This year we had the opportunity to go into Denali National Park under special circumstances. In an effort to maintain optimal conditions for the wildlife, the road, and the park, the park strictly manages the number of vehicles that travel the park road each year. During the regular summer season, no personal vehicles are allowed into the park beyond the first mile or two. To see the park you have to pay a fee and get aboard a green school bus for a group tour. The park is 6 million acres large but the road is only 92 miles long in total. The buses only go to mile 61 or so. When we first visited the park in 1990 the bouncy bus ride cost us $4 each (an increase from the $2 each our friend in Anchorage told us it was when he went). When we returned in 1998, it cost us $30 each and the price is roughly the same today. At the beginning of the season there's about a week where they let you drive in to the Teklanika (Teck-lan-eek-a) campground about 35 miles in. Last year we spent four days doing this and had a blast.
Each year the park holds a Road Lottery allowing winners access to the whole park road in their own vehicles. For four days at the end of the season, Road Lottery winners are allowed into the park to drive around at will along the whole distance of the road. Winners are assigned a date and are allowed inside the park from 6:00 a.m. to Midnight. Some photography acquaintances of Rusty's won it this year and invited us to go with them. Sweet! It was a great opportunity.
Early in the morning the sun was beautiful and golden.
We each had different thoughts as to how many cars were let in each day. I thought 100. Our hostess thought only 10. As we approached the check point at the Savage River bridge, we saw nearly a dozen cars below the fog. When it was our turn to chat with the park ranger, we were disappointed to learn they let in 400 cars each day.
So much for seeing wildlife! With all those cars running up and down the road, rather than just a few buses, there's no way the wildlife would be hanging out near the road for us to see.
It was a chilly morning.
If you've been reading my blog this fall, you'll probably recognize the scene below. A horizontal version of this foggy swampy pond was my header photo for a few months. This is located right before the Teklanika campground. The scene caught my eye as we passed by and I said, "Ooo!" I was asked if I wanted to stop for a photo and I'm sure glad I said yes. I love this scene.
Here's Denali (Mt. McKinley) kind of from behind.
We did see a Dall Sheep ram resting below the road. Not very obliging of him to keep his back to us.
Never fear, The Fisherman is a determined photographer. He hiked down the hill and up another one to lay on his stomach and shoot some photos from a better angle. You can hardly see him at the right. He's in the middle of the hill on the right, lying at an angle and just above the golden alder brush. The ram is on the lower hill on the left.
Gorgeous views were everywhere.
We were happy to see some Grizzly Bears. Though they were sort of far away on the hill, it was still thrilling to see them in the wild. And they were close enough for me, thank you very much.
We drove all the way to the end of the road and were treated to a celebratory sign marking the event.
Along the way, we passed the Eielson Visitor at about mile 60. Then, Wonder Lake is around mile 62 or so. Wonder Lake is as far as the buses will take you. You can get off and on the buses all day long. Campers take the bus in, do their camping trip, and catch another bus out on another day. Yes, there are actually people who camp in tents in there among the grizzly bears, moose, and wolves. I can guarantee you'll never read a post about me doing that! A ways past Wonder Lake is Reflection Lake. We got to see all the high dollar lodges that lie along the road beyond Reflection Lake, at least the roads leading through the woods to them anyway. There are about a half dozen of them. At the end of the road, there's an airstrip, heli-pad, and a large maintenance yard. Rooms/cabins back there in the Kantishna area cost over $500 a night. Here's a link to one of the lodges.
After reaching the end, we turned around and drove some more till it got closer to sunset. We saw some gorgeous views of the Alaska Range, of which Denali is a part.
The dirt road was dry and the fine grey dust clung to cars,
and collected with amazing depth on the back bumper.
Here is Wonder Lake with the Alaska Range behind. Denali is not in this picture.
A little pan to the right and there's Denali.
A couple hours before sunset, we went back to Reflection Lake to stake out a spot to take pictures.
Here was the view from my camp chair.
Wow! Stunning, right?
And I'm sure you've figured out why they call it Reflection Lake. Though it was breezy, you could still see a nice reflection of the 20,230 foot "High One", as the native name, Denali, means.
It didn't take long for us to be joined by several other photographers. Some had staked out a different vantage point and are tucked in behind the brush on the right.
As evening drew close, the water calmed and the reflections grew more breathtaking.
I loved this shoreline shot. I just wish it was Denali that's in it, even though I really love that pointy peak.
This isn't a typical shot of Denali. I don't think many people would think of taking a photo of such a stunning, majestic and famous mountain in a partially obscured setting. But for some reason I really liked it.
And this picture seems to highlight what I call The Bear. The Fisherman can't see it, but I sure can. To me this side of the mountain shows the profile of a big grizzly bear's face, much like the outline of the northern part of Alaska's coastline does to me, too. Can you see it?
As the sun set, we saw the beautiful alpenglow on the mountain.
One last shot of Denali and Reflection Lake at sunset for you.
We stayed until the light was almost entirely gone and then headed back to the park entrance. We got back to Denali town sometime after midnight, cold and tired but exhilarated with the beauty we'd seen all day.