Today was a quiet day. We got in a couple of hikes close to the Riley Campground, where we are located. Nothing too strenuous or exciting and certainly no photos like yesterday’s adventure deep into the park.
Our first hike was around Horseshoe Lake, a small lake and beaver pond near our site.
The water is clear and cold and the trail winds around the lake and then up a fairly steep climb to the top for a total of about 3.8 miles.
We got a good glimpse of what the town outside Denali has done to build itself into the hillside. It is sort of an interesting way to accommodate the realities of a narrow valley bounded on one side by a mountain and on the other by a national park.
Our second hike was through the forest on the McKinley Trail. Again, not much photogenic about the hike, which was only about a mile and a half, but the park residents kept a wary eye on us to make sure we didn’t break any rules.
Our best news is that we were able to score an extra day here by watching the computer reservation system pretty regularly looking for cancellations. After three days of watching we got luck. The entire campground in booked full every day and the only way to get in now that tourist season has started in earnest is to watch for cancellations. It is sad to go by the reservations desk and see people lined up trying to get a site only to be turned away because there is no room. Over 400,000 people come here every year to visit so the few sites that exist are reserved, often a year ahead.
The forecast is for rain tomorrow but we shall see. The rain tends to be spotty and occasional. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to do a more challenging hike tomorrow, or get in some mountain biking. There is a really fun (but challenging) mountain bike trail that climbs up to the park headquarters several miles into the park. We tried a bit of it a couple of days ago and found it very challenging with some very steep uphills and some muddy spots. For us, that is a challenge since we are novices.
How does one describe a perfect Father’s Day? How about an 8 hour day on a bus taking a 134 mile round trip into the recesses of the Denali National Park and Preserve. This wilderness must be seen to be appreciated. No words or photos can capture the majesty of this very special place. We were fortunate; we saw 9 bears, many caribou, 7 moose, dall sheep, magpies, ptarmigans, a wolf and extraordinary scenery, including the top of Denali or Mount McKinley if you prefer. Only 30% of visitors to Denali get to see the top of the mountain so it was a special treat that we got a clear day and wonderful view of the mountain.
The bus driver and the rangers clearly have a special relationship with this place. They asked us to consider and reflect upon what the wilderness means to us. Is it necessary? Does it enrich us in some ethereal way that is hard to explain? Does it matter if it is here for our children’s children? The answer, at least for me, is we need the wild places. They are a place where we can reconnect with the simpler and more fundamental aspects of our lives; where we are just one more animal in the food chain; where we are not supreme but simply another. These are the places where we can be reminded that we were given creation to care for it, not to use it up.
This is just a brief glimpse into the splendor that is Denali. And yet for all its majesty is is also so fragile, so easily spoiled. After seeing the beauty and natural wonders of this place, how do you answer the question, “Do we need to protect and keep these wild places for our children’s children?”
Sorry, no pictures today. After our arrival and setup yesterday, today was a recoup day. Laundry is now done, the camper is a bit neater and cleaner and we have tickets for the day long tour into Denali tomorrow. If our tour is successful we should have some animal photos as well as some more scenery from the park.
We did manage to get in a bicycle ride today. There are some great mountain bike trails well worth exploring. I felt my receding cold a bit as I was gasping for air on some of the uphill climbs but it felt good to get out and into the fresh air. We also need to practice a bit with the new semi-fat bikes we bought for this trip. I actually lofted the front wheel on one steep climb, surprising myself just a bit as the front wheel came up. I’ll need to learn to moderate just a bit to keep that front wheel down where it belongs. You can tell I’m a novice mountain biker!
The park is exceedingly quiet and clean and the campsites are very private and well spaced. We had hoped to camp farther into the park at Savage River but Riley has actually turned out to be a great place from which to launch our adventures. There is a store nearby as well as flush toilets and the laundry and showers.
With any luck we’ll have some pictures to share tomorrow.
Time to catch up a bit. Between lack of connectivity and my cold the blog has taken a bit of a hit. But we are now in Denali for 5 nights in a wooded site in the Riley Campground. But let’s back up to the top of the world highway. We got out of our camp site in Dawson City at around 0730 to get to the ferry across the Yukon River. We weren’t first in line!
Once across the Yukon we began the climb to the Top of the World Highway. The road was in surprisingly good condition and views from up top were spectacular.
What we didn’t realize was that the worst of the highway was yet to come. We went from the well maintained Top of the World Highway to a narrow winding road with 1,000 foot drop offs on one side and hills on the other.
The road was also under construction and we had to wait outside of Chicken for them to dump gravel and roll it to make the road passable.
From Chicken to Tok was a much better drive. The road had a few bumps but at least it was paved.
We arrived at Denali around 0930 and picked out a site. After a birthday dinner for Helen at The Bake we drove up to the topof the campground and got a good look at Denali – a rare day with no clouds obscuring the peak. We are not settled in for 5 days and hope to do some biking, hiking and touring.
Three hundred and forty three miles. A long day on some pretty rough roads but we arrived. Did the walking tour of Dawson last evening and both of us were dead on our feet at the end. We are cheek by jowl in a parking lot with campers so close on either side we couldn’t open an awning if we wanted to. But this campground is in downtown Dawson so we can walk to almost everything. Tomorrow we have several tours lined up. The Parcs Canada folks do a great job of explaining the history and preservation of Dawson so we should come away with a real understanding of how the community has developed and changed over the years.
That said, this is a town struggling to survive on tourism and mining. And tourism has slowed according to some of the locals, though you wouldn’t know it by the number of vehicles lined up to get in here earlier today. What has surprised me is the number of tourists here from Austria and Germany. Not sure what the draw is but the folks on either side of us are from Germany and half the people in Klondike Kates tonight were either Swiss, Austrian or German (my best guess since I don’t speak the language). Perhaps it is the lure of big open spaces for folks from Europe, where countries are smaller and more densely populated. Or perhaps it is the weak Canadian dollar compared to the Euro. Whatever the reason, we have seen many folks from Europe since we entered Canada.
Helen and I did the Claim 33 gold panning class today and then went to claim 6, the free gold panning claim to try our hand at finding gold. We then toured Robert Sample’s cabin and did tea at the Commissioner’s house, both tours put of by Parc Canada and both extremely well done.
What follows is a sample of Dawson City.
Tomorrow we go over the Top of the World highway to Chicken Alaska.
Today was an “easy”day, only 6 hours to get from Watson Lake to Whitehorse. We stayed an extra day at Watson Lake provincial campground just because it was so peaceful and quiet. Helen took a couple of pictures that give you a feel for the quiet beauty of the place.The road to Whitehorse was in pretty good condition most of the way. There was one long stretch of gravel but the rest of the road was good pavement. There were a few nice views along the way.
Tomorrow will be a LONG day. Whitehorse to Dawson City is 350 miles and the Milepost says it will take a minimum of 6 hours which means for us closer to ten with stops for fuel, dog walks and food. We are planning on two days in Dawson City to do some of the touristy stuff like panning for gold and going to see the big dredge. From Dawson City we plan on taking the Top of the World highway to Chicken, Alaska and then on to Fairbanks where I hope to do an oil change on the truck since we are overdue for one.
It’s been a few days without any kind of electronic access so we have a lot of catching up to do. Last post we were in Grande Prairie BC and I was complaining about how disappointed I was in the oil and gas field development in the area. We were up and out fairly early on June 7th (for us) and on the road by 0730. This was the sight going out to the oil fields as we were headed into town.
I am sure the oil and gas business is good for the local economy but the roads and environment take a beating.
The trip from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek was uneventful and we crossed from Alberta to BC with no fanfare and another change in time zones. We stopped at the Walmart in Dawson Creek for a few supplies and then decided we would make the run up the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson. We knew it would be a long day and sure enough, 400 plus miles later we were at Fort Nelson and quickly decided to go a bit farther to Tetsa River Lodge and Campground, one of the stops on my bucket list because of their famous cinnamon buns (I know, crazy but true).
Kim at the Alaska Highway Information Center gave a couple of tips on things not to miss on our trip north.
We continued on toward Fort Nelson. Along the way there was plenty of evidence of the frequent forest fires along the highway.
After we left Tetsa River the topography finally began to change and we left miles and miles of trees behind. It started to feel “big” like we thought things should feel on a journey to Alaska.
We are spending the night at Watson Lake, dry camping in a provincial park. Watson Lake is also home to another famous oddity of the highway north, the signpost forest.
This is probably our last post until we get to Fairbanks since there is no cell or wifi service along much of our route north. So don’t be concerned, we’ll be back as time and technology allow. Until then…
Two hundred and fifty miles for the day. Normally I’d say that is a short day but it felt long. Little of interest on the roads today, many stretches of moderately rough pavement and the last 30 or so miles wall to wall trucks from the Alberta oil and gas fields.
We started the day from Jasper at about 0730, a good early start for us. The temperature was a cool 35 degrees to start the day but the sun was shining and it was a beautiful start to the day. There is a gondola to the top of the mountain behind the national park. It closed at 8PM or we would have been tempted. The following two pictures give you a sense of why it would have been a fun ride with great views http://www.jasperskytram.com/360-view.
I think this last section of industrial mining operations was part of what tired me out. It was disappointing to come into such an industrial area after the beauty of the run up the Icefield Parkway.
We are also beginning to appreciate what a long trip this really is. We have traveled over 4,000 miles and still have 1,500 miles just to get to Fairbanks, AK. We are averaging 285 miles a day which doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up when you do it day after day for weeks. We have taken a couple of days off from travel to do laundry and rest but it is a pretty demanding schedule because our goal is to get to Alaska and then spend some days exploring at a slower pace. Tomorrow we are looking at a 400 mile run to Fort Nelson, mostly because there is almost nothing between Dawson Creek (mile 0 on the Alaska Highway) and Fort Nelson. We are also finding that sleep comes a bit harder when it is daylight until 2230-2300. I can’t imagine what we’ll do when we are in constant daylight in Alaska.
At six AM we were in the service department of Okotoks Ford to try to get in line for a service appointment. Julie Niles, the service advisor, made us feel right at home and as if we were her only customer and concern.
By 0900 Charli, the mechanic assigned to us, had found the problem (a loose hose), fixed it, replaced the coolant and we were on our way. No charge for labor and a discount on the coolant. A wonderful dealership staffed with caring and competent people. If you are in the area and need help they’ll be there for you.
We wanted to take the Ice Road Parkway so we skirted around Calgary on 22 and then took Route 1 to 93, according to most sources the most beautiful road in North America. I have to admit I was stunned by the beauty of this road and the really good condition it was in. As usual, words fail so just enjoy the scenery.
That’s all for tonight. It has been a spectacular day. Tomorrow’s target is Grande Prairie.
So we started out for Banff this morning and got no more than a few miles out of town when the temperature gauge on the truck suddenly jumped and a warning light came on saying we were overheating. We shut down and checked the radiator, which appears full and not hot at all but noted that it appears radiator fluid is leaking from somewhere in the engine bay. With the size of the Ford diesel motor it is almost impossible to see anything in the engine bay so we limped back to Okotoks are are now camped out in the Ford parking lot. They open at 0600 tomorrow morning and we hope to know more by the end of the day. This trip was to be an adventure and so it is. More to come tomorrow. Let’s hope for a simple fix.