Feisty Old Woman, Denali National Park, Alaska

Driving to Denali National Park

Driving from Whitehorse to Denali National Park via Fairbanks is over 12 hours. That’s longer than this Feisty Gramma wants to drive in one day. From Whitehorse to the U.S Customs and Border Protection-Alcan Port of Entry it’s a little over 5 hours. Stopping at Destruction Bay, and several other breathtaking views, it’s rewarding to experience the “beingness” of nature, or swat gnats, whichever floats your boat.

Trying to keep my eyelids  open long enough to reach Tok was impossible even though it was only 25 more miles.  As a result Northway Junction  was where I camped.  Intending to get a new windshield in Fairbanks the highway saw my car before the sun did, but we both know how that turned out.

I made it to Denali National Park before the Visitor Center closed.

If you know exactly when you are going to be at the park, I would recommend making reservations. However, if you want to meander around Canada like I did, and have NO IDEA when you are going to be anywhere, then you will have to camp at one of the other campsites near to the park. Had my budget been larger, I would have stayed at one of the wonderful hotels that cost around $200.00 a night. Having a limited budget, my trusty Zuzu-baru found its way to the “Grizzly Bear” RV Campground.

This campground also had a hotel, but I was perfectly happy sleeping in my car. My site was a short walking distance from the store/bathroom/laundry/showers and I was in bad need of a shower!

Getting Coin Clean

Putting my clean clothes and toiletries in a small bag, I went to the showers, undressed and realized the shower was coin operated. I put my dirty clothes back on my smelly body and went back to the car.

No American coins.

“Well, sheeeyut,” as they say in East Texas.

I walked to the store and got some coins and then made my way back to the shower hoping one would still be available.  I felt very foolish to be so underprepared. In my defense, I must say, that I hadn’t had to pay for a shower in a long time. From that point on I kept coins with me at all times.

All clean and smelling good, I walked across the street, sat in the lobby of the expensive hotel and used their internet. Ah, the tricks of the road.

Bear Warning!

The next day I went back to Denali National Park. Buying my ticket at the Denali Park Store for the shuttle bus out to Eielson Visitor Center, I noticed a posted BEAR WARNING! Apparently, two hikers did the very thing all of us are warned NOT to do. They ran when they saw a bear. The bear chased after them. One of the hikers threw his daypack at the bear, which promptly stopped and ate the contents.

After researching online about bears, hiking, safety and how not to be stupid, my backpack was fitted with bells. I had two stick flair pom-poms sticking out of the pack visible enough to stop traffic on LBJ Freeway in Dallas. I would either scare the shit out of a bear or irritate him enough to chase me with murderous intent. After reading the bear warning, I decided, for safety sake, to just hike along the roads.

Right.

The bears use the roads too.

This photo was downloaded from the Denali National Park website (listed below.)

 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

In Alaska the saying goes like this, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, except a bear, a bear will kill you.”

The truth is, the whole time I was in Denali I only saw a bear once. She had her cubs with her and, YES, they were walking through heavy foliage growing alongside a ROAD. We all pulled our cars over and stopped with cameras ready. I never did get a good photo, but I did see the mom and both her cubs. It was incredible.

No matter how feisty this old woman is, I am not brave enough to hike solo for long distances with Snickers-craving-hungry bears roaming around. My hiking was limited to popular trails where other hikers were present.

Denali National Park Shuttle Bus

The shuttle bus out to Eielson Visitor Center gave plenty opportunities for that. It was only $34.00 and the ride was truly breathtaking.

Here is the non-narrated Shuttle Bus schedule from the website.

Destination/Service Adult (16 and older) Children (15 and under)
Toklat River (Mile 53) $26.50 free
Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66) $34.00 free
Wonder Lake (Mile 85) $46.75 free
Kantishna (Mile 92) $51.00 free
Camper Bus (Variable) $34.00 free

 

If you want more information about the different tours, here’s the Denali website that’s chocked full of helpful information. Denali National Park…https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm

The Shuttle Bus driver stops at the most stunning vistas and gives all the riders a chance to get out, take pictures and stretch their legs. Below is a picture I took of the road in the distance. You can see it cutting across the hill on the right side of the photo. The road is very narrow. There are some parts that are quite scary fun.

Eielson Visitor Center

On the trip to the Eielson Visitor Center, we saw bears in the distance, Dall’s sheep close enough to actually see the horns, red squirrels, and a herd of Caribou.  The landscape was stunning. Below is a picture of one of the Braided glacier rivers.

View of Denali Mountain Peak-NOT

There is one stop the bus driver makes where all your hopes are stoked. “This is a great place to see the top of Denali,” the driver tells you.

We sprung out of the vehicle and glared into the distance only to learn that a mere 10% of visitors are lucky enough to see the top of the mountain. The rest of us poor suckers have to make do with imagining what the elusive peak looks like. At the visitors center, when you stand in front of the large “viewing window” you notice two lines painted on the glass. These lines show where the mountain peak would be if you weren’t one of the 90%. Of course, you can always hire a plane to fly you through the clouds. If you can afford that I will gladly let you pay for my next trip and blog it all down for you! I’m very generous like that.

Great.

Why did I not found out this little tidbit of information before I drove 4,000 miles?

Honestly, I would have made the drive anyway. The scenery was magnificent.

The photo below of could be Mount Foraker. Yours truly forgot to note the name after taking the picture.

Lots of HIKING!

Once you’ve accepted that you’re in the common can’t-see-the-mountain-peak tribe of people, you can go for a hike originating right there at the visitor center. There were so many people there, that I felt safe from any bear attack.

Don’t worry about hiking so long you miss your bus because any passenger on the shuttle buses can get off at any point.  From the Denali website:

“If you get off your initial bus, you can flag down any other non-narrated bus going in your desired direction – i.e., farther into the park, or back towards the entrance. Re-boarding is on a seat-available basis, so you may wait anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more for a bus with ample seating. You’ll recognize them at a distance, as non-narrated buses are green, whereas narrated tour buses are tan.”    

At first I was still a little bit disappointed that Denali had hidden its face behind the clouds, but there was so much to enjoy in the park that my displeasure was quickly erased.

Denali National Park Sled Dogs and Museum

The next day I went to visit the Sled Dogs. Animals are as curative as nature, in my humble opinion.

I visited all the dogs and the sled museum. Watching the Rangers attach the dogs to a sled was fascinating. They took a quick circle around the area culminating in front of bleachers where really tall people got in the way of my picture taking efforts! This is when all good bloggers take advantage of Wikipedia. It’s such a wonderful site. I always contribute whenever they have their yearly drive.

Here’s the info about the photo; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACorrie_Mile_9_Landscape_-_Jacob_W._Frank_(8636566476).jpg

Here’s another one of my own photos taken from one of the many stops the bus takes.

 

 

I enjoyed every minute of my stay at Denali National Park.

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