Yes, we made it to Denali for the road trip. The day dawned dark and dismal... but ended with me wearing the sun!
We headed to Cantwell to stay at the Cantwell Lodge on Saturday. The weather was gloomy, but I was so excited to be spending some alone time with Alex that nothing could have made me unhappy, even the weather. We stayed at the lodge that night, and I totally loved it. The lodge was great: two queen beds and a single bed in every room; a kitchen area (complete with dishes, a microwave and a small fridge); and tons of channels on cable! The host was friendly and the lodge was quiet and well maintained. We spent the night snacking on pizza bites and popcorn, washed the food down with a bottle of wine, and watched Trading Spaces all night. It was relaxing, peaceful and totally enjoyable.
The next day, Sunday, we headed to Denali. When we got to the visitors center, we were informed that the road was only open to mile 30, but I was still so excited to be there that I didn't care if we only got to go to mile 15, I was in DENALI! We headed to the Denali Princess for breakfast and some shopping before going into the park. We figured we'd avoid some lines that way. We watched a little football with some tourists in the lobby (their train had been delayed due to snow in Denali, and they were headed to the McKinley Princess).
We headed into the park at about 12:30. The colors of fall surrounded us like a blanket. Patches of snow were already forming, and we hadn't even reached mile 30 yet. Just before mile 15, traffic was stopped in both directions. It's amazing how many people will stop everything just to watch two moose eat leaves off of bushes. Just before Teklenika campground, I saw a reflection pond (lake) just off to the left in the trees. The rangers still weren't allowing us to go past mile 30, so Alex and I turned around and headed back to the lake so I could get some pictures. I hopped out of the car and made my way around the trees to get the "perfect" photo. The weather still wasn't cooperating. It was still a bit drizzly.
After I took some pictures, I started walking back to the truck, but found Alex still lingering down by the lake. I joined him at the edge, and we watched the ripples on the top of the water made by a beaver swimming to the far shore. I was getting cold, and asked Alex what he would say about heading back to the truck for some carmel popcorn (we had some for the road trip). He turned to me, and out of no where says, "What would you say if I asked you to marry me at this lake?" He pulled out a box with the most beautiful ring in it! I was in shock, I think. I pointed to the ring and said, "is that a hypothetical ring?" We'd joked all the time about "if we hypothetically get married," so I didn't know what else to say! I told him I would say yes, then I'd cry. Both of which I did.
On the way out of the park, we saw a mother bear with two cubs on the edge of a shallow river at mile 15. They didn't stay long, they had berry eating to do, I'm sure. The snow beyond mile 30 was already 5-6 inches deep, with more snow on the way, and winter fast approaching.
The weather may not have cooperated and brought the sunny skies we'd hoped for. We may not have seen much wildlife. We may not have been able to drive into the park to the end of the road. But, this will always be my favorite and most memorable trip to Denali. We don't know the name of the small pond/lake where Alex asked me to marry him, but for us, it will always be Engagement Lake.