34.3 km) and westernmost 2.6 miles (4.2 km) are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate. Washboarding and extreme dust are common, the recommended speed limit is 30 mph.  But gorgeous!!!

And despite what Wikipedia says, it is remarkably well traveled!  Well, it certainly is during hunting season anyway! It was caribou hunting season so there were tons of RVs and campers along the whole 100+ miles.  I didn't want to ruin the view in the next picture, so I tried to keep the arrow minimal, but it points to a long line of RVs parked along the side of the road hunting.  Oh, and the dust is also quite visible.  But the scenery is well worth the drive!

And we passed at least three Princess buses flying along that road!

What a spectacular place to camp, I mean hunt!

By the end of that day the clouds were catching up with us and before long we headed into snow!  Typical fall weather in Alaska - you can go from gorgeous sunshine and warm to snow all in one day!  :)  Thanks for coming along with us!

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Morning commute

Morning commute