Heading to Williwaw

We had stayed in Anchorage for a couple nights to empty the tanks from the convergence and fill the fresh water as we were going to drycamp at Williwaw Campground at the Portage Glacier.   We left early as we didn’t have reservations there and we knew it had a lot of first-come first-served sites.

The drive down was spectacular.  Kind of what I thought Alaska would look like prior to getting to the great white north.  The mountains with tops covered in clouds, the road carved between the mountain slope and the water of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.    We were told it was called the Turnagain because Capt. Cook was looking for a shortcut from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and the waterway was another bust and he had to turn again…

It was low tide as we drove and some of the areas have a long muck beach to the edge of the water.  Kathy heard that if you walked out in it, you would likely get yourself stuck and it was deep and difficult to pull yourself out of.

We arrived at Williwaw before noon and there were a lot of open sites, many of which could fit the largest vehicles.  We chose a double spot that was probably 60′ deep and 25′ wide.  It cost us $28 for two nights!  50% off due to the National Park Senior Pass.  I think that thing has saved us about $500 dollars since we paid the $10 for it at Montezuma’s Castle National Monument back in May 2017.   I just calculated that was a 4,900% return on that $10 investment.  Wow… I wish the stock market would give me a return like that.   I could retire!   LOL.

The campground was beautiful.  There was a waterfall coming down from what looked like a glacier right above us.  The sound from the falling water could be heard inside our coach.  It was a terrific background sound.   And the campground wasn’t full on Thursday or Friday night.   Kind of amazing for the end of July.  There are no hookups here, just a hand water pump and large dumpsters.   There were also pit toilets.  I didn’t bother to look in them.

This is an awesome campground to see the local area and I bet to fish as there is a lot of water all around.

 

 

Xscapers Convergence on Isabel Pass in the Alaska Range.

We left early and drove up the Stewart Highway from Glennallen so we would get to the mountain pass around noon.   It was a beautiful sunny day and probably a cool 72 degrees as we very slowly dodged the many and large potholes on the gravel road we had to take to the campsite below the Gulkana Glacier.   For the whole drive up to the site, the glacier was just gleaming in the sunlight.

There were already about 8-10 rigs lined up pointing various ways when we got there.  We looked around and found a good spot, mostly east facing so our solar panels could get the most sun while parked.    We met the hosts, Stacy and Gary and their two dogs, Spirit and Sofie .

I was amazed when I saw all the panels mounted on their RV roof.   Turns out it was 2,400 watts for the house and 100 watts for the chassis batteries.   And the icing on the cake was their 500 amps of lithium batteries (@24v)  That’s 1,000 amps to us mere mortals using 12v systems, or 800 amp-hours usable.

That evening we got to meet about 50 or so other Xscapers.   There were more than 20 RV’s by then and a few more came in the next day or so.  To everyone’s surprise, at least 75% of them were first-timers.. as were we.   It seems everyone also had the fake fire rings to bring to the social hour, and blueberry margaritas!  Sweet,  literally and figuratively.

In the morning I took the car out to the highway so we could download a few TV shows as we didn’t have any signal at the airstrip we were camping on, 1.8 miles east of the highway.   While I was there in the Monument parking lot, I snapped a few pics showing where we were and the view of the glacier and of course the Stewart monument with the bullet hole in his head.

On Saturday morning most of the attendees left for a jet boat tour from the MacLaren River Lodge.   It was about 40 miles down the Denali Highway.   The first 24 miles were paved, and then it turned into “Alaska Gravel,” a rough, washboard and potholed mess.   It was a beautiful drive according to Kathy.   I was too busy to see that as I was scanning as far down the road as I could in an attempt to miss the holes.

 

 

 

We didn’t get on the list for the boat tour as I wasn’t going into Facebook enough to get onto the list prior to it filling up, so we went anyway to have a lunch with everybody at the lodge.

The river was very nice and appeared to be melt water from a glacier a few miles up river.  The jet boats took you close to the glacier.

 

 

 

After lunch we were on the patio talking to a helicopter pilot who had a crew of geologists up on the side of the mountains using electronic equipment to find minerals.  They weren’t saying what minerals were being looked for though.

Sunday morning started out with a potluck breakfast.  There was all sorts of food, even a couple of griddles cooking blueberry pancakes using the same blueberries picked on the sides of the roadways that were also used in the margaritas.   Later on some groups of folks hiked up to the glacier.   Most of them seemed to come back walking gingerly.   It was a rough hike out there.  Not much of a trail thru the moraine.

We headed up the road to do it, but about three quarters of a mile up the road the gravel became large river rock and I wasn’t sure Kathy’s car could make it thru that; so we turned around probably 1,000 feet from the small parking area near the small suspension bridge:   lots of broken boards with large gaps in between suspended over a swift river by steel cables.

Monday evening there was a potluck dinner, and many hours later we all said farewell as this was a late-waking crowd and we were leaving early (9am).

Tuesday morning we got going at 9am.  Don came by to say goodbye and Kathy went down and said goodbye to Joann and Mike.  (she had met them as they were leaving the campground we were staying at in Fairbanks a couple weeks before)

As we headed down the potholed gravel road (very slowly) I could see Mike and Joann driving out of there detached, presumably to attach their Mini Cooper at the monument a few yards from the entrance to the highway.

We headed south on the Stewart Highway to get to Anchorage and they turned to the North to start heading home so they could get to their daughter’s wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving over to Tolsona

 

 

 

We left Wasilla and headed out the Glenn Highway toward Glennallen, AK.   Along the way we encountered the Matanuska Glacier just south of the highway.  The pictures don’t really do it justice, it was huge and right next to  the highway, curving its way back up the mountains.  The town, if you could call it that, was aptly named Glacier View.   Apparently it’s the largest glacier in the US that is accessible by car.

In a little while we were at our spot for the night, the Roadhouse Lodge & RV.   Upon first sight it was a bit sparse, but the owner greeted me in the parking lot and took me to our campsite.   That was service I hadn’t experienced before.

After we set up, I went in to pay for the night.   We had 50 amp service, water and sewer.   That was what I wanted so we could be fully ready for a week of drycamping on Isabel Pass.

The owner, Karen, said she would be telling the history of the place around 6pm tonight, so we went back for a bowl of chili and the story that evening.

We met her husband, Andy, that evening, and talk about a workaholic, he never really stopped working the whole time we were there.   I saw him dig a long trench and lay electrical cabling for 5 new sites he was creating over by the creek.    In the morning he was putting siding up on a new addition to the back of the roadhouse for a large kitchen and liquor store.   We heard he had moved the existing building over to the other side of the grounds and would use that for something later.  It sounded like it needed a lot of work so he found it would be quicker to move it and build a new structure.

He mentioned that the kitchen should be open when we come back here on our way to Valdez in a couple of weeks.   That was hard to imagine, but we will know soon enough.

I asked what Andy had done prior to retiring to this full-time job.  He said he was a demolitions contractor and he always worked alone, preferring to buy bigger equipment than hiring and managing workers.   He mentioned he worked on the World Trade Center demo but was fired as the unions said he had to hire workers and he wouldn’t.   Interesting.

There was some new looking 9′ diameter galvanized pipe sections over on the other side of the campground and I asked him what they could be for.  He said he is building an underground walkway inside them from his cabin to the Roadhouse so he doesn’t need to go outside in the negative 70 degree winter weather.   I guess there isn’t permafrost on the site.

We left in the morning to drive the 100 miles to Isabel Pass on the Stewart Highway.  Here is a picture of what trees grow on top of the permafrost.  Black Spruce is the type and they look very stunted.  When you see them you know to look out for the frost heaves on the road!

 

 

Last days in Wasilla

I was really surprised how much there was to see around Wasilla, a place I wasn’t going to stay more than a day or two.  We spent 7 days and checked out lots of places in and surrounding it.   We also had some pretty good tacos at Taco Cancun.   So good in fact, we went back last night for a takeout dinner.

We hiked out to Thunder Falls on a beautiful afternoon the day before we were to head east to Isabella Pass for a long weekend of boondocking with the Escapers.   It’s their Alaska Convergence and we are going to check it out.

The hike out to the falls was a little over a mile and mostly uphill on the way out.  We remembered our bear spray as this is truly out in the woods.   The hike was worth it as the falls were really nice.  There was a platform with benches to just relax on and take it all in.   We snapped a few pix and started to head back after about a half an hour.

 

We drove over to mirror lake, but by then it was a bit cloudy, so we never saw what it was supposed to mirror.  There were mountains right there, so I suppose they were it.   There were a lot of BBQ grills and picnic tables surrounding the lake.

 

 

 

We then drove up to Eklutna Lake,  a very long narrow windy paved road.  When we got out to the park on the lake, we couldn’t see it at all.  Neither of us felt like hiking around to find it, so we drove that windy road back to civilization then on toward the RV.

The next morning I had a mission to find a bakery, maybe pick up a Harley Denali Tee shirt, get the car washed and vacuumed, and last but not least, pick up groceries for the long weekend in the mountains.   I was disheartened as all the Harley shirts had pictures on the back.  I just wanted a plain HD shirt with the Denali location on it as I was at Denali Harley Davidson.   I asked the counter person, but she said they all had pictures on the backs’ so I headed off to find the bakery and then the car wash.

Since we were going to be dry camping for a really long weekend, we stocked up at the Carr’s grocery store in Wasilla that afternoon.  Then in the morning we would head out early to fill the tank at a Tesoro gas station that was the cheapest in the area, and happened to be on the way we were heading!

 

Day trip to Anchorage

We headed out early for Anchorage on Saturday morning.  I programmed the Nav to find downtown.    We ended up going down a steep hill and found a park right on the inlet.   It was low tide so there was a lot of seabed showing, quite a bit of muck that looked like it might swallow you.   We couldn’t find a way to get over the railroad tracks that kept us from the shore, so we drove off to find what looked like a way I found on Google Satellite.   It ended up being a locked gate, so that was a bust.

We headed further south and found another much larger park with a big lake housing the loudest birds I can remember ever hearing.  We went for a walk to see where the path went.

It was pretty cool.   We saw this station for life jackets you can borrow.  It said, “Kids don’t float” on it.  What a great program!!

Along the path was some sort of bike counting contraption that told you how many bikes went by each month, and then a tunnel under the rail road tracks.  Hey, we finally found a way past the tracks!

Out there was a great viewpoint and something unexpected:  a sewer pumping plant.  Outside the pump-house was a cool sign depicting how it worked, including a drawing.  Kind of fascinating as nowhere else had I ever seen a diagram of a municipal infrastructure building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to going thru the tunnel, there was a bridge over a creek and probably due to the low tide a mud flat.   Kathy noticed very large bear footprints in the  mud.  Yikes!   As we were heading into the “city,” we left our bear spray in the RV.   It’s not to be left in a hot car and we figured it wouldn’t be required in town…  Live and learn, folks!

After walking around there for quite a while, we were hungry and I brought out my BringFido app to look for a place to eat.   Tommy’s Burgers was listed without any reviews on that app, so I opened Yelp, checked it out there.  It had good ratings so we drove there.  Not an easy place to get to; but after driving around the block once more, I saw where it was and then tried to figure out how the heck to get there.

It was about 12:15 when we parked and there wasn’t a soul there.  We grabbed a table on the patio and went thru the menu.  I ended up with a Po Boy cheese burger that was really good.  I guess the lunch crowd in Anchorage starts around 12:30 on Saturdays.   It was pretty full when we left.

After finishing lunch, I called the Anchorage Trolley Tour number to see if we could bring Dusty with us.  The guy on the phone said only if he is better behaved than me.  We headed off to find the corner they leave from and look for somewhere to park.   We found the corner then started looking for a place to park.  Within a few minutes, I spotted someone pulling away from the curb and we pulled into that spot.  To our surprise, Saturdays the meters are not in use.  Scored a free parking spot a block away and walked over to the visitor center to find the ticket guy.

It was a one-hour tour of the city on one of those buses made up to look like a trolley.  They seem to have one of them in every large town we have visited the last three years of RV’ing.  There are lots of those trolley vehicles in San Diego, but I had never been on one of them.

The driver/tour guide was a funny young fellow who grew up in Alaska and lives in Anchorage, and he made the ride much more enjoyable than any other guided tour I have been on before.  (I haven’t been on a lot of tours though)  It’s an interesting city.   Some really nice housing areas and some really cruddy ones too.  The 9.0+ earthquake in ’64 really changed the landscape too.

They also have a lot of moose to deal with in town.  Next to some of the larger streets that have the special stunted trees growing, they put up moose fence with moose gates that help keep the moose away from the highways.  Lots of moose get killed by cars and trucks in the city.   The big moose get to be 8′ tall at the shoulder and up to 1,800 lbs.   Can’t imagine one of those coming in thru the windshield!!

Reindeer Farm and Strawberry festival.

Searching Google I found an event happening on Friday called the Strawberry Festival outside of Palmer just a few short miles southeast of us.    We drove south on Highway 3 to Old  Glenn Highway.   What a gorgeous road thru the woods along a wide river.

We came upon a power station in the middle of nowhere out there, but for the life of me I could not figure out how they make power.  There weren’t any smoke stacks or dams to be seen or big tanks of natural gas or oil, so that was a mystery to me.   Later when we got back home, I looked it up.  There was a dam, but it was almost 5 miles away up in the mountains.   They pipe the water all the way to that plant near the water making about 50 megawatts.   Every other hydroelectric power plant I had seen prior was built as part of the dam itself.  Apparently they are not all built that way.

We went a bit further and saw a large truss bridge going across the big river and assumed we would be driving over that.  But we actually drove over what looked like a normal steel under-structure bridge and the trestle was to our right.  But it was very narrow and appeared to be used as a pedestrian crossing now.    We have seen that quite a few times here in Alaska.  They don’t tear out the old narrow one-lane bridges, but make them into bike and pedestrian bridges.

I had programmed in the Strawberry Festival as our first stop but somehow Google decided to take us to the reindeer farm first.  I didn’t know Kathy liked reindeer so much prior to our arrival.

Dusty went outside and saw the horses and started to bark a lot.  I walked him over to a big tree and out from behind a building came two very large white fluffy dogs barking away with their long tails wagging.  Dusty was not sure they were friendly so he walked the other way.  He went back in the car and we proceeded to join an in-progress reindeer tour.

Kathy got some food for the reindeer and then we went into the pen.  Talk about getting crowded by a bunch of deer!   And their antlers were covered in fur or hair.  It was really odd looking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we went over to the bison for a quick pet on the nose.  If you touched his fro, you would regret it.  His head butts were fast and furious.

 

We then headed over to Rocky’s pen.  He was found in a quarry, so that’s why he is not named Bullwinkle.   There was a big steel fence between us and him, but he seemed very gentle, at least way more than I expected a moose to be.  He let anyone pet him for a Willow leaf.   But he was very big.  Way taller than me and they said he had a lot more time to grow as he was only two years old.

 

 

 

 

We headed on down the road to find the Strawberry Festival, found it on a farm not far down the road.   We walked up to the booth and asked about picking strawberries.   The reply from the young girl was, “Oh,  it’s too early for strawberries.”    So I am not sure why this was the Strawberry Festival.

They were allowing you to walk into the field to pick zucchini and radishes, rhubarb and kale, none of which we needed at the moment.  But thankfully, there was a stand in there selling pints of strawberries…

One of the buildings on the farm had a big Latter Day Saints sign on it.   I didn’t see anything that looked anything like a church near there, so it seemed a bit out of place there.

We headed back toward Wasilla and came across another river with the old bridge being for pedestrians.  The river was very wide but was moving extremely quickly.    We drove a bit further and found a farmers market in Palmer just about to end for the day.   As usual, hardly any produce, but lots of food vendors and crafts for sale.

West of Wasilla Alaska

We had skipped a couple days of wilderness camping near Talkeetna as it was just a bit too smokey to be very enjoyable.

The next day after going to the pass, I wanted to see what was out near Port Mackenzie, which is southwest of Wasilla.  We drove out past where the car’s Nav system said there weren’t any roads, all the way to the water, which turned out to be just above/across from Anchorage; but the road ended abruptly at a Homeland Security labeled gate.  There was nothing out there to see, which was very strange with all the security, even a small boarded up shack that said it was the security checkpoint.

We did spot a small campground just up the road and drove in past about 10 empty sites right on Lake Lorraine.  They did have fire rings and most of the sites looked level.  There was even one that I am pretty sure I could have gotten our motor home into.   The place was completely empty.   It had a small boat ramp and a rack of orange life preservers, something I had not seen in any campground before.

On the way out we saw a very funny named road, so on the way back we had to stop and get some pics.  Here they are.

 

Kathy also took a picture of this sign, I’m really not sure why.

[It seemed funny to me to say “drug free” school zone, like there is a drug OK school zone!]

 

As we drove back toward civilization, we stopped at the Iditarod HQ that was along the way back.  We brought Dusty over to one of the dog statues out front and he started shaking and barking at the statue.  He appeared to think that big dog was going to eat him.   We put him back in the car as there were a lot of sled dogs around there and it probably wasn’t too safe for him to be among’st them.

We walked over to the puppy cage and then over where they were giving rides on something that looked like a golf cart being pulled by a bunch of sled dogs.

Sled Dog Video

They really got that cart moving on the small loop trail thru the woods!

 

We drove back to the campground and ordered pizza to be delivered for Kathy’s birthday dinner. (her choice).   I think it was the fastest pizza delivery ever.  It was there in less than 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Hatcher Pass and the Independence Mine

The day after arriving in Wasilla we drove up to Hatcher Pass and then the Independence Mine not far from the pass.

As we headed up the mountain, we came upon a river with an overlook.  That’s where we read that we were looking at an active fault and the other side of the river, the wall of rock was the actual fault line.

We then started the climb into the clouds, and as it turned out, we came out of the clouds just before the turnoff to the pass.  It was bright and sunny up there.  The road to the top was dirt and gravel, fairly narrow, windy  and pretty steep for a road.   We got to the top of the pass a few minutes after getting on the road.  There was a parking area between the two peaks so we got out there.  The view was nothing short of awesome.   Especially the clouds all below us was very interesting.   There was a small waterfall to our left and went down into a ravine we couldn’t see and before long we found a small lake it empties into.  I had never heard of this place, but found it on google maps that first morning when I was looking for somewhere to go that day.   There weren’t many people up there, just a few other gawkers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After wandering around up there for about an hour, we headed back down off the pass to find the Independence Mine State Park.   It was a short hop up the hill some more.  After paying the entrance fee I asked for a map.  Guy in the booth said I could get one at the visitor center.  When we got up there, we figured out there wasn’t a visitor center.  Geez.

Anyway, it had been a hard rock gold mine, the type that looks for veins of gold and then jackhammers them out and puts them thru a hammer mill so the pulverized rock can go thru a sluice to let the gold settle to the bottom.    This whole “town” was full of collapsed buildings.  You could see where the ground had been moving under them, probably why they collapsed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something I read while there, during WWII they were going to be closed down as gold was not a needed war material; but they had something called scheelite and were allowed to stay open to mine that.  It’s used to maketungsten and that was needed for the war effort.

We wandered around the site for an hour or so while it got a little colder as the clouds we had left on the way up were rising up to our elevation.

We headed back down the winding road and stopped by some apparatus I noticed on the way up to take a picture.   They were right on the side of the road.  Kinda looked like something from an industrial mixer.   I cannot understand why they would be there, especially since they looked permanently mounted.

We made it down the hill and stopped by a Carr’s grocery store.  Really nice place and it’s somehow affiliated with Safeway.

 

Denali Denali and the bus ride to hell and back

The next morning Kathy was going to the sled dog center so I dropped her off at the bus that took her there.   I went off to find a coffee mug and pint glass.   No pint glasses were to be found that morning, but I did find a couple koozys I liked.  I also picked up a bit of groceries in the small “we gouge you” market.

Before noon the smoke moved in that Sunday morning and I was starting to wonder about the trip to the interior in the morning.

 

 

It was still pretty smokey the next morning as I was packing a lunch and water for the long bus ride as the paperwork said there was nothing available during the trip.

I got there early and was first in line.  Of course, just prior to the bus loading, I was told there were two women with issues that were going to move to the front of the line.  They weren’t there yet, so I assumed some very old folks.  Then a few minutes later the women came back and asked if they could sit with their husbands too.   I said sure but that I would board first. She agreed.

They finally got there and these two were in their 20’s with no discernible issues from what I could tell, and that proved out the rest of the trip.   They all jumped up and were out of the bus at each stop before anyone else could even get their seatbelts unfastened, and were the last back on, usually almost running to get there before the doors closed as we would have to wait for them each time.

The road is paved for the first 15 miles, and right away we spotted a moose and her foal on the edge of the road just munching away on the weeds.  She never looked at us, like she never noticed us even though we were just feet from her and the little one.

Not long after that we hit the dirt road and it was rough.  The dust was like what we experienced on the TOTW Highway.  Luckily most folks kept their windows in the bus closed.   Now, these buses were really school buses with slightly better seats.  Not much better seats, but they weren’t the bench seats from my elementary school days.

We made a few stops along the way on our four-hour odyssey to the Eielson Visitor Center.   At each stop we stayed about 10 minutes.

 

 

After the first stop, the second was at a very wide riverbed which was about two hours into the bumpy trip.  The road narrowed to little more than one lane, so one of the buses had to stop in a wide spot with their flashers on so the other bus could pass.  Often it was the bus on the shear drop side that had to do the passing.  I never did grok how it was determined which bus did the pulling over.  It wasn’t always the downhill bus, which is normal for walking on trails.  It seemed random.   There were a lot of blind hairpin turns with a steep dropoff on one side, which didn’t seem so bad till we were coming back and were on the cliff side.

On the way out, we stopped to see Grizzly bears off in the distance foraging on the grasses.   Did I mention the rough roads?   The school bus was making such a racket as we went over the washboard that I was sure the front of the bus was going to break off.  It was so loud I am confident you wouldn’t have been able to hear a train horn from 50 feet away.

 

 

 

Each of the few stops was like getting a reprieve from being waterboarded.  We got to stop for a half hour once we got to Eielson Visitor Center.   It was beautiful there.  It was too bad there was so much smoke that we could not see the mountain, nor even tell what direction it was from there.  I ate my packed ham and cheese sandwich sitting on a rock and looking at the closer mountains ringing us.  It was a beautiful place.  And we were off the bus, making it that much better!

The ride back was more hell and the road seemed a lot narrower as we were now on the cliff side.   My seatmate was praying at each blind corner as we inched around it with the driver trying to see if another bus was coming.  She kept saying, “Please turn” as we got closer and closer to the edge while the driver craned her neck to see a bit further around the corner.   I must admit, there were so many of those corners and each time we seemed to get closer to the edge, it had my complete attention!  Looking down each time was something I shouldn’t have been doing, but it was just there and impossible not to look.

After about 45 minutes driving on the edge of the cliff, we got down to where there weren’t as many cliffs and everyone gave a sigh of relief that we made it.   The rest of the ride was a lot less stressful.  We got to see the same animals as on the way out with one exception.  There was a Marmot on the edge of the road that didn’t scurry away as we passed it this time as it had on the way out.  I guess I was too preoccupied to take any pictures of the ride back along the cliff.

There was a curious sight.  After coming around a corner, there was a caribou in the middle of the road and he walked right up to the bus.  After getting a really close look at us and being unimpressed, he walked slowly off the road into the brush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back to the bus     depot just after 5pm.  It felt like we had been on that bus for days.   Eight hours in a school bus on bumpy dirt roads is an extremely long time.  I wouldn’t do that again.

To my delight, Kathy was already there and waiting to drive me back to the RV!!

Later that evening I drove up to 49th State Brewing for a growler fill and to pick up a pint glass from the area.   What a cool place, and it was a madhouse on a Monday evening, packed to the gills.

 

And outside was what looked like the infamous Magic Bus from Krakauer’s Into the Wild. That was the first Krakauer book I ever read.  Turns out we were very close to the bus McCandless died in.  It was maybe 10 miles out a trail that is so rough now even the tour folks only take Unimogs to it anymore.

I headed back to the RV to self-medicate from the torturous bus ride that day.

We were heading to Wasilla the next morning, skipping a spot I wanted to spend a couple days at called K’esugi Ken campground.  It was just too smokey there and I could see on the Windy.com app that Wasilla would be mostly smokefree for the next few days.

Denali

We arrived at our campground Friday afternoon.  It’s about 8 miles north of the park entrance.   While we were driving down the Parks Highway from Fairbanks, we were able to see Denali from a really long way up the road.  As it turned out,  it was a much better view from 75 miles away than it was from 15 miles away on the bus ride.

Since we had seen Denali sans any clouds on the way down, we drove over to the park as soon as we set up in the campground so we wouldn’t miss it from a closer vantage point.  What we heard was only about 30% of folks that go there can actually see the mountain top because of cloudy weather.

We drove out as far as cars are allowed, about 15 miles into the park, where the asphalt turns to dirt.  We snapped a few pics on the way, but lacking a telephoto lens for our phones, it’s pretty small in the pictures.  You can only view it on that section of road from about mile 11 to 13.

We stopped by the visitor center and checked out the bus schedules, but found out they need to be purchased at the Bus Depot, about a mile prior to the visitor center, closer to the entrance.   We decided to come back early the next morning so the sun was in a better position for pictures from our vantage points.

 

 

That evening we sat outside in the beautiful weather and then our new neighbor pulled up to back her 27′ trailer into the space next to us.   Three people got out of the truck and they scattered in all directions around the truck and all three started telling the driver what to do.  All three were saying different things and it took the driver about 35 minutes to back that trailer in.   It was quite entertaining.

The clouds were completely gone in the morning, but there was a bit of haze along the bottom that was either water or smoke, but from this distance it was hard to determine which it was.

On the way back from taking pictures at the furthest point, we stopped at a spot we passed that morning and took some more.  There were a couple BMW adventure riders at that stop and I strolled over to say hi and ask about their trip.  They mentioned they came across the Denali Highway from Paxon, and proceeded to exclaim how bad that road was.   I asked them if they had come across the TOTW Highway and they had, but said the Denali was about 10x worse.   I had given thought to try that road as a shortcut to get to Isabel Pass next week till I heard it was 136 miles of dirt and gravel; and now, hearing their story, I was glad I decided to work on the logistics to take the long way there.

On the way back out of the park, we decided to drive up a mountain off the Parks Highway to the Grand Denali Lodge.  We could see it from a long way as it was perched on a mountaintop.   We drove up a narrow winding dirt road that had very unusual signage along the way.  Here are a few we passed.

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel wasn’t anything special, but the signs on the way up and back down that steep mountainside were fun to see.

 

 

I had researched the weather for the next few days and decided that Monday was supposed to be best for getting a close view of Denali from the stops on the park service road so I bought a ticket for Monday at 9am for the 8-hour round trip bus to Eielson visitor center.   I was seriously considering the 12 to 13-hour one.

That evening we decided to go out for pizza.   According to reviews of the very few places in town, a place called Prospectors Pizzeria & Alehouse had the highest rating for what we were looking for.  We got over there for dinner a little after 7pm on that Saturday night, put in our name and received the little puck that would let us know when to come back.   They said it was a 30-minute wait.

I sat down with Dusty and Kathy wandered over to the gift shop.   An hour and a half later the puck did its thing and we got seated at a table that had been empty for at least 15 minutes.   The waitress came by and mentioned that they were backed up for pizza for an hour because of a large To Go order, and she suggested other things that wouldn’t take so long.   We came for pizza, so what was another hour.

An hour and a half after that our pies were done.  Thankfully they were really good pizza.   Basically we got there at 7 and our pizza arrived at 10 pm.  Thankfully we ordered an antipasti appetizer to tide us over!   It was also good, and very different than any antipasti I had ever had prior.