Saturday, July 9, 2011

Another Clear Day in Denali

We drove into Denali National Park today, as far as private vehicles are allowed, to the 15 mile point at Savage River Loop Trailhead. We stopped at several points along the way to read information and view Mt. McKinley. When taking pictures without using the zoom, the focus was on trees and terrain closer to me. We’re about 75 miles north of the mountain at this point. (We were about 50 miles south of it at the Talkeetna Spur Junction.)


I used the landscape setting on my camera and zoomed in to focus better on “The High One” and these turned out better.


From this point, you can see both the north and south summits. The south summit is 20,320 ft. and the north summit (on the right) is 19,470 ft.


Further down the road, I got a different perspective. Notice the position of the smaller mountains in front. Cathedral Mountain is in the center, at 4550 ft. elevation, less than 1/4 the elevation of Mt. McKinley, but it looks like it’s almost half as tall because of the proximity.


This is a zoom-in on the south summit. I didn’t enhance this pic, but it’s at the maximum of my camera’s zoom ability, and I forgot my monopod, so I had to hold my breath to take it without shaking. (This camera is living up to my expectations!)


One of the information boards stated “From this perspective Mount McKinley’s true scale is obscured by foothills and intervening peaks. Clouds hide the summit two out of three days in summer.” We knew that only about 30% of visitors ever see the mountain. Then we learned that only 10% see the mountain without clouds. So now we’re part of that 10%! Even though we didn’t see the lower portion, there are probably not much better views than this unless you fly over it!

While we were looking around Don started talking with a couple in the trailhead parking lot – they were driving the Class C motorhome in the pic below. They are from El Paso where I grew up. In fact, they live less than a mile from where my parents moved just as I was graduating from high school. In fact, they bought and restored a small, older house on Emory Rd. where my older sister lived in the mid-80’s – it might even be the same house, as it sounded pretty familiar – who knows? They spend part of the year there and part of the year traveling. They actually chose to move to El Paso, whereas a lot of us who grew up there couldn’t wait to get away from it! But they previously lived in Houston, so I can understand!


Since Mt. McKinley dominates the National Park and is the focus for so many things, sometimes we forget to notice the beauty of the surrounding area. Here are some other shots to enjoy.


Oh, there’s that big thing again! It’s hard to ignore, especially on a clear day. And we think this might be the last one we’ll have for awhile, as rain and clouds are in the forecast.


Back at the tourist area, Don and I wanted to have a light lunch. We decided to check out a couple of Asian cuisine restaurants. (I use that term loosely!) Denali Thai Food is the new kid in town.


It’s right next to the Chinese place.


The ambience wasn’t wonderful, due to a strong wind, but the price was fairly reasonable considering where we are. Don chose Chinese, I chose Thai. He got his in 5 minutes for $10, mine took 14 (they said it would be 10) and cost $12. (Minutes count when you’re standing in the wind waiting.) Both tasted good, and there was no wait for a table. We sat at a picnic table on the left, and marveled at the RVs parked back-to-back (and close!) across the lot, with one picnic table for every 2 RVs. The good thing is they can walk to town.


We did a little shopping, first at the Great Alaskan Bowl Company. This branch store has a lot of the same things as the factory store in Fairbanks, but the clerk was a bit annoying, and we know there will be more choices when we go to the factory next week. Still, it was fun to see the raw wood made into bowls.


The ‘mistakes’ become bird feeders (top shelf) or spoons or other items.


Beautiful bowls, engraved and decorated.


We went down the street and found the Alaska flag sweatshirts I’ve been looking for at a discount store for only $19.99 (regularly $29.99). Can you believe we’re wearing sweatshirts in July?


Happy hour was followed by a grill-your-own/potluck dinner outside the Olson’s motorhome, somewhat sheltered by the wind. All the shared dishes were yummy! And the steaks Don grilled for us were superb!


Friday, July 8, 2011

Denali Area

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day. We drove through the Denali National Park campground we'll be moving to on Sunday to have a look around, then went to the Visitor’s Center nearby. We saw some very well-done exhibits, including an online view of Mt. McKinley.


After I returned to my computer, I found this webcam, called the National Park Service view from Wonder Lake. There are also at least two commercial webcams that show the current view side-by-side with the view on a clear day: Talkeetna Air Taxi and K2Aviation. Click on any of these links to check out the views. Yesterday was really sunny and clear, today not so much.

The exhibits included Dall Sheep, Bald Eagles, Moose, Bears, Giant Mosquitoes, various wildflowers and other plants, and lots more.


There was a statement with the mosquitoes that said “Mosquitoes deserve your love.” It explained that mosquitoes are food for birds, and they pollinate many plants including berries that are eaten by bears. It then said “The next time you swat mosquitoes, think of the birds and the bears that depend on them.” I’m sorry, if a mosquito is chewing on me or trying to, I’m going to take defensive action; I’m not interested in becoming part of the Denali food chain. I’m sure there are plenty more of his brothers/sisters/cousins to feed the birds and pollinate the berries. There’s a favorite saying here in Alaska: “There’s not a single mosquito in Alaska… They’re all married and raising large families.”

We went to the theater inside the Visitor’s Center to watch a 30-minute video and saw our friends the Fradettes and the Forbes. So we got together with them later for lunch at the café.


Today, Friday, 8 of us went on the Denali Jeep Backcountry Safari. Pat was our first driver, after adjusting her visor.


The road was pretty tame until we made our first stop. Brandon showed us a field of tundra, and let us walk on it to feel how spongy it was.


As we walked we felt moisture just below the surface; many of us got our feet wet because there was water pooled in the tundra, unable to drain through the permafrost below. Lichen grows well in this environment (white lacy substance below), a favorite snack of bears.


You’ll notice very few trees in this area, and the ones there are small (notice the very small one in front of the others). A layer of permafrost lies only a few feet below the tundra, so the trees aren’t able to put roots down very deep, and therefore can’t grow very tall if at all.


A small lake and cottage, privately owned, are only accessible by ATV. Even Jeeps can’t navigate this area.


As we returned to our Jeeps, a couple of familiar vehicles showed up. Jean and Claudette (tan Jeep) and Gary and Mary (yellow Jeep) had taken the Jeep road on their own.


After Jimmy took the wheel, the terrain got serious!


There was an “S” curve through some serious mud. Brandon said “Follow my route or you will get stuck.” The car before us had a minor problem on the way out and had to back up and take a different approach. Jim made it through just fine and we had a fun ride.


Dennis pulled too far to the right on his approach and got stuck.


Brandon had to use a tow rope attached to the Jeep in back of Dennis to pull him out. After several tries, he got free.


We saw a camper in the woods where a man named Pistol Pete stayed, and met his end by being attacked and killed by a bear.


The story is that his boots were found 20 feet from his body. Some think that his ghost still inhabits the area. People leave boots nearby to honor his loss.


Our next stop was at a camp where Ron had prepared a big pot of stew.


As we enjoyed the stew, Ron told us about his recent encounter with a Grizzly.


He made himself look really large and made a lot of noise to make the bear back off. Luckily, the bear cooperated.


Still, he’s planning to buy a gun next payday. And we helped him out a little by contributing to his fund. By the time we left, this jar was overflowing.


Ron lives in this camp 6 days a week. Here’s his main tent.


He keeps a good supply of wood.


There’s a porta-potty.


And a stream nearby. So, you can draw your own conclusions about how he takes care of life’s daily business!


Don drove first on the way back. We went through the same pools of water/mud, but they looked a little different from the front seat and approaching from the other direction.


This time, everyone made it through without a problem. Don did a great job of getting through the “S” turns in the mud. I took the wheel for the last leg of the trip, so all 4 of us got to drive these fun vehicles.

The road is appropriately named for the “Stampeders” who participated in the big gold rush over a century ago.


Later, we had happy hour and then went to Rose’s Café, where Brandon had recommended. Down home cooking by a Vietnam vet and his Vietnamese bride. It was okay, but I doubt we’ll make a second trip there.