brother called this afternoon just to say hi and see where we are.
Last time I talked with him I said we’d probably be on our way out of Alaska today or
tomorrow. When I told him today that we are going to be at Denali a week and then
Fairbanks for a few days he sounded surprised and commented, “You changed
I laughed because we're continually changing our plans and he quickly added,
“You can DO that,” as if giving permission.
Colorful trees along the George Parks Hwy. on the
way to Denali National Park
Yup, we can do that.
Not only are we retired and not on any fixed schedule, the “plan” for
this whole trip was to not have any hard and fast itinerary but to play
it by ear. Our family, friends, and other regular readers of this
journal should know by now how unpredictable our "plans" are. Sometimes
they change hour by hour or minute by minute!
Isn't that fun? You
just never know where we'll turn up next.
THE VAGABONDS MOVE UP THE ROAD
We totally lucked out with mostly sunny
conditions (or at least, minimal rain) our first eleven days at
Denali National Park earlier this month
AKA Denali on a perfect weather day (8-9-12)
Now we're back for eight more nights and Mother
Nature isn't quite so accommodating this time.
As expected, we awoke at 6 AM at JBER to totally overcast skies. The
prediction for both Anchorage and Denali was a 100% chance of rain
today. Yup – it began raining about 8:30 AM as we were driving north on the
Parks Hwy. Temps remained in the 40s F. for us all day.
I just hate it when we encounter thoughtless or rude RVers because one
bad apple can make the rest of us look bad by association.
We left JBER at 7:10 AM and arrived at Riley Creek Campground at Denali
at 11:45 AM, a drive of about 237 miles. It took longer today than when
we drove from Denali to JBER ten days ago because of the rain, elevation
gain going north, and a very slow RV we couldn’t pass for about 30
When we first came up behind the slow Class C rental unit Jim was
looking for a safe opportunity to pass it. Before we could get around it a
Princess tour bus came roaring up behind us. Jim dropped back gradually to leave
more room for the bus to pass us and tuck in behind the little RV. The
bus driver was obviously in more of a
hurry than we were.
The bus passed us within a couple minutes, then tried to pass the little
RV a little while later when he thought he had another opportunity.
That time, however, the bus driver almost caused a head-on collision
with a southbound car before he was able to pull back behind the little
It rightly scared the crap out of him and his busload of passengers (and us, because we could see what
might happen). How many times have you read about tour bus accidents
where folks are killed? For the next 30 miles the bus driver refused to pass the little RV and
the RV driver stubbornly refused to pull over at several scenic overlooks.
The line behind all of us built up. There was enough oncoming traffic –
and enough ignorant drivers without their headlights on in the rain –
that Jim didn’t risk passing both the bus and RV. He kept enough space
between us and the tour bus so a few smaller vehicles could pass us one
at a time.
Finally, after we'd been following the inconsiderate guy in the small RV for about 30 miles,
he pulled off and everyone could proceed at a safe speed closer to the
speed limit instead of 10-15 MPH slower.
It's common sense to drive at a comfortable pace if you're in a vehicle you're not
that familiar with -- or your own big rig -- when it's raining. It's not
OK to inconvenience so many other people for 45-50 minutes. Get the heck
off the road and let them pass!!!
End of rant. This
incident just made the rainy day more discouraging. We aren't thrilled
that it's wet in our favorite place in Alaska.
SCENES ALONG THE WAY
Between Wasilla and Willow we saw a musher with about seven sled dogs
pulling his ATV on a dirt trail along the road, apparently training for the winter sled season. I've heard of several dog mushers
who live between Anchorage and Denali.
We didn’t start seeing any fall colors until about 150 miles north of
Anchorage. Then there were more and more reds, oranges, and yellows:
The colors were pretty even in the rain, although I couldn’t take good
pictures through the wet truck windows.
One of the main reasons I wanted to return to Denali National Park was
to see the fall colors. They have really progressed in the ten days
since we left.
RILEY CREEK CAMPGROUND
were very happy a few days ago to be able to reserve an "A" site
at this campground for another week. We really enjoyed staying here two
separate times on our first trip to the park. For more information about
this campground, located near the entrance to the park, see the entries
August 5 and
Before checking in at the Riley Creek mercantile building and getting water
in the camper
we started hunting for a suitable campsite in the Bear Loop. That's a tip we
learned the last time we were here.
We put a lawn chair and traffic cone at a nice double site on the inside
of the loop where it’s easier for Jim to see to back in. The guy who checked
us in said there are 40 vacant sites at Riley tonight, although not many that
are left are big enough for the Cameo.
That many empty sites is one of several indications that the tourist season is winding down.
Picture I took of our campsite the next day when we
could see a bit of blue sky
While I was checking in Jim attempted to get water at the dump station
nearby. The pressure was so low that the water was just a trickle and he gave up
after getting only about 20 gallons into the fresh water tank. He
intends to get water daily in our spare six- and seven-gallon containers and
pump it in at our site. That's easier than moving a 5th-wheel back over there
after we get it set up.
The rain continued lightly all afternoon. If we were going to be here
only a couple days we would have gotten out to do more than we did.
Instead, we spent a lazy afternoon inside the camper, reading and napping
and planning what we want to do in the park during the next week,
including more bike rides and hikes.
I’m not sure just how much of the park has been closed to backcountry hiking since
fatal bear attack but I wasn’t planning on going past Savage
River at mile 15 on the park road during this visit anyway. The victim
was killed in one of the Toklat River drainages, which are about 50
miles out the park road. Even if I can ride out to Eielson or Wonder
Lake again I don't know if I want to pay the cost of a shuttle bus ticket
from the entrance (tickets are cheaper from Tek and they are good for as
many days as you're camped there at mile 29).
Empty sites on our loop
There are several more trails near the entrance that I didn’t hike when
we were here earlier in the month and I’d like to do the Healy overlook
and ridge again -- on a day clear enough to see the panoramic
There’s a high chance of rain again tomorrow. It’s supposed to be partly
sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday so we plan to do a long bike ride (Jim)
and hike (me) one or both of those days.
After supper I walked Cody around the campground, dodging some large
puddles (next picture).
I looked on the bulletin board to see what topics the rangers will be
talking about this week in their evening presentations in the
campground. We've enjoyed several ranger talks at Denali so far.
Only old schedules were up and I incorrectly assumed that the ranger talks
were over for the summer.
Not so. Fortunately I ran into tonight’s speaker as he was putting up a sign on the
path to the amphitheater. He told me his topic would be wolves and lynx,
and because of the rain we’d be meeting at the covered breezeway between the
laundry/restrooms and mercantile building.
I decided to attend the ranger talk. It was chilly outside but at least
those of us in attendance were dry. About 20 people attended, plus folks who were
in and out doing their
laundry. The discussion, mostly about the different styles of hunting between
the two species, was interesting.
Wolf (L) and lynx pelts
The ranger mentioned the recent bear mauling in his bear-moose-wolf
(BMW) prevention spiel
at the beginning of his talk but he didn’t go into any details about the hiker's death. I imagine the rangers
have been fully briefed but told not to say much about the fatality
while it's under investigation.
From what I've read so far it doesn’t sound like there is any
basis for a lawsuit against the park but in this litigious society you
just never know how this unfortunate incident will play out.
STILL PLENTY OF TOURISTS AT DENALI
Despite what we were told about the campground having more and more
open sites now, we noticed a lot of foreign visitors around the mercantile building this
evening (Jim went later to get on free WiFi).
This is the “shoulder
season” when airfares and prices on goods and services in the area are
on the decline as the tourist season winds down. It’s also a popular time for
foreigners to visit because airline fares are cheaper. That's probably why we saw so
many tour buses in Anchorage and Turnagain Arm yesterday.
Sorry for the lack of photos in this entry. I promise I'll have more
when the sun is out!
Next entry: a visit to the Murie Science Center and a
graphic reminder that winter is coming soon to Denali National Park
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil