a walk on the denali park road

A ribbon of the Denali Park Road in the distance (Stewart for scale)
A ribbon of the Denali Park Road in the distance (Stewart for scale)

In the six-million acre wilderness of Denali National Park, there’s just one road. It’s 92 miles long, running parallel to the Alaska Range from the Denali Park Wilderness Access Center to a place I very much want to see some day, called Wonder Lake.

During peak visitor season, usually late May through mid-September, cars may drive only the first fifteen miles of the road, out to the Savage River. To go beyond that point, you have to take a bus — or walk.

One of the ways we get to our cabin is by taking a park bus to a certain bend in the road, then hoofing it over a sizable ridge and continuing on for a good portion of the day, until we pass out of the national park and onto the state lands where our ten-acre parcel is nestled. It’s a long, hard hike — entirely without trails and subject to all sorts of weather — and I don’t know why I say “we,” because I haven’t yet approached our cabin this way. I’ve done only the reverse version, from the cabin to the road, and I’ve yet to manage it in fewer than eight hours. But Stewart has done the hike in from the road dozens of times.

This year, after dropping me off in Fairbanks for my flight home, Stewart returned to the cabin via the park road hike. He got eager and hopped off the bus too early, so he had to walk an extra hour to get to the base of the ridge. Along the way, he met a few friends. The main reason for this post is to introduce you to these three big deer . . .

The park road corridor is known for its considerable wildlife population — caribou such as these, moose, grizzlies, Dall sheep, and more. Sometimes we’ll see only one or two moose during weeks at the cabin, then ten moose in the hour or so that we spend on the park bus on the way out. Bus drivers are charged with respecting the resident animals while allowing the visiting human animals an opportunity to be close to wildlife, and most of them do their job very well.

Our next posts will focus on the animals we see around the cabin, including a bear story or two.


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