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"Denali is a land of extremes. Winters can be harsh, though starkly beautiful.  
Summers are short,  packed full of intense activity for animals and humans alike.   
Spring is so brief that a matter of days can be the difference between the hillsides looking
drab and brown versus verdant and green. Fall is equally brief, with tundra plants changing
from green to brilliant reds and oranges, and then fading back to brown a week later.
Whether you plan to visit in summer, winter, or the 'shoulder season'
between the two, there are many adventures to be had here."
~ from the Denali National Park website

Day Ten of sunshine in Denali National Park! Temps were in the low 70s F. at Riley Creek Campground this afternoon with a few clouds and some breeze.

Too bad we’re both too tired for a long bike ride or hike today. We're saving our energy for that tomorrow.

We mostly relaxed at the campground today. Jim went with me for a 2½+  mile walk on the McKinley Station, Spruce Forest, and Morino trails to the visitor center and back. This is a picture I took of Jim standing on the footbridge where the Alaska Railway crosses Riley Creek:

Later I walked Cody a mile in the campground.


I got bread and milk at the Mercantile store (very expensive there, too) and found two short-sleeved t-shirts at half price in Nenana Canyon:


The signs in one store read “End of Season Sale – All Clothing 50% Off!!”

End of season?? That’s not for more than a month. This is called the "shoulder season" because there are fewer people visiting the park mid-August to mid-September. There is also a shoulder season in late May/early June before the full summer season begins.

The bus schedule became a little lighter after August 9 but it still seems like there are a lot of people here now. The campground is pretty full every night, especially the larger “A” sites (probably more retirees here now).

CJ and Monnie, the campground hosts, will be here until September 20, when the park pretty much closes for the summer season.

Colorful leaves along the McKinley Station Trail today

The Bear Loop in Riley Creek CG stays open all winter for cross country skiers, dog mushers, photographers, and other intrepid visitors but the bathrooms are closed.

Because Denali is considered a wilderness area snow machines aren’t allowed here in the winter like they are at Yellowstone, apparently even for park staff. I'm glad -- not that we'll ever be in Alaska in the winter!

Rangers and other staff use dog sleds to reach backcountry destinations. That's why they have so many sled dogs here.

A little side stream along the Savage River (from yesterday's hike)

Savage River Loop Trail, looking north toward the canyon area (from yesterday's hike)

I talked to CJ a couple times today.

In one conversation he strongly recommended Jim not ride his bike on Denali Highway tomorrow as planned. That road, mostly dirt, runs east-west for 134 miles through the middle of the state between Cantwell and Paxson. The Cantwell end is 27 miles south of the entrance to Denali National Park so Jim thought that was a convenient place to drive to do an out-and-back ride of 40-50 miles.

CJ warned that the road isn't safe on a bike now because caribou hunting season is open. He said a lot of hunters go ripping down the gravel road in beat-up trucks and throw up rocks that could hit Jim in the face. They also kick up a lot more dust than the vehicles on the park road.

Caribou I saw yesterday at Savage River; I'm not against hunting
but I could personally never kill one unless I was starving.

CJ had already recommended that I hike up Mt. Margaret on the west side of the Savage River.

Our plan for tomorrow is to drive out there again, park the truck, and cycle (Jim) and hike (me). Jim says he’ll continue on to Teklanika River Campground, the plan he modified yesterday.

View of Mt. Margaret from the alpine trail above Savage Rock; it's a 2-mile walk
up the park road to reach the trailhead to Primrose Ridge and the summit.  (8-13-12)

I asked CJ about ideal times to visit the park. This is what he advised, based on hosting at the park for several summers:

  • The last half of June is usually nice with spring leaves and flowers coming out. The weather is fairly dry then, on average.

  • July tends to be wettest but has the most flowers (they are waning now).

  • August is usually drier and fall colors start to arrive about now, as I've shown in some of my photos.

  • Early September is cooler and usually dry, with fewer visitors. Colors can be gorgeous then, but they are very fleeting and unpredictable.

I think I’d like to come in late June and early September next time we're in Alaska, just to see what different things are in bloom and what the place looks like in different seasons. Spring and fall are extremely short here, however, and arrive at different times from year to year.

Stacked rock columns in Savage River Canyon

Colorful rocks in the canyon 

I worked at the computer for several hours (e-mail, reading news, working on photos, updating notes, etc.) and Jim sat outside reading in the nice weather.

In the evening we watched the narrated version of the park DVD I bought, “Heartbeat of Denali.” It also includes the shorter non-narrated version used in the visitor center, which I prefer. It shows scenes from Denali's varied seasons and got us further psyched up for some new adventures tomorrow.

Next entryJim's long bike ride from the Savage River on the park road and my long hike on Primrose Ridge/Mt. Margaret; includes fine views of Denali and close-up photos of a moose, three caribou, and several Dall sheep (did I mention Jim also saw a lynx??)

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil