Time: 5:15 am
Date: Saturday, June 17, 2008
The mission (because we are both nuts and have wandering spirits) that we had chosen to accept: a day trip to Mount McKinley ***DENALI***
After synchronizing our watches the night before, Ang and I agreed that she'd pick me up at 5:15 am and we'd hit the Glenn Highway heading north for an all day adventure. The itinerary was to drive to Denali Park, slowly make our way to mile 30 inside the park, then head home. The 17th was the last Saturday we'd be able to drive into the park before they opened it for the official start of the tourist season. After last weekend, the only vehicles allowed on the road are the tour buses that run visitors to the park back to Wonder Lake, the end of the road of Denali Park.
While Ang had her hopes set on seeing the Big 5 of the park (bear, moose, Dahl sheep, wolf and caribou) and a lynx she'd heard tales of others sighting, I was excited just to be in the park again. The only time I'd been there before was the trip Alex and I made when we won the road lottery last year in September (the same trip we got engaged in the park on).
If there is one thing I could tell tourists about going to Denali, it's this: don't get so caught up in the big game you hope to see around the next bend that you miss the little things that are right beside you. We saw an abundance of snow hare and ptarmigan (you've got to hear them give their warning sqawk, it's hilarious to listen to). We were lucky enough to see a red fox and catch him in the process of marking his boundary. We saw ground squirrel, which I'd never seen before. We did see plenty of caribou and even a moose and calf eating their fill of freshly greening buds. The surprise and excitement of the trip came in the form of a round porcupine crossing the road in front of the car on our way home. Ang was so excited to get a pic that she pulled over, made her way through calf deep, half melted snowbanks, followed the prickly fellow into a glade of trees (one of which he promptly climbed to get away from his pursuer), and managed to get a few pictures of Mr. Quills through the tree branches. It really was about the little things on this trip.
Our itinerary was changed, as it often is on the Cristine/Ang road trips. We took a side trip to Nenana, a village a little more than an hour north of Denali Park, to a restaurant called Monderosa. Ang had been told that they claimed to have the best burgers in Alaska. I don't know if they do have the best burgers in ALL of Alaska or not, but they were pretty good, and very large. We both left very full, and she was all for my suggestion to go through the park one more time before we headed home.
On the second trip through the park, we experienced every form of weather pattern Alaska has to offer. For the first 10 minutes, it rained. From mile 15 to about mile 17, it snowed. From mile 17 to about mile 21, it sleeted. From mile 21 to mile 25, it hailed (bb gun sized pellets that made me feel as if the angels in heaven were using the car for target practice). When we got to mile 30 and turned around, we drove back through cloudy skies that turned to sunny skies. A rainbow even greeted us half way back to the park entrance. I kept joking with Ang about something good being at the end of the rainbow, and I'll be darned if there wasn't a group of caribou at that rainbow's end!
We didn't get home until after 1, but we had the moon to enjoy on the trip home. We drove for 21 hours, but it was well worth the 700+ miles Ang put on her car's odometer and the exhaustion I felt the next morning when it was time to get up and head down the Seward Highway to start a hike that Ang had planned on Sunday.
We've decided to book a camping spot at Savage Campgrounds for the July 4th weekend. We are going to take the bus to Wonder Lake (we act like total tourists, and have no shame about it) not once, but two times that weekend. Hopefully, Ang will get to see her Big 5, and I'll get to once again enjoy the ever changing beauty that Denali Park has to offer every time I go.
Just a side note.... I found out when I got home that 10 separate teams of climbers were in the process of beginning the climb to the summit of Denali when we were in the park. All I can say about that is WOW... I'm going to check on their progress.