Saturday, January 4, 2014

Alaska: Denali National Park

So, Happy New Year! I meant to finish these Alaska posts, like, forever ago. Sorry about that. This is the last one, though. The one you've all been waiting for, I'm sure!

We drove in our rental car about 125 miles down the George Parks Highway to Denali National Park. There were some nice spots to stop and take photos along the way.

When we got there, we checked into McKinley Village Lodge, which is about seven miles south of the park entrance. Then we went whitewater rafting on the Nenana River canyon (we did the "Paddle Run"). It was lots of fun and good exercise! We hadn't been rafting in probably more than 10 years (!). The scenery was beautiful, and the class III and IV rapids were exciting. And no one fell out! Sorry, we didn't get any photos...we were kind of busy. But here's a shot of the river canyon that we took later in the day:

Nenana River Canyon
The next day, we got up really early for a bus tour into Denali National Park. The tour went all the way to the end of the Denali park road (92 miles one-way) and back. It was a long day, but it was totally worth it. We were blessed with perfect weather all day long. The bus driver and the park ranger we met kept saying they almost never have days like that.

We saw lots of wildlife throughout the day, including moose, brown bears, caribou, arctic ground squirrels, and dall sheep.

Caribou (reindeer)

Dall rams atop a steep cliff

Dall sheep
Arctic ground squirrel
We saw a couple of brown (grizzly) bears in the distance early on, but shortly after that, this one crossed the road right in front of our bus!

The bus ride can seem a bit intense at times, with the high, sharp curves around the mountainsides, looking down at long drops without a guardrail, and occasionally passing another bus on one of those curves. However, the bus drivers really know what they're doing and are safe.

You can see the winding park road in the foreground
There weren't many flowers to see that day. Most were small and in patches, like this.

At the Eielson Visitor Center, there were some nice views of Mt. McKinley, which is the tallest mountain peak in North America at 20,237 feet. These photos are proof that we're now part of the "30% club", which refers to people who have visited Alaska and have actually seen Mt. McKinley. According to our tour guide, there are many days when people are lucky if they get to see it at all, or they only see it for a short time, due to the weather.

As we continued on, we saw a moose in front of Mt. McKinley.

Near the end of the road, we stopped at Wonder Lake to see the Alaska Range behind the water.

When we got to Kantishna, at the end of the park road, a National Park Service interpretive ranger took us on a tour of the Fannie Quigley cabin, then we headed back the way we came. We really enjoyed the tour and took tons of photos.

The next day, we took a quick hike to Horseshoe Lake in the park before heading back to Fairbanks.

Lupines lined our path along the way (we may have hummed the "Dennis Moore" tune when we saw them...).
Horseshoe Lake
Beaver dam at the lake
On our last day in Fairbanks, we went to the Museum of the North at the university. They had some interesting historical, cultural, and biological exhibits for each region of Alaska.

And here's our view from the plane as we left:

Well, that (finally!) wraps up our Alaska trip series!

Note: Sorry if the color seems off or too bright in some of these photos. I'm not sure what to do about it, because they looked fine until I uploaded them to the blog, and further editing didn't help.

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