Today was overcast and rainy most of the day with the temperature getting to only about 62 degrees F.. The Denali mountain could not be seen due to cloud cover.
Denali Visitor Center–
The Visitor Center at Denali is fairly new and beautiful. Built in 2006 it has a number of interesting exhibits. There’s a very good film about the changing seasons in Denali. The film is only 17 minutes long but it is very well done. We attended a Ranger lecture on the wood frog and how it has adapted to life in Alaska. In the winter it actually freezes, it stops breathing and it’s heart stops beating. But that’s not the amazing part, the amazing thing is that in the early spring it’s heart restarts and it rejoins the land of the living!!! No ill effects from freezing.
Poked around the visitor center for quite awhile. They have a very good book store and the even have a restaurant they call a “Grill”. The visitor center provides shuttle buses to the sled dog mushing demonstrations throughout the day.
Sled dog mushing demonstration–
The park is patrolled using sled dogs in the winter and there is quite a large kennel of sled dogs. In the summer the dogs are used to show visitors sled dog mushing demonstrations. All the dogs look very healthy with beautiful coats. They are clearly well cared for by the staff. There was a Ranger lecture on the history and present day use of the dogs followed by a demonstration of “sled dog mushing”. The dogs seem so calm and a bit lazy until they get a hint that there is going to be some running and pulling. Then they start jumping, pulling on there chains and barking with anticipation. It was interesting to see the dogs respond to the chance to run and to follow the commands of the sled rider.
Hiking along the Teklanika River–
This morning we took a short hike along the Teklanika River. We were told that occasionally you can spot wildlife from the river bed but today was not the day for seeing wildlife on this hike. We weren’t the only ones hiking in that area. Perhaps there were too many people around. Despite not seeing wildlife it was a beautiful day for a hike.
Leaving Teklanika Campground–
We left Teklanika Campground this afternoon to change campgrounds. We moved to Riley Creek Campground near the entrance to Denali NP. The park has a strong restriction of the direction of travel when leaving Teklanika Campground. They only allow you to drive your vehicle toward the entrance to the park but they don’t restrict how long that will take you to drive. So we spent more than two hours driving slowly and stopping along the way as we headed back toward the Riley Creek Campground.
Riley Creek Campground–
This campground is bigger and much more commercial than Teklanika. There’s a dump site here and potable water. Also, there’s a campground store and though the campgrounds in the park are all run by a private company, they still honor the National Parks senior card so our campsite was only $11.00/night. Since Riley Creek Campground is located within the first 15 miles of the park, they allow private vehicles to drive the roads up to the 15 mile mark where the official entrance into the wilderness area starts. A ranger is stationed at this point in the park. Today, at the gate where the ranger was stationed, there was a grizzly about 300 yards away in the riverbed area. Tonight, coming back to the campground, we saw a mama moose and her baby walking down the middle of the road just outside the campground.
Internet and cell phone coverage–
We use Verizon cell phone and Mellenicom(Verizon) for internet and both get signals in the Riley Creek Campground and at the Wilderness Access Center. However the signal is a bit weak. Perhaps others would have better luck connecting than we have had there.
Today was cloudy most of the day. The temp. only got up to 60 degrees F.
Ranger led hikes and programs–
There are ranger led hikes and programs available at most of the campgrounds and are fairly well attended. The hikes are various levels of difficulty and you must sign up in advance. Of course, folks can hike on their own.
Today we just concentrated on enjoying the beauty of the park and will let some of our pictures speak for themselves.
Woke to temperatures of 51 degrees F. in Denali at the Taklanika Campground. That’s pretty warm for 2900+ feet elevation. The sun was out most of the day but we did get a light rain in the afternoon.
We had purchased a ticket for today to take the shuttle to Kantishna at the very end of the only road that goes into Denali National Park (90 miles). The ticket was only for the shuttle bus there and back. There are other tickets one can buy that allows for a tour and lunch in the Kantishna Roadhouse and yet still other plans you can make to actually stay at the Kantishna Roadhouse or Denali Lodge as well as participate in all their activities.
We were only interested in traveling as far into the park as possible and seeing what we could see from the furthest reaches of the road. The road goes 90 miles into the park so the round trip of the entire length makes for a long day. Fortunately, this shuttle makes many stops at points of interest and at any animal sighting. The stops make the day longer but breaks it into smaller trips that add up to the long ride and that seemed more tolerable. Our driver was experienced, knowledgeable about the park, good at spotting animals and willing to stop at animal sightings long enough for everyone to get a good look and to take some pictures.
For such a long day we packed our back packs appropriately. Took lunch, snacks and drinks as well as our cameras, binoculars, and personal items we thought we might need. If you take the shuttle to any location in the park beyond the visitor center, you can not buy much in the way of food or drink at any of the stops and must carry everything you might need with you.
Kantishna was a gold mining area for a short time and there is some evidence of the mining tailings. Also there are a few old buildings but there is little to actually see in Kantishna. Our goal was the trip itself. Along this long ride through part of the park and back we saw four moose, many Dall sheep, multiple caribou and seven grizzlies. Also, we were able for awhile to see part of the Denali mountain but soon the clouds came and erased all evidence of it. The vast views into the wilderness that is Denali National Park are amazing in their enormity, colorfulness and variety. There are forested areas, tundra, snow covered mountains, fields of shrubs, lakes, streams, creeks, ponds, multicolored mountains and hills all to be seen just from the road and at some of the stops along the way.
This was a long and exciting day. The thrill of seeing large animals in the wild and just being in a wilderness area such as this made for a wonderful trip. One of the advantages of traveling for the day on the bus besides leaving the driving to someone else was that everyone watches for animals so there is an excellent chance someone will spot something along the way. Also, meeting and getting to know fellow travelers is always enjoyable.
Woke this morning to a temp. of 31 degrees F. We’re at 2500+ feet in Teklanika Campground so there’s a little snow still on the ground in a few places and it’s still cool at times with overcast skies much of the time. Today, however, was a beautiful, sunny day most of the day.
The transportation around the park for most people is the shuttle buses. The drivers are expert at maneuvering around on these narrow dirt roads, around blind corners and passed each other with apparent minimal difficulty. The shuttle runs every half hour in the morning and every hour in the afternoon. These are hop-on/hop-off buses making it easy to spend plenty of time exploring or hiking an area and then just catch the next shuttle bus. Everyone on the bus keeps an eye out for spotting wildlife and the drivers are good about stopping to allow for observing the wildlife and picture-taking. The shuttle buses also make planned bathroom rest stops, allowing all to disembark, use the facilities and/or stretch the legs. Many of the drivers give a running narration about the area and are very good at spotting animals though that is not a requirement of their job.
Our travels through the park–
We caught the 7:30 am shuttle at the bus stop just outside our campground and soon after saw Dall Sheep and a Grizzly and this was repeated intermittently during our travels today on the shuttle. The vast views into the interior of the park were spectacular. About an hour into the drive we came to a turn at the crest of a hill and had a spectacular view of part of Denali Mountain/Mt. McKinley. The Athabaskan name for Mt. McKinley is Denali meaning “the high one”. OK, so you know it is high and have even seen pictures but..for almost a week we had been scanning what seemed to us a very high, snow-covered mountain range for Denali but only saw clouds where we thought it should be and never saw it, just the clouds. Wow, so now we saw this huge mountain standing behind the snow-covered mountain range we had been scanning and it was head and massive shoulders above the mountains in front of it making them dwarf in comparison. What a magnificent sight! We knew we were so lucky to see even part of Denali. Only about 33% of visitors ever even catch a partial glimpse of Denali and we were resigned to thinking it would be unlikely we would get to see it.
Saw lots of grizzlies and Dall sheep in our travels today. Even saw grizzly cubs and a couple of grizzlies mating. Did see a beautiful golden eagle as well but he was too fast-moving to get his picture.
On our shuttle back to our campground, we saw even more animals than we had seen on the first half of our trip. An amazing day!
Eielson Visitor Center–
The turn around point of our journey today into the park was at mile 66 at the Eielson Visitor Center. This visitor center is built into the hill and looks across the 40 mile span to Denali Mountain. At the visitor center we listened to a ranger presentation about climbing Denali and then watched a film about various climbs of this 20,000+ foot mountain. After listening to the presentation and watching the film we were even more convinced that NOT climbing mountains like this was always the best choice for us. We ate lunch in the visitor center dining area, looking out the picture windows at Denali Mountain. After lunch, we took a short hike from the Eielson Visitor Center and then returned to catch the shuttle back home, to our RV.
The Wilderness Access Center–
Arrived at the Wilderness Access Center of Denali NP to see what it would be like to be here in July. We have reservations for July 15th at the Teklanika Campground. After some discussion with the young staff at the center, they suggested we might want to change our reservations and stay in the park now since we were already here. We decided this was as good an idea as any so we changed our reservation and will be camped in the park until the morning of June 11th. The Wilderness Center is filled with fit looking folks of various ages planning to hike and camp far into the wilderness areas of the park. Lots of folks fitted with large back packs and many with forms filled out for permits for their planned adventures.
Traveling to the Teklanika Campground–
The only time you can drive in the park passed mile 15 is on your way to Teklanika campground and on your way out of the wilderness area beyond mile 15. Teklanika Campground is 29 miles into the park making it the furthest campground for RVs in the park and camping in the wilderness of the park sounded most appealing. Transportation within the park is done by “hop on, hop off” shuttle buses that run every half hour in the morning and every hour from noon on. The shuttle bus is not free, tickets must be purchased. A fellow Lazy Daze RVer, Ed, suggested we take our time on our drive to the campground and see as much as we could during the drive. That was a great suggestion, thanks Ed! It took us about three hours to drive to the campground at our very slow pace plus multiple stops for hiking, looking at views, to observe some wildlife and even ate lunch while stopped at one of the larger pull outs in the park. The road in the park is paved until mile 15, after that is a very good dirt road. It was a beautiful drive and rather than speed up when another vehicle came up behind us we just pulled over and let them pass.
This national park campground is similar to other national park campgrounds. No hook-ups, sites treed and have a fire pit and picnic table, sites are in loops and fairly close together. There is a volunteer campground host here but she is only here until the third week in June. There is no volunteer campground host to replace her so if anyone is interested, contact the rangers. Don’t know what the campground host duties are but she said it was her first time here and was enjoying herself. The Teklanika campground is fairly small with approximately 50 sites. We did attend an evening ranger presentation in the campground amphitheater. It was a good presentation about birds in the park plus bear, moose and wolf safety. We both wore deet and had not one mosquitoes bite despite the fact there were lots of mosquitoes in the air. Hate using deet but it works.