Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rainy days in Denali

We arrived at Denali NP on Tuesday 24-Jun after spending Monday night at a remote RV park between Fairbanks and the park. This was perhaps the best RV park experience we've had as there were about 4 other parties there, one on motorcycle, one set of bicycle tourists with a support vehicle, etc.  Due to pet restrictions at Denali, we boarded Willow at a "canine resort" just outside the park. When we picked her up on Friday, she seemed glad to see us, but also a bit sad to leave the new friends she'd made during lots of good playtime.  

As alluded to in the title, our time in Denali was very rainy.  As with 70% of park visitors! we did not get to see Denali (Mt McKinley) because of the weather.  We're still hoping for a break in the weather before we leave the area as there are several good viewing points outside of the park. 

Once we found a campsite and did some initial setup, we went to explore the visitors center area to learn a bit about the park and what we should/could see. We found out about a sled dog demonstration going on that afternoon and decided to attend that before exploring further.  The visit to the kennels (the only sled dog kennel operated by a US NP) was very interesting and the dogs were great to visit with. You get to directly interact/pet/play with many go them. The rangers did a presentation telling of the winter dog sled patrol program where sled teams will go deep into the Denali wilderness on patrol. What a cool job! After that, we drove on the park road out to the furthest point that private vehicles are allowed, the Savage River. There we saw some caribou along the bank, and some great roadside scenery, albeit limited by cloud cover and some rain. When we returned to camp, we were surprised to find a moose and two calfs with her, about two campsites down from ours. Pictures?  Sorry, no. She kept well hidden in the bush, and none of the shots clearly showed her. I tried to encourage another camper to take our camera in for a closeup, but he would not go for it. ;).  We ended the days activity by attending a ranger campground talk about the birds of Denali. I was surprised to learn that there is one species of hummingbird that visits Denali, after wintering 3,900 miles away in Mexico. That's a lot of wing flaps to cover that many miles!

On Wednesday we did a hike to Horseshoe Lake in the morning and saw some cool beaver work, but missed the ranger talk on beavers in the park. Later, we went on a bus tour deep into the park and saw lots of cool scenery and some Dalll sheep, caribou, a grizzly bear, and a moose. Not a lot of wildlife for a seven hour journey, but pretty good considering the conditions. 

Thursday saw some improved conditions in terms of weather. We took advantage by doing a short hike to a meadow view near the visitors center before hopping on one of the park shuttles out to Savage River for a longer hike. Unfortunately again, no wildlife sightings, but some great scenery along the River canyon and later on another trail with some great mountain views. After dinner we attended a ranger talk on rodents in the park and their importance as a basis for the ecosystem supporting the larger animals and even helping the tree life cycles in this harsh environment. 

I'm considering our visit to Denali a very different national park experience. This park is managed much differently than any I've visited in the lower 48 for they manage it with a primary intent of protecting it as pristine wilderness, to remain unaffected by man. One does not get to experience much of Denali at all without going into the backcountry, which would take tremendous planning and lots of time. I'm not disappointed in that at all because I absolutely respect what they are doing there in terms of truly protecting the wilderness within their boundaries. I'd love the opportunity to go and explore more, but that may be a bit of a dream due to the time and resources involved. 

On Friday we traveled out of the park and slightly south of The Alaska Range to Denali State Park and camped at Byers Lake. We did a hike around the lake shore and saw some great foliage including Iris' that we did not expect to see here. We also came across the remains of a cabin from the stuff.  Saturday we're probably off toward Anchorage for some much needed supplies and laundry. 

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