DENALI ROAD TRIP

2013

This year, in keeping with my new motto “Why Not”
I decided to enter the Denali Road Lottery

Denali
Elizabeth and I were both so excited to be there!
Denali
What a fabulous day we had.
the Lodge
The view inside the Eielson Visitor’s Center
Denali
There she is: Mt. McKinley, at elevation 20,237 feet she is the highest mountain in North America

The lottery is held each year with the winning ticket allowing you to drive your personal car through the Denali National Park. This year there were 9,340 entries with 1,600 “winners” drawn (divided into 4 days = 400 for each day). Only 1,420 of the winners actually participated, however – for whatever reason, some people just can’t go.

overcast
Our first day in the park was rainy and overcast.
overcast
We were worried about that cloud cover…
cleared off
Thankfully all the clouds disappeared over night.
Denali
Our first glimpse of the mountain!
fall
All those vibrant fall colors!

I actually did not win, but that’s not surprising: the odds are fairly high against it. I know of a lot of people who enter every year and never win. However, a friend of mine actually did win – but ended up not being able to go. She very generously allowed me to use her permit.

fall
The bright Autumn colors almost hurt the eyes
fall
Especially with the sun coming up on the horizon.
beauty
Elizabeth and I just could not get enough of the gorgeous views.
beauty
We both kept starting around us with wide eyes and huge smiles on our faces.
Denali
“Oh look! There she is! Mt. McKinley!”

What an amazing trip that was: truly spectacular! If you ever have the opportunity to go, I highly recommend it.

Denali
Denali National Park and Preserve is 9,492.23 square miles in size, larger than the state of New Hampshire.
Denali
The lowest point in the park is 240’ feet (at the Yentna River boundary) and the highest point is 20,237 feet (at the peak of Mount McKinley).
Denali
Average January temperature in the area is 2 degrees F and average July temperature is 55 degrees F,
Denali
Record lowest temperature was -52 degrees F in 1989 and record highest temperature is 93 degrees F in 1991,
Denali
Large mammals include Dall sheep, mountain goats, caribou, wolves, and black and grizzly bears. Smaller mammals include lynx, wolverines, beavers, martens, porcupines, foxes, coyotes, marmots, river otters, ground squirrels, pikas, and voles. There have been 167 species of birds officially recorded in the park; most of them are migratory, coming from six continents at some point during the year. There are more than 1,500 species of vascular plants, mosses and lichens. Most of the park is arctic tundra, however, the taiga forest covers much of the lowest lands.

Elizabeth and I headed out Saturday around noon, driving the 245 miles from Anchorage up to the park in about 4 hours. We got checked in and paid our fees with plenty of time to set up camp and cook our dinner before heading off to bed.

camping
Elizabeth’s tent is in front; my tent is in back.
camping
Trying to get the fire started with bad matches… we finally had to borrow lighting fluid from our neighbors.
camping
Elizabeth was in charge of the cooking: we had fresh organic & local veggies!
camping
She is an awesome cook: I got spoiled.
Denali
I had to throw in another picture of the mountain – she’s the whole reason we were there, after all.

Trust me when I say that sleeping in a tent at 20 degrees Fahrenheit is not as fun as it sounds. As a matter of fact, it’s downright cold. But I had a good tent and the sleeping bag was actually quite comfortable once I burrowed into it, so I was ready to go by 6:00 the next morning.

rest
this was a little rest stop along the way.
rest
To stretch my legs while Elizabeth used the facilities, I took off on a little trail I found nearby.
rest
As you can see, it was still very cold.
rest
The park service maintains the trails very well
rest
The morning did eventually warm up, but it certainly took a little while to do so. But that’s okay – it was beautiful, regardless.

Normally they only allow personal cars to drive about 15 miles into the park, but since I had my road permit we were able to go the entire 92.5 miles, all the way to Kantishna. We were lucky, too – the weather that day was absolutely perfect! We had clear blue skies with unlimited visibility of the mountain, which really is something to brag about as you typically have less than 30% chance of actually seeing McKinley due to her weather patterns.

Denali
McKinley peeking up from behind the mountains
Denali
She’s back there, just as gorgeous as ever.
Denali
Here’s a close-up of her.
Wonder Lake
I think this is Wonder Lake
end of the road
Here we are, at the end of the road!

We took our time, driving an average of 15-20 miles per hour and stopping at any and every opportunity. We didn’t get as much hiking in as I’d hoped for, but it was still an amazing trip and I got literally hundreds of fantastic pictures. The road was in great shape, so my little Yaris did very well. Parts of the road were actually pretty scary: the cliffs drop off at least 100 feet, and the road is very narrow – especially if you have a car coming at you on the other side. There were a few times when Elizabeth had a death grip on the arm rest, poor thing.

road
Only a small portion of the 92.5 mile road is paved.
road
The rest is a very well-maintained gravel road.
Alaska Range
The Alaska Range extends 600 miles across Alaska; Mt. McKinley is near the middle of it.
road
A nice winding road that just seems to encourage a leisurely pace.
river
There’s just something so reassuring about running water…

Along the way, we got to see Sandhill Cranes, Ptarmigan, Camp Robbers, Golden Eagles, Moose, Bears, Foxes, Wolves, porcupine, and ground squirrels – pretty much the only thing we didn’t see was a caribou. It was a very long drive, though. By the end of the day, 12+ hours later, I was exhausted and could barely stay awake long enough to eat my dinner before crawling back into my sleeping bag for the night

cranes
The Sandhill Cranes were just beginning their migration South. We must have seen thousands of them throughout the day! We could hear them, too = they have a very unique call.
moose
We saw lots of moose; at one point there were signs along the road warning us to stay in our vehicles due to the rut season. Moose can be quite dangerous, especially when their hormones are raging.
bear
Can you see it? It’s that teeny tiny black dot just short of the center of the photo.
bear
With the zoom on my camera, you can see it a bit better: it’s a bear!
moose
This fellow had quite a rack on him.
moose
This guy had his eye on the hottie across the road from us; a gorgeous female who was so fat she jiggled when she walked!
moose
I didn’t get my camera out in time to get the good shot of him crossing the road right in front of us, so ended up with one as he made his way off down the path.
bear
Okay, here’s another bear shot. Can you find this one? The only way we saw him at first was because lots of other cars had stopped and people were aiming their binoculars in his direction.
bear
Thank goodness for zoom…

The following morning we saw that the temperatures had dropped even lower than they had been the previous night. Taking down a tent when it’s that cold is really difficult, to say the least. It was also too cold for the camp stove: it was all we could do to coax it along to heat enough water for a cup of tea, so we just packed up the car and headed on our way home without breakfast.

walk
after 12+ hours in a car, we just had to get out and stretch our legs.
Denali
And of course catch yet another glimpse of the mountain.
Denali
Such a sweet spot: if only I hadn’t been so worn out I would have enjoyed it more.
blueberries
Elizabeth, helping herself to a snack of fresh lowbush blueberries
Denali
Goodbye McKinley! It was so nice of you to invite us out to visit with you.
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