Fairbanks to Denali National Park
Monday, July 6, 2009
8:11am to 12:30pm; Alaska time
136 miles

We got up at 4:11am to get laundry done before the ride to Denali. Dinner last night was late after getting the GPS back up and running. It was raining and would be a wet ride, but Mount McKinley is reported to be beautiful. After a complimentary breakfast at the hotel we were ready to head out. The sky cleared up and we went looking for geocaches along the way. We left our Stewie travel bug at the Fairbanks Airport cache and the Super Bowl CD and Boy Scout coin travel bug in Estel, a few miles outside of Fairbanks. About halfway to the Denali National Park, we passed an Inn called Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn. Too funny! You also had to see the big sign in front of the place to appreciate it.

At a gas stop near Denali, we discovered that one of the motorcycle forks has a broken seal--most likely from the Dalton Highway (the road to the Arctic Circle). That would explain those mysterious bug smears on Jeff's faceshield; it was oil, not bug goo. Jeff called the BMW dealer in Chicago, they advised us to tie a rag around the fork to keep the oil off the front brake pads and Jeff scheduled an appointment to repair it when we got back.

We stopped to look for a geocache a couple of miles from the hotel and found it at a scenic view stop along the road. The mountains were very tall and the river flowing in the canyon looked peaceful way down in the valley. But there were whitewater rafters bouncing along on the rapids below, so it was obviously not as peaceful as it looked from way up here.

We arrived at our hotel just outside the park and checked into our room. The air smelled of campfires. The sky was cloudless and clear except for the smoke haze and the mountains were behind a veil of fog. People told us there were quite a large number of wildfires in the area and we would be lucky to see Mt. McKinley, not only because of the wildfires, but because it's so high at 20,320 feet, that it's usually covered in clouds. Too bad we had already paid for our tickets.

The hotels have a shuttle bus system to take people to restaurants and other places in the area. The shuttle will also pick us up tomorrow to take us to the Denali wilderness station to catch the tour bus for the ride into the park. Most of the roads in Denali are closed to public traffic, so the only way to get within 30 miles of the mountain is to take one of the Denali bus tours. We are about 90 miles from the mountain at the hotel.

We found a geocache right across the road from the hotel and left our Brian travel bug in it. (The cache was reported stolen a couple of days later).

We rode to the 'Glitter Gulch" shopping area which was a couple of blocks from the hotel and ate lunch at the Denali Park Salmon Bake. The building looks like it has been there for a very long time because everything is out of square and the floors slope quite a lot. After lunch we wandered along the "gulch" for a while to check out the souvenir shops and to shop for lunch items to take on the tour tomorrow. Everyone told us that the box lunch they give you on the tour is not very good and you'll want to bring food to supplement it. He got some jerky and apples and a couple of bottles of water.

The restaurant where we had dinner was way up the mountain from our hotel room. The shuttle bus wound its way up hairpin turns on gravel roads to the top of the mountain, a little taste of the Denali tour tomorrow.

Denali Park Tour
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
0 miles ridden today

We were up at 5am because we needed to catch the 6:30am shuttle to the station to catch the bus that would take us on our tour of Denali. We had the complimentary breakfast in the hotel grill and were ready to meet the shuttle. The bus tour package we bought is supposed to take 8 hours. There are shorter tours and one longer one that takes14 hours. While we waited for the bus, we browsed the gift shop and learned about the 30% club. Only 30% of those taking the tour are able to see the mountain because it is often obscured by clouds, and probably today also by smoke haze.

We boarded the bus and began the tour. Maybe a mile or two into the tour, the driver's microphone began to shrill--the sound was enough to trigger a seizer! The bus stopped ironically just beyond a group of protesters. The bus mechanics were on strike and the buses had not been serviced for a couple of weeks. Hum. We waited 20 minutes for someone to arrive to fix the microphone. We he arrived he literally took two seconds to disconnect the buzzer that was making the shrill noise and we were on our way!

The bus driver told us that there were around 60 wildfires fires in the area. The smoke was visible for the first few miles of the tour, but then we got past the smoke and into beautiful clear skies. We were certainly blessed with a spectacular view of the snow covered peaks. The word Denali means "the great one".

It was very warm in the park; about 80 degrees. About halfway through the tour the driver stopped and passed around a container of instant, cocoa, coffee, and tea. We were surprised at the number of people who wanted something hot to drink on this very warm day. There was a hot water spigot on the outside of the bus for people to get water for their drinks. Wouldn't you know it though, the spigot wasn't working. Who needs those mechanics anyway, huh.

We saw something amazing at a stop on Polychrome Lookout. The lookout was a thousand or more feet above the valley below on a narrow gravel road cut into the face of the sheer cliff. A dust devil played for a short time behind the bus and wandered off the cliff. Within a minute, another dust devil formed in the same area, but after this one danced along the ground for a few seconds, it stood still. It sat there vacuuming the dust off one spot on the road for what seemed like a very long time, probably a minute or more. It pulled so much dust up the funnel that you could clearly see the vortex and the clear center where there was no dust. It was about 12 to 15 inches in diameter and stayed a very narrow diameter for quite a distance up from the ground, maybe 30 feet. Then instead of wandering off the cliff like the first one, it lifted straight up off the ground. But the cloud of spiraling dust kept spiraling up in the air for a very long time, probably another minute or so. The dust spiral just kept going higher and higher, but got wider as it went up and finally dissipated. Awesome.

On the bus ride through the park we saw brown bear, ptarmigan (a chicken-type bird that is the state's official bird), caribou, Dall sheep, golden eagles, moose, a marmoset and a Coopers Hawk. The biggest mountain in this range is Mt. McKinley (or Denali as it was preferred to be called by people there).

It was a nice tour, dusty and warm, but nice and we were ready for a shower and some dinner. There was a light snack served on the bus of Alaska sausage (with reindeer meat), cheese, bread, granola bar, and water. We were glad we brought our lunch supplements, but after the long day we were starved! We ate a lovely meal of crab linguine in the restaurant across from our hotel.

Playground full of toys, but no one was there
Wildfire smoke at Denali
Near the park entrance
Towels folded like swans
Moose travelbug picture
Denali Salmon Bake
Denali Salmon Bake
Large stuffed toys
Another big stuffed toy
The weird tree growths explained
Smoky skies
First glimpse of Mt. McKinley
Mt. McKinley
The obligatory photo taken by the tour guide
Mt. McKinley
Smoky skies from the restaurant at dinner
Postcard of Grizzly. Didn't get within several miles of one in the park
The Panorama created from my pictures of Denali. The same one we used at the top of each webpage




Follow the links below for more pictures and narrative of our trip

Intro page for our Alaskan trip

Berwyn to the Alcan Highway

The Alcan Highway to Alaska

Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle


Anchorage and the Kenai Penisula

Homeward Bound

Route Map

Ride Planner's Notes


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