2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous       2012 Journal Topics       Home       Next
 

   BACK AT DENALI: RAINY ROAD TRIP
AND FIRST DAY ACTIVITIES

SUNDAY, AUGUST 26

 
My older brother, in a phone call today: "You changed your plans." 
Me:  laughter 
My brother, remembering who he's talking to:  "You can DO that!"
 
 
 

My 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 your plans.”

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


Mt. McKinley 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.

INCONSIDERATE RVer 

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 miles.

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 RV again.

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

We 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 dated August 5 and August 12.

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 Friday's 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 views.

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.

RANGER TALK 

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 entrya visit to the Murie Science Center and a graphic reminder that winter is coming soon to Denali National Park (think "snow")

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-