Day 16 July 21 George Parks Highway to Denali

The Tanana River Valley with Denali 100 miles awayOur morning plans were simple. Since we weren’t hooked up, all we had to do to depart was to pull in the slide and raise the levelers, hook up the Tracker and we were off.  Fairbanks is a great place to stock up on supplies, but I had loaded us up so well before leaving home that we really didn’t need much.  We have Fred Meyer stores in Klamath Falls and shop there regularly to get the 10c off per gallon per $100 spent on groceries so we headed back to the big shopping center and the eastern edge of town to get our savings.

Denali from 100 miles northBut first, it was time to try to get all that grime off the MoHo, so we pulled into the big bay car wash and did our best.  The RV bay even had ramps to reach the taller parts of the rig, but it made it harder to actually maneuver in there to get the lower parts.  Probably won’t do that again.  On to the fuel pumps at Freddy’s, to discover that I had enough points left over from shopping at home to get a whopping 30c off on gas!  Hooray! We were at a quarter tank so at 3.59 per gallon for gas, that was great.  Cheapest we have paid for gas in a very long time.

focus on DenaliAfter purchasing a few necessities, we were on the road west in the early morning brilliant sunlight, sans GPS.  My trusty Garmin Nuvi has been working great, but the cord that connects it to power seems to have bitten the dust.  So now we are again traveling as in the olden days, paper maps and no GPS.  Should be interesting as we attempt to navigate Anchorage, but there I would imagine that the cell phone will work and I can use google maps.  My streets and trips keeps glitching on me as well, saying the file name is incorrect and it won’t save any edits I try to make to our route.  Stupid technology glitches that irritate me more than Mo except that my irritation sort of irritates her~ ~

Once we were traveling west out of town on Highway 3, the Parks Highway, once called the Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway, then the George Parks Highway, but now referred to just as the Parks Highway.  It was a bit confusing since we were traveling to the “park” at Denali National Park, and then planned to drive the Denali Highway.  We had less than 200 miles to Denali, and again according to plan, had made no reservations.  We thought we might try to boondock somewhere along Highway 3 if possible and then take the short 15 mile drive into the park after checking out the Visitor Center.  Neither of us had any desire to compete with tour buses at the commercial area outside the park to buy Denali trinkets.

Denali Day 16_1793Our greatest thrill came very early on our route as we climbed the first hill west of Fairbanks on a sunny morning.  Stretched out below us, across the broad expanse of the Tenana Valley, was the massive white Mountain, Denali, Mt McKinley her legal name, but still called “Denali”, “The High One”.  The skies were brilliant blue without a cloud to be seen, and the Mountain was revealed in her full, magnificent glory, even though still more than 100 miles away. We stopped and took many photos, amazed at our luck. Mo never once saw the mountain through it’s shroud of clouds when she visited Denali in 74.

We wanted more overlook opportunities, but were surprised to find that most of the turnouts were treed in, or the view was to the north.  We never got another view as great as that one on the entire route. While at the first stop, a rig from Pennsylvania stopped in and said, “You are from Oregon, what’s the big deal, you have lots of mountains”. Mo answered, “Yes, but we don’t have Denali”. They seemed unimpressed with what they were seeing.  Maybe they didn’t have a clue how lucky they were in that moment. I don’t think they even took a photo!

Denali Day 16_1811Denali Day 16_1797Continuing south we crossed the Nenana River and passed the historic town of Nenana.  I was obviously not doing my navigating job very well, because it was only after we passed that I read about the town and we both wished we had stopped there to visit.  I think we were intent on trying to get to the Denali Park Road and try to see the mountain up close before the clouds forming in the southwestern skies beat us there.

Nenana RiverOnce down the canyon and beyond Denali Village, we turned into the main Visitor Center to get information athe Visitor Centernd maps.  I bought my standard National Park “The Rest of the Story” book, ( I do have a big collection of these), and we parked the MoHo and decided to drive the Tracker in to the mile 15 driving limit at Savage River.  Still, once more, not an animal in sight, but we did get to see the mountain shrouded in clouds, but showing off the north summit quite well.  I was surprised to see that our view was much less dramatic from the park itself than it had been so many miles north. 

North summit is visible in the clouds Denali Day 16_1853

Denali has the most dramatic rise of any mountain on earth, even those in the Himalayas.  From Wonder Lake, at 2,000 feet , you see the full rise of the mountain to over 20,000 feet, the highest in North America. I hope that as we drive south in the next few days we will again have the opportunity to see it, but we definitely aren’t going to spend a whole day on a bus with a bunch of people to get to Wonder Lake, especially when the chances are it will be clouded up anyway.

the road beyond mile 15I read something at the visitor center that struck me.  Denali Park isn’t just about the mountain or the animals, either of which you may not see.  It is also about the taiga and tundra landscapes, the habitat of the north, and that you will see no matter how cloudy or busy the road may be with traffic.  When we got to the Savage River, it was completely full, so we just turned around and took our time returning. 

Denali Day 16_1893On the way back, Mo wondered if it would be possible to camp at Riley Creek rather than continuing down the road searching for a boondock site.  I stopped in at the Riley Creek Mercantile around  4 pm and snagged the last available B length site in the campground. It seems the park has reservations, but you can’t reserve a specific site, just a site size.  B is for rigs up to 31 feet.  We chose a spot in the Wolf Loop and settled in to a lovely warm evening, again not a bug in site.  We are in Alaska, we are in Denali, there are no mosquitoes?  do you suppose they were taken up in the rapture?

Tomorrow: The Denali Highway East

CaptureMiles traveled today: 135

Road conditions: Excellent smooth major highway

The rest of the photos are here

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

4 thoughts on “Day 16 July 21 George Parks Highway to Denali”

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