Denali National Park

June 3rd, 2008

Denali National Park

Denali National ParkDenali was a surprise for us. After experiencing the Park-that-isn’t of Wrangell-St. Elias, Denali was draconian in it’s regulation. In Wrangell, there are no trail signs, no camping registration, no tour buses… nothing. It’s a huge chunk of Alaska wilderness that’s too rugged to do anything with so they just called it a National Park a put a couple of Rangers in neaby cabins to give it some legitimacy. Denali is not this way. We found ourselves looking at a goddamn bus schedule to go camping. It’s like $30 to ride the bus into the park, and you have to ride it in because the road is closed to the public. Now, Denali get’s swamped with busloads of people right off the cruise ships, and it is certainly a beautiful and scenic area we need to regulate and protect, but man. You have to register for camping a day ahead of time, watch a video on bear safety, and pick which of the 30 or so camping districts you want to go to. And each district has a maximum number of campers, so you might not even be able to go camp where you want. The hassle seemed impossible and intolerable after Wrangell, and we decided not to get on a bus. You can ride your bike into the park for free, so that’s what we’d do the next day.

A coal seam by HealyTrying to burn from coal

We drove up to Healy to find a place to camp. On a side road out past the coal mine we found a nice spot with lots of cool The end of our ride - before Polychrome Passexposed rock strata, including a coal vein. I had a great 8-year-ol time “mining” out a huge chunk of coal with my ice axe, and we tried to burn some. Coal makes for a hot campfire, but not a nice one. The next day we drove until you can’t into Denali and got on our bikes. Our “goal” was Polychrome Pass, which is supposed be a nice and somewhat unique exposure of multi-colored strata uplift. The Pass is about 35 miles from the parking lot one way however, so we knew we probably wouldn’t make it that far, especially on mountain bikes.

Riding in DenaliBoy did we ride though. We made it darn close to the Pass, riding over a couple of passes on the way. It was cloudy and rainy (like it is 80% of the year, apparently) so we couldn’t see the peak, but it was plenty beautiful anyway. We saw moose, sheep, distant caribou, a distant grizzly sow and her two cubs, and I caught a rare and amazing glimpse of two lynx cats. We ended up riding out about 27 miles before we turned around. I’m glad it wasn’t 28. I barely The Denali buses we didn't want to ridemade it up the last hill at round-trip mile 52. The ride totaled about 55 miles and took about 6 hours, which is a lot of time the saddle on a mountain bike. Our final wildlife sighting was a bird - some kind of large gull - that swooped in behind me in the parking lot while I had my hands lifted up and tried to rip my energy bar out of my hands. It had it’s beak latched onto it, and was flapping hard to pull it up but I yanked my bar to safety and it flew off. And that was Denali.

Dall sheep in Denali Grizzly sow and cubs... they're in there

Nenana Ice Classic!On our way north to Fairbanks we passed through Nenana, which is known for the Nenana Ice Classic, the premier gambling event in Alaska. The Nenana River freezes up every winter and bets are placed on when the ice will break up in the spring. It’s like $2.50 to guess so you can buy more than one ticket, but you must guess the time down to the second. I heard that each year the prize of $300,000 or so is split between 3 to 6 people because that many guessed the same second. The breakup is recorded by a tower on the ice with some sort of accelerometer that trips a clock. Pretty interesting, I totally want to buy a ticket for next spring!

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