Our fifth wheel and the truck

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Farewell Fairbanks - Dazzling, Dynamic Denali

G’day all and a warm welcome back. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit back and get comfortable as this is going to be a long post. I should have finished Fairbanks in the last post as I could write pages and pages on Denali National Park. Be prepared!!!

Picking up where I left off in Fairbanks after our awesome day to the Arctic Circle we had two more wonderful days before we were due to leave for Denali.

We took a really interesting trip down the Tanana River on the riverboat Discovery. The trip was really different with a float plane landing and taking off on the river beside us. The boat and the pilot were rigged up with microphones so we were able to listen to him explaining the type of plane and how the planes were used in Alaska. I was really amazed at the short distance it takes these guys to get off the water.

We also visited a replica Athabascan village where we were escorted by three extremely knowledgeable, young Athabascan ladies. All three were college students who were working at the village to share their culture and some of their heritage.

One of our guides in a traditional fur coat - it was stunning.

Susan Butcher came to Alaska as a young woman and went on to prove that yes, women can do anything.

I am sure you have all heard of the Iditerod race. This is a sled dog race between Fairbanks and Dawson City and is held in extremely harsh conditions. Susan Butcher trained her own dogs and went on to win the race four times with a lead dog named Granite. Granite became extremely ill after the third (I think) race they won. Against all advice she nursed the dog back to health and they went on to win another race. Susan Butcher died in 2006 at the age of 52.

We got to watch her husband work a dog sled team and I have never seen dogs get so excited. The dogs were just sitting in a line but as soon as the lead dog was attached to the harness the rest of them obviously knew this was the signal for a run and began barking and jumping at the leads and once attached and given the command to go they took off like rockets. They are so well coordinated - they were pulling a large quad bike and were amazing. The surprising thing is that there are no reins to the dogs, they are controlled only through verbal commands.

While in Fairbanks we also visited the Pioneer Park which consists of a whole lot of log cabins that have been relocated to the park and many are now occupied by cute little retail outlets.

The low light of Fairbanks was a visit to Big Daddy's BBQ  restaurant. It was advertised as the most northern, southern barbecue place! What a disaster!!! If this place is any indication of what a barbecue place is, I will not be in a hurry to visit another.

Apart from the dry bread that you take out of the plastic bag with your hands (who knows where the person before you has had their hands!!!!), Norm got a 1/4 chicken (after ordering a ½) and sent it back to then to be given a ½ chicken that was red and bloody inside (this went back to the kitchen too!!), Rick was given an order of beans (he ordered brisket). Instead of being charged $20 for his meal, Jim was credited with $79 dollars on his credit card and then no one in the restaurant knew how to reverse it and he had to speak to the manager at her home in order to sort it out. What a shamoozle! I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone going to this place even if you were starving!

Not to worry the next morning we were hitching up again and moving down near Denali National Park. We stayed a night at Healy and went to a great dinner and show in the town of Denali. It was a brilliant dinner (made up for the night before!) with all you could eat ribs and salmon and vegetables. So scrumptious!

The show was a historical musical sort of. Fannie Quigley and her husband Joe were miners in the Kantishna area and the show was based around them and the reasons why people came to Alaska. It was really interesting and very enjoyable and I could definitely recommend it to anyone coming up that way!

Fannie and Joe Quigley - we learned later that he actually left her and went off to Seattle and she lived on in a cabin in  Kantishna and eventually died there.

Early the next morning we got ourselves organized and drove the 10 miles down the road to the National Park. This would have to have been one of the most outstanding places we have ever visited. But we are lucky enough to now be in the ‘30%’ club! The story is that only 30% of the visitors to Denali actually get to see Mt McKinley.

Because of its height 20320ft and location the mountain creates its own weather and is more often than not shrouded in cloud so many visitors actually never get to see it. We did!!!!

We were boon docking 29 miles into the park at Teklanika campground. The first 15 miles is paved but with lots of potholes and repairs while the next 14 miles is a dirt road or should I say MUD!!

When we arrived and picked our spot, Norm and I spent about ¾ hour trying to remove some of the mud from the truck and rv. I couldn’t even get into the rv until I had removed heaps of mud from the steps. In places, it was up to two inches thick!!! Yuck, it is going to take us a long time to get it off the bottom of both vehicles. Minor hiccup in a wonderful couple of days though.

The first afternoon I took a walk down to and out onto the Teklanika River flats. It is glacier fed and so the water is very silty and grey. The river bed is extremely wide as the river changes course often and of course the wind, coming off the snow and glaciers was just a tad cold.

Gorgeous wild flowers everywhere.

Each night we were in the park the rangers gave a presentation in the little amphitheatre which was really interesting especially the one on how to behave if you come upon a bear. Not sure I could stand there and wave my arms in the air and talk to a bear!

The next day we were booked on a bus ride that took us half way into the park to the 92 mile peg. There are no roads past this point. What a wonderful day! We only had to go 126 miles but it took 10 hours with stops for the visitors’ centre, toilet breaks and the most important - photo stops.

The bus ride into the park was our first sighting of Mt McKinley, woo hoo!! However it wasn’t to be our only sighting as we were fortunate enough to see it again the next day and then again as we were leaving the park.

Our first glimpse of Denali - The High One.

On our bus trip we saw twelve - that is right 12 - grizzly bears. Our first sighting was the best as we came upon a mama bear with twins that were very close to the road. We saw more grizzlies the next day along with caribou, dall sheep, a golden eagle and moose. And while we didn’t see any wolves I did manage to get a beautiful photo of a wolf paw print in the mud in the river bed. The paw print was pointing north so I wanted to go south!!!!

Our first grizzly sighting of a mama with her twins.

To say the views are spectacular is an understantement. Mt McKinley dominates the park but is not the only mountain. The rivers beds are very wide but water only flows along channels that are constantly changing. The tundra is gorgeous which we found out the next day when we took a hike.

We caught the bus at 9.00am for the two hour drive to our hike at Stony Hill which was classified as moderate (it only climbs up to 1000ft!!!!). Strenuous is when the hike climbs over 1000ft. It was an interesting climb as we headed up the ridge to the top of Stony Hill and I mean the ridge! There was a sheer drop to the right of us and a sheer drop to the left of us with a very stiff wind blowing and nothing to stop us if we fell. The sides of the ridge were covered in loose rocks with no trees strubs or undergrowth of any sort!

Our guide Jennifer decided that she would take the group a slightly different way and not go right to the top of the hill however Matt (another hiker) and Jim did go right to the top while the rest of us started to make a slow descent down the scree and on to the tundra.

Before I forget I must tell you that while on the hike there was a young couple from Narrogin/Williams. She is a teacher on exchange in Canada and he is a cocky from Williams. Lovely couple and so strange hearing other Australian accents!

I have to comment on the rangers in the park. They are amazing - their knowledge of all things in the park is truly brilliant. Our guide Jen knew just about every flower that we found on the tundra - and there were so many it was amazing. She knew all the animal tracks and was able to point out all the interesting points about the landscape. She was from Florida and this was her first year in Denali. She was telling us that the selection and training process for the ranger positions is very rigorous. Thank you Jen, you were brilliant.

Some of our hikers reach the top!!

Our hike only covered 3½ miles but took us 5 hours. Combine that with the four hour bus ride there and back and the campfire and s’mores that night it was a long day. But I wouldn’t have changed any of it and slept like a log!

Another glimpse of Denali.

Alas, our time in Denali was over and we hitched up the rigs and headed out. Strange thing had happened while we were there - no rain and as a consequence the roads had dried out and now the car and rv were covered in dust!!! No pleasing some people!!

And would you believe as we left the park we got our best view of the mountain!

We did a quick visit to the visitors’ centre and unhitched the rv’s so we could go into Denali for fuel. We arrived back at the park and were hitching up again when I saw a truck and Airstream pass us on the road. I thought that it looked very similar to Steve and Nancy’s rig and blow me down it was! They had arrived back in Fairbanks the night before and had driven to Denali to have a quick look around. Funny how things happen. If we hadn’t stopped for fuel, t-shirts and photos of the Denali sign, we would have missed them. They will be going fishing with family over the next couple of weeks but we look forward to them joining up with us again down the road.

Denali has been a highlight of a trip filled with highlights. I am so glad we are able to do the things we do. We are truly blessed.

Our love and hugs to all our family and friends and until my next post I wish you all health and happiness. Stay safe!  Till next time.


PS Only just over a week and our youngest son, Bryce, arrives to spend a year at Northern Kentucky University. We won’t see him till later in the year but it will be nice to have him just a tad closer!





No comments:

Post a Comment