Sunday, August 29, 2010

Alaska {1 of 6}: Our Long Journey to Denali

My attempt at a panoramic of McKinley - 4 photos spliced together! {Monday, August 2nd}
It's been 2 whole weeks since we made it home from our amazing Alaska trip, so I figured it's about time to share our stories/photos with y'all in blogland! I could probably write a novel about our adventures & would like to show you all 900 of our photos, but I think I may lose some blog readers if I go that route.

So I've given myself an hour to give you a glimpse of our long journey to Denali National Park (& Preserve, if you want to get technical). I thought I could cover our entire week at the park, but I just don't think that's going to happen. If you know me at all, you won't be surprised that I like plans- so I'm laying out a schedule for the rest of the week... I don't know if I'll be able to keep to this sched, but I'll try my darndest!
  1. Journey to Alaska/Denali (Right now!)
  2. Denali - Part 1 (Tonight) here!
  3. Denali - Part 2 (Monday) here!
  4. Kenai - Part 1 (Tuesday) here!
  5. Kenai - Part 2 (Wednesday) here!
  6. Anchorage (Thursday) here!

Post blog update: This post took 2 hours due to all of the photos & some blogger technical issues.... if it takes me as much time the next go-around, I may not be able to stick to the schedule above!

To get to Denali, we had quite the road ahead of us. We left Saturday 7/31 and drove 2.5 hours to Charlotte (sidenote: on our way to Charlotte, a rock hit our windshield, cracking it. Awesome way to start the trip; I was convinced we were doomed). In Charlotte, we stayed with Vero Beach buddy, Ali, & then got up at the crack of dawn to catch our first flight. From Charlotte we flew in an itty-bitty plane to Memphis, then to Seattle, & finally to Anchorage. Luckily, the time zone changes (4 hours to be exact), worked in our favor flying west, so we got in at a reasonable hour, picked up our rental car, & drove an hour north to Wasilla.

In Wasilla, we loaded up on food & supplies at the Fred Meyer (Awesome store! Why don't they have Freds in the lower 48?!) - Cliff bars, trail mix, nonperishables, bear bells, bear spray, mosquito head nets & a few odds & ends we either didn't have or didn't pack with us.  We stayed in a hotel (LUXURY!), took the only shower we would take for the rest of the week, & tried to get some must needed rest after our marathon day(s) of travel.

Monday morning, we picked up our two big footlocker boxes at the Post Office that we shipped weeks ahead of time that had all of our clothes / gear (after all of my worrying - they arrived - hallelujah!), & hit the road. It took four more hours to drive to Denali & then we jumped on a bus for another 5+ hour drive to our campsite.

Our drive to Denali was rainy & gloomy. I knew that bad weather was to be expected, but I was a little bummed. Thankfully, our luck changed almost instantly as we approached the Park when the sun decided to peak out. Oh happy day...
Almost to Denali National Park! {Monday, August 2nd}
As I mentioned earlier, we had to leave our car at the park entrance & bus it to our campsite. Denali only lets visitors drive about 15 miles into the park. You have to jump on one of their school buses to venture any further. The road turns from pavement to dirt and isn't suited for a ton of traffic. I think it's a genius idea, and really makes the experience that much more wild & unique than any other National Park we've visited.
Waiting for our chariot, the Camper Bus, at the Denali Park Entrance {Monday, August 2nd}
We only had to drive 85 miles to Wonder Lake, where we'd be camping for the next 5 days, but the trip took over 5 hours. We didn't mind - we felt like we were on a mini-safari. Driving through entirely different landscapes, seeing all sorts of creatures (Caribou, moose & bears on our trip out of the park) & getting a pretty decent commentary on the history & life of the park from our bus driver (Sidenote - the commentary from the driver was great. The fact that he knowingly left 2 passengers who were late at one of our pitstops was not so cool). Here are a few photos from our bus ride.

Some of these photos are fuzzy on the blog - not sure why because they are clear on my end. What gives, blogger?!?! Try clicking on the photo to open in a new window for a clearer view:
Our trusty camper bus at one of our pitstops {Monday, August 2nd}
View from the camper bus {Monday, August 2nd}
One of many caribou sitings {Monday, August 2nd}
Wish I could remember the name of this awesome spot {Monday, August 2nd}
The pitstop where 2 poor passengers got left behind {Monday, August 2nd}
Caribou antlers {Monday, August 2nd}
View from the Eielson Visitor Center, Mile 66 {Monday, August 2nd}
Fully intact moose skull & antlers at Eielson {Monday, August 2nd}
We finally arrived at Wonder Lake Campground at about 7 pm. We set up our tent in the mosquito-infested campground (if it wasn't such a gorgeous spot, it would have been horrible), made dinner & were ready to call it a night. Given that we checked out of our hotel & hit the road at 6am, we were tired & ready for bed. The weather had something else in mind.... At about 9:30-10pm, the clouds cleared & we got our first glimpse of McKinley. Wonder Lake is the closest campground to McKinley...only 26 miles from the mountain, allowing for some awesome views right from your tent!
Well, hello, Mt. McKinley / View from Wonder Lake Campground {Monday, August 2nd}
If you've been following the blog, you already got to see my 2 favorite photos of McKinley, which were taken at the Reflection Pond about 3 miles from our campsite. If not, do yourself a favor & click here. McKinley is truly breathtaking & what we saw was pretty darn special. It rained almost every day in July, and the mountain was only visible for a couple of days (& even then, the mountain rarely stays free of clouds all day/night). According to the Ranger, that evening was THE BEST night of the summer. To get that view, at night, when the sun was setting, was truly a special gift. We were thankful!
Mt. McKinley at Reflection Pond {Monday, August 2nd}
I mentioned alpenglow in my previous post about McKinley, but I thought I'd give you a quick explanation on why you see the pink on the mountain (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Alpenglow (from German: Alpengl├╝hen) is an optical phenomenon. When the Sun is just below the horizon, a horizontal red glowing band can sometimes be observed on the opposite horizon. Alpenglow is easiest to observe when mountains are illuminated but can also be observed when the sky is illuminated through backscattering. Since the Sun is below the horizon, there is no direct path for the light to reach the mountain. Instead, light reflects off airborne snow, water, or ice particles low in the atmosphere. It is this circumstance that separates a normal sunrise or sunset from alpenglow.
11:30pm sunset opposite the Alaska range {Monday, August 2nd}
Alpenglow on the Alaska range {Monday, August 2nd}
We hiked back to our campsite & hit the sack, exhausted but elated after our long day. This photo was taken without any flash at midnight (hence the "1" & "2" I'm holding up). Talk about confusing your internal clock!
Nighty night - midnight in Alaska {Monday, August 2nd ....or technically, early morning August 3rd}
That's all for now, folks. Stay tuned for more Alaska stories....

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! So excited to hear more about this trip!


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