Wednesday, September 28, 2016

usbackroads destination--Denali Highway, Cantwell to Paxson, Alaska

usbackroads destination--Denali Highway, Cantwell to Paxson, Alaska

travel dates: August 13th, 2016

Denali National Park was a major disappointment. Leaving Denali National Park was easy.

Alaskan's told me that the Denali Highway was the real Alaska, mostly BLM managed land, with a gravel road for 135 miles from Cantwell to Paxson, Alaska. As the picture above shows, it is a pretty special place. May it stay, forever, under BLM management.

Leaving Cantwell the highway changes from pavement to dirt within a few miles. The scenery is pretty spectacular and along the stretch you can catch a glimpse of  Denali, however the scenery along the road will quickly make you forget that national park.

The highway had been open for about two months. So the potholes have made their appearance and the road kept getting worse almost to the end. August 13th turned out to be opening day of caribou season, so there was plenty of campers and traffic on the road. It wasn't to bad, but if you can make the trip earlier in the season, before the potholes it will be much more comfortable. Notice the washboard and potholes in the road.

The scenery keeps you going. The highway is long enough that even in Alaska it slowly changes. Keep one eye on the potholes and the other on the scenery.

There are many places to pull over and camp. These are fewer on opening day of caribou season. I would definitely go before caribou season and plan on camping two or three nights on the route. Earlier in the season I would also keep the mosquito supplies handy. The advantage to later in the season are the berries. They are everywhere along the road. These became huckleberry pancakes.

Years ago, the backroads of Idaho and Montana were different. Now you have to go to Alaska, to find those special cafe's, cabins and roadside services.

There is a reason for all those tire repair places. Along the route there are a few BLM facilities, but your better off camping off the road, except for Tangle Lake campground which will be covered in the next posting. Notice that the BLM facilities also have Alaskan sized potholes.

More scenery. I did see one caribou with the image stabilized binoculars. He was just feeding in the willows looking like he did not have a care in the world. Little did he know that there were people "gunning" for him!!

The Denali Highway. Alaska...the real thing without paved roads or silly rules and regulations. Go see it. It is special.

Here are some links to explore before you get there:

This link gives an overview of the area:

Here are the activities along the route:

Do some pre planning and plan on spending more than one day traveling the 135 miles.

As always click on photos to enlarge. This set is worth clicking on.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

usbackroads destination--Denali National Park, Alaska

usbackroads destination--Denali National Park, Alaska

travel dates: August 11th and 12th, 2016

Mt. Denali hides from view most of the time. This was the best view of the mountain that I got on the entire trip. So if you drive to Denali National Park do not be disappointed if you do not see the mountain. The second part is you WILL be disappointed with Denali National Park if you do not get a permit for the back country or  take the school bus for the 12 hour trip to Wonder Lake.

Denali National Park is six million acres of public land. The only access for 99% of park visitors is the 12 mile road to Savage River trail head. There is vehicle camping past the 12 mile limit to public travel, but you need a permit. Showing up to visit YOUR PUBLIC LANDS managed by the National Park Service means you will see very little. If exploring Denali is important to in your travels, then you must make plans with the Park Service months in advance of your trip. This is the end of the road for almost all visitors.

The trail is a real let down. But people hike it for lack of anything else to do in the park.

For most visitors Denali National Park is just a glorified Regional Park with a spectacular mountain that is usually unseen!! Plan ahead for your trip or be prepared to be disappointed.

The wildlife along the road is mostly missing during the summer months. Traveling the road on two days yielded one caribou, a cow moose and calf up close and a bull moose feeding about a half mile away on the hillside.

The caribou was spotted on both days laying in a creek bed. The title of the picture should be "Knocking on Heaven's Door".

He was bedded down out in the open in a creek bed. A very odd place for a animal to bed down. He was still there the next day. I suspect a vehicle hit him and broke his leg. Unable to move he was slowly dying. He was close enough to the road that traffic during the day kept predators from ending his misery and at night the road construction lights and noise kept them away. An awful way for a wild animal to die. He kept turning his head looking around, but was unable to move.

A cow moose and her calf grazed right next to the Park Service road. Most Foresters given the choice between a bear or moose encounter would prefer to meet the bear. Moose are cranky, big, fast and downright mean.

Calling for a campground reservation for the week prior was unsuccessful so the Casita ended up at Grizzly RV Park south of the park. Avoid this RV park. The better RV parks and camping experience is north of the Park entrance and we regretted staying at Grizzly RV Park. As noted earlier, all attempts to get a Park Service campsite failed over the period of a week.

Without prior reservations Denali National Park is just a regional park that is worth only a brief stop. This was Bugaboo's opinion of Denali National Park and I must say that I agree with him this time.

Just north of the park entrance around the town of Healy is a road that heads west and is a great place to visit on your trip!

The road is signed the Stampede Trail. I highly recommend you drive the road to roads end. At the end you will have a great campsite just outside of Eight Mile Lake.

The area of the Stampede Trail was featured in a movie. Here is the link:  Here is another link that gives further information:

The Stampede Trail is a special area worth exploring. There are instruments scattered throughout the area, but I had no idea what it was all about.

Wonderful area to explore without all the pesky Park Service regulations. Do plan on spending a morning or afternoon exploring the area. There are outfitters in the area should you decide you want to 4-wheel further into the outback. Neat area that made up for the disappointment in Denali National Park.

Next a real cool area. Special place.