Posts Tagged With: Mt McKinley

Do Not Miss Denali

I have very few travel regrets. I traveled to Belgium and I didn’t visit Bruges. I went to South Africa and I skipped Cape Town and a side trip to Victoria Falls, Zambia. Every time I hear about these places I think, “Why did I miss that?” As a result, I now do better research to find the “do not miss” places in the vicinity of my travel destinations. Do not, I repeat, do not go to Alaska and skip Denali. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the trip for me. I only wish I had spent more time there.

The original name of the highest mountain in North America was Denali, a Native American word meaning high one or great one. It was renamed Mt. McKinley by William Dickey in 1896 when gold was discovered and William McKinley was running for President. The 2 million acre tract of land was named McKinley National Park like the mountain when it was established in 1917. Then in 1975, Alaska restored the name Denali to the mountain but the federal government continued to call it Mt. McKinley. In 1980, Congress expanded the park to 6 million acres and changed the name to Denali National Park and Preserve. Finally, in September 2015, the name of the mountain was also restored to Denali at the federal level by executive order. Confused? Needless to say, all of this was mired in politics but suffice it to say the name of the mountain has been restored to the original Native American name and the national park is named after it.

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Entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve

In spite of the distance to Alaska and the relatively small state population, Denali National Park and Preserve hosts over one-half million visitors each year. To reduce traffic and emissions, the park restricts traffic beyond mile 15 to shuttle and tour buses. Green shuttle buses are the hop on hop off variety but there is no narration provided. Fares vary from $27.50 to $52.50 based on time and distance.  The tan tour buses provide a narrated tour with a box lunch. Prices range from $70.75 to $165 also  depending on time and distance.  We were scheduled and assigned to the Tundra Wilderness Tour by the cruise line as part of our package. If you visit the park on your own, reservations are not required but you can schedule your tour ahead of time here.

Our tour started in the afternoon so we hiked some of the trails and checked out the Denali Visitor Center in the morning. Free courtesy shuttles provide transportation from the hotels to the entrance of the park where various hiking trails begin. We chose the Horseshoe Lake Trail which was moderately difficult but people in worse shape seemed to handle it and the spectacular scenery was definitely worth it.

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Jim and Sheryl setting off for a hike

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Our first view from above on Horseshoe Trail. We climbed down then back up on the hike.

 

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Nary a bear to be found but I was alert, nevertheless

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Quiet, peaceful beauty of the trail

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Horseshoe Lake

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Nenana River

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Horseshoe Lake

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Horseshoe Lake

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Jim on Horseshoe Lake Trail

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Sheryl on Horseshoe Lake Trail

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After the return climb from Horseshoe Lake Trail

After hiking the 3.2-mile loop, it was on to the Denali Visitor Center to check out the informational materials they had to offer. The displays were beautifully presented with lots of mounted animals that are found within the park.

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Denali Visitor Center

The only bear I saw happened to be outside the Visitor Center welcoming visitors. I joined the kids in getting a photo.

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Laura and the bear

After a bite to eat in the cafeteria we caught our tour bus that would take us further into the national park.

Our tour guide, a trained interpretive naturalist, was engaging and well-informed, providing us with natural history details galore while keeping an eye out for wildlife.

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Our tour guide

The “big five” in Denali are bears, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and wolves. We hoped to see them all and the sign below raised our hopes even further.

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Sign on Park Road

Our first wildlife sighting was of Dall sheep high on the far-off slopes but they are just white dots on my photos. Tip: take a good camera with a telephoto lens if you really want to get the shot.

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White dots on the ridge are Dall sheep

Fortunatley, the driver had a telephoto video camera that he showed on a screen in the bus.

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Video screen on the bus to see distant animals

We saw lots of caribou. I can’t tell you exactly how many we saw but by the end of the tour, most tourists didn’t bother to look when one was spotted. The first views were exciting, however. Our naturalist told us that mosquitoes relentlessly torment the caribou. They are literally covered in mosquitoes and they look for snow or mud to bury themselves to escape the misery.

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Caribou

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Caribou laying in the dirt trying to avoid mosquitoes

Try as we might, we didn’t see any bears, wolves, or moose but we did see  beautiful scenery. Many of us tried to capture a bit of it from the bus and each time we stopped.

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Denali National Park and Preserve from the tour bus

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Denali National Park and Preserve

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Denali National Park and Preserve

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Denali National Park and Preserve

And then we saw this. The second day of clear, pristine views of Mt. Denali. Our enthusiasm was not dampened in the least by continued views of this spectacular moutain.

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Mt. Denali (aka Mt. McKinley)

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A shuttle bus on the Park Road with a view of Mt. Denali

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Selfie with Mt. Denali

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Mt. Denali

 

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Mt. Denali

 

Based on events of June 2015.

 

Categories: Denali, History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scenes from the Bus to Denali

Our cruise ship docked at Seward where we boarded a motor coach to begin the land portion of our Alaskan adventure. The 364 mile bus trip to Denali took all day but the scenery and the narration by our driver made the trip most enjoyable. If you read my previous posts about Alaska, you may think this day was less impressive than previous days. Not so, and you’ll soon see why.

We began our road trip on the Seward Highway, a 125 mile scenic byway which crosses the Kenai Peninsula from Seward to Anchorage.

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Kenai Peninsula

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View along Seward Highway on the Kenai Peninsula

 

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View from Seward Highway on the Kenai Peninsula

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View from Seward Highway on Kenai Peninsula

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While it was great to leave the driving to someone else and concentrate on capturing the beautiful scenery by photo, one of the distinct disadvantages was not being able to stop when we wanted. I usually take a picture of a nearby sign to tell me where my photos were taken which wasn’t possible from a moving vehicle. Consequently, I can’t tell exactly where many of my photos were taken and I can’t label each mountain and lake.

We did hear the story of Moose Pass, however, and I snapped a photo from the bus. The sign on the side of the road next to the waterwheel and grindstone announces, “Moose Pass is a peaceful little town. If you have an axe to grind, do it here.”

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Waterwheel and grindstone on the side of the road

We took a break at a rest area with picnic tables and hiking trails that was especially photogenic.

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Jim enjoying the spectacular view

Near the end of the Seward Highway, we drove along Turnagain Arm. In 1778, when Captain James Cook sought a northwest passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, he named the estuary he found Turnagain River because he was forced to turn around there. Captain Vancouver called it Turnagain Arm in 1794 when he explored the area.

There are two fascinating features of Turnagain Arm. First, one of the largest bore tides in the world occurs here. So what is a bore tide? Dictionary.com defines a tidal bore as, “an abrupt rise of tidal water moving rapidly inland from the mouth of an estuary.” Translated, that means while the water in the Turnagain Arm is flowing out to sea, the tide rushes into the estuary from the ocean. The resulting waves are high enough that surfers actually ride them. For more information and to see a video, check out Alaska Public Lands Information Centers.

The other feature is the mudflats which are composed of glacial silt that act like quicksand. The suction created when the mud is displaced is virtually impossible to break without help. Warnings advise hikers to steer clear because getting stuck in the mudflats with the tide coming in is a recipe for disaster.

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Mudflats on Turnagain Arm

After a quick stop for lunch at a restaurant at the edge of Wasilla, we continued toward the town of Willow on Parks Highway where we saw two more amazing sights. First, we got our first glimpse of Mt. Denali, then called Mt. McKinley. Second, we saw smoke. These two sights would dominate the rest of our Alaskan adventure.

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Smoke rising in Willow with snow covered Mt. Denali to the right in the background

Let me tell you first about Mt. Denali. We knew we would be very lucky to see the elusive highest mountain peak in North America. It’s more often obscured by clouds than not which is why people lucky enough to see it are called the 30% club. When we got our first glimpse, I started taking photos and didn’t stop. I have pictures taken from far enough away that you wouldn’t know it was Mt. Denali; I have photos of Mt. Denali barely visible behind other mountains; I have pictures taken through the bug-covered windshield of the bus. When I experience a rare event, I capture every minute with great enthusiasm before it disappears. Little did we know we would see Mt. Denali four days in a row. I wonder if there’s a club for that?

Here are a few more views from day one of Mt. Denali.

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Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley)

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Mt. Denali

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Proof we were there

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Mt. Denali

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Mt. Denali

The other sight was the fire. We would see and hear more about this event, called the Sockeye Fire, throughout our stay. The blaze was reported at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, June 14, 2015. The seven photos I took as we drove through the area were taken at 1:16 and 1:17 p.m. By early the next morning, the blaze was out of control, Willow was under an evacuation order, and the road we had traveled was closed. We heard the fire was the result of fireworks but the cause was later determined to be an unattended illegal burn pile. In the end, 55 homes were destroyed, 7220 acres were burned, and the cost to fight the fire was $8 million. We would see more results from the Sockeye Fire when we left Denali.

We arrived at the McKinley Chalet Resort late in the afternoon and found our assigned room in the Cottonwoods Building.

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McKinley Chalet Resort

 

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Sheryl and Jim outside our hotel building

After exploring the grounds and grabbing some dinner, we were ready to call it a night and prepare for our tour of Denali National Park the following day. Thankfully, we had room darkening draperies because it never really got dark at all.

 

Based on events in June 2015.

Categories: cruise, Denali, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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