July 15-16: Whether to go on the Denali or not! This is the question. This road would take us directly west, about 200 miles closer to our latest destination than the northern route. But most visitors to Alaska avoid it because it is rough going, gravel, mud, dust, no shoulder, whatever. However,…. this would be a chance to have a wilderness experience, one that the Alaskans are said to love. We debated the risks and issues during our drive north on the Richardson Highway from Valdez to Paxson, about 100 miles. Until we stopped for breakfast at the turnoff, we hadn’t really decided. Keep going north on the Richardson or take the Denali west? Jerry says, “By God, let’s go for it! ” Nancy says, “I’m game.” We turned left onto the initial 20 miles of asphalt, wondering what we’d bump into later.
One thing’s definite about the travel on the Denali Highway. The color of your vehicles will change. Here we are starting the gravel area of the road, about 20 miles inside our westerly journey. (Remember, there are sometimes extra comments if you put your cursor on the photos.)
After the rainy and muddy trip our vehicles had several layers of mud. It will be quite a job getting the layers of dirt off. But, the rain is slowly rinsing us off as I write. And we will find the washing facility somewhere.
Back to our Denali Highway trek. Since we had clouds and rain, our views of the Alaskan Range and the vast valleys of rivers and kettle lakes were fogged. But there was still much to see. There are lush green rolling landscapes with swift creeks and scattered ponds backed up by the ever-present mountain ranges. It was so peaceful, intercepting a limited number of vehicles. Anyone would quickly understand why Alaskans take the Denali to enjoy fishing, hiking or just the overall surroundings. Even though we had clouds hanging low over the mountains and the rain adding to the mud puddles, we enjoyed the various terrains, stretched-out green valleys changing to spruce covered hills. At one point, a chubby porcupine meandered across our path.
It is slow going, that’s for sure. The gravel road is mostly packed solid but there are many soft shoulders, washboard areas and potholes. I would say that both driver and passenger need to stay alert to the condition of the road. But the slower going helped us take in the full dose of true Alaska wilderness. Tillie, our GPS, told us that we averaged 26.5 miles per hour over the 134 total miles.
Of course, each sojourn has its own special features. This one was complimented by, first, our selected home for the night and, second, this morning’s wildlife viewing. Since it was so wet many of the pull-off spots looked too soft for our size of rig. We very carefully examined the many selections. There were places that seemed nice for smaller rvs to spend a night or two. We saw a few folks setup with their atvs or fishing poles. But we waited until about mile 123 on the road where we found a safe-looking, larger spot. Here we are at our home for the night, with grimy vehicles.
An hour or so after we made our late afternoon stop, the rain ceased. We watched the sun squeeze through slits in the clouds and the colors and shapes of the landscape change in front of us.
The sleeping was peaceful that night. We lollygagged in the morning, taking a few more photos and sipping some coffee, watching our surrounding spruces and thick juicy green shrubs for a bear or moose who might be out for a morning feeding. But no, there weren’t any visitors at our spot. So we pulled back onto the road for the last ten miles of our journey on the Denali. There were what are called kettle lakes (small ponds made by melted glacier ice) strewn everywhere on this road. A couple of miles into this mornings drive we noticed ahead a pond. Soon there was a sure sign of wildlife, a vehicle stopped for no apparent reason at the side of the road with the occupants peering out the windows. Usually, before you see the animal you spot the humans in this position. Here’s the casual moose we found having her brunch in the pond. She had a few of us nosy humans watching her for a while but that didn’t seem to concern her very much. We were quiet and she munched away, giving us a few stares between sinking her head under the water for the most delicious greens. The Denali Highway journey was topped off appropriately. At the end we were glad that we made the left turn, even with the dirt.