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A Wet Week in Denali National Park, Alaska

July 14, 2006

After a long drive down from Fairbanks on Saturday, we arrived at the Denali RV Park and Motel in Healy, Alaska late in the afternoon. Healy is a small town located about 10 miles north of the Denali National Park main entrance. We chose this RV park because of its good comments we read about online. And it was true. The people there were real friendly.

The next day we decided to go for a hike. There were mountains all around us and a trail beginning right at the edge of the campground. It was a good hike and a steady climb upwards. Near the top of the first ridge was pretty steep and rocky which made it a little tricky but we managed to make it over. After about an hour and a half we finally made it to the second ridge and that was as far as we went. It was about an 800 foot elevation change. The campground owner said to go up to the third ridge and across to the end was about a four hour hike. We were not up to the challenge just yet.

We sat there for about a half hour just enjoying God's handiwork before descending. Which by the way was much easier of course. That only took about 20 minutes to get back to the bottom!

Shortly after that it began to rain for a while.

Later that afternoon when the rains stopped, we decided to drive into Denali National Park. There's only one road leading into it and it's open to traffic up to the 15 miles point. To go beyond that you must take one of the park buses. We had booked a tour bus, but that wasn't until Thursday.

The clouds were low on the mountains and we could not get any good views of them. Right at the end of the 15 mile point where the road crosses a river there was a caribou walking along the water. I managed to get a few pictures before it decided to just sit down and what looked like take a nap. It didn't move after that so we left.

Since there wasn't much of a grocery store here in this little town, I decided to drive the Blazer back up to Fairbanks to a full-sized grocery store. Along the way, I did some Geocaching. One of which took me to a Christian radio station. I stopped in to say hello and chat with some of the people there. The station was a combination talk-news-music station. The program schedule consisted of some great biblical teachers so I tuned in for the rest of my drive.

On Wednesday afternoon, we had another rain shower which actually blessed us with a beautiful rainbow. It was a double rainbow which stretched from the edge of the campground across the street into the valley. It was so big I couldn't capture it in one photo.

Afterwards it had cleared up enough that we decided to drive around for a while. We stopped at this one bridge for a look at the river below. We also climbed down below it to get a view of the train tracks and tunnel on the other side. As we climbed back up there were a group of men standing at the edge talking about something. I noticed one of them wearing a badge, but didn't pay much attention to them. While walking back to the car, Adam starts saying how one of them looked familiar. I just figured maybe they were other RVers that we've seen before because he notices them sometimes.

When we got back to the Blazer, we turned back to look and it was actually Ty Pennington and a couple others from ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition TV show. We knew they were up near Fairbanks building a house up there, but that was over 100 miles away. We never expected to see them down here, and looking at this bridge no less. Anyway, by the time we realized who it was, they were already halfway back to their car and it was too late to ask for a photo.

Finally Thursday came and we took the Tundra Bus Tour into Denali National Park. Now don't get me wrong, it probably could be a good tour to take. But the chance of getting to see the wildlife up close was basically just that; a chance. An EXPENSIVE chance. But we didn't know. My sister and brother-in-law had taken the same tour the week before and loved it. They're not RVers, but had come up on the combination cruise/train/bus tour of Alaska like the majority of those on our bus tour.

On our Tundra Tour, we did see a grizzly bear, some caribou, a herd of Dall sheep, and a moose cow. But all but one was so far away that you needed a good set of binoculars to see them. Even with my 300mm zoom lens (and everyone on he bus moving around and shaking) I was not able to really get a good photo. We actually saw more wild animals up close while driving along the Alaskan highway.

What I would suggest if you do come up here is to take the regular shuttle bus for $19.95 that takes you the entire 90 mile road into the park instead of just 53 miles. It isn't as comfortable as the tour bus and they don't provide a box lunch (not that great anyhow), but you will save $60 on the ticket which is plenty enough to bring your own better lunch.

Another thing we learned up here is that we came the wrong time of year. The best time to visit Denali is early to mid June or the first two weeks of September. July and August are your rainy seasons. Needless to say in the week we were here we couldn't even see Mount McKinley, the largest mountain in North America, because of the low clouds.

This morning I picked up our mail and we drove down to Valdez. Now this is the Alaska we were looking for! Be sure to come back in a couple of days for all the photos!

See you back soon,