Continued from the previous post…
Day Five and Six
The town of Cantwell lies about a half hour’s drive south of Denali National Park, home to Mount Denali. Reverently known as ‘The Mountain’, the tallest peak of North America doesn’t simply reveal itself to the traveler. The immense elevation of the mountain means that it creates its own ecosystem and is shrouded in a blanket of clouds most of the times.
The gloomy skies cast a doubt on our chances of catching a glimpse of the mountain as we began our drive to the park in the morning. We would drive to Denali and get on the park shuttle to go deep into the heart of the park on its single lane dirt road. There are no private vehicles allowed beyond Mile 14 on this road and you would need to get on a park shuttle or a tour bus to get further into the park.
The day turned out to be a long but an eventful one. The shuttle I had booked tickets for was an 8 hour round trip, beginning at the park visitor center and turning around at the Eielson visitor center, at Mile 66. On this long ride, we were moderately lucky spotting some wildlife. A couple of adult Grizzly bears foraged for berries along with their two cubs and our shuttle got pretty close to the animals as they ignored us and went about their business.
Moose, mountain sheep and a very distant black bear was all we got for the rest of our journey. While I was mildly disappointed with the lack of abundance of bigger mammals, consolation came in as the skies opened up to reveal Mt. Denali on the horizon.
We squeezed in a ranger hike and a small self-guided stroll into the day and the park rangers educated us on a few interesting facts about the Arctic Ground Squirrel that run aplenty in the park.
Our long day at the park culminated with dinner and beer at the roadhouse a few miles outside Denali. This little restaurant goes by the name Panorama Pizza Pub and you get to enjoy sweeping views of the mountain range sitting right at the restaurant’s outdoor deck.
We spent our second day at the park going on another ranger led hike and watched a few documentaries at the visitor center to learn more about Denali. The Alaskan Huskies put on an entertaining sled demo in the evening and I got a chance to pet and get up-close with some of these hardy beasts.
We ended our Denali visit with attending a talk by the noted filmmaker Dayton Duncan who spoke passionately about National Parks and showed us clipping of his documentary on Denali.
On our last day in Alaska, we drove to the town of Palmer, northeast of Anchorage to partake in the Alaskan state fair. Back on the scenic George Parks highway, we drove south from Cantwell and paused along the road to take in the colorful vistas and got to Palmer by evening.
The fair was in full swing and the lively crowds made us forget for a while that we’re in the least densely populated state in the country. Alaskan state fair is a huge deal in the state and people from all over come in with their goods and services to participate in the event. Stalls and exhibits abounded with displays of exotic mammals, reptiles, birds and plants. A huge warehouse was setup with all sorts of farm animals and I had my fill petting giant pigs and rowdy goats. Holding fluffy chicks cupped in my hands, I momentarily decided to give up on eating chicken. My resolve lasted maybe a day, although I continue to try.
Having enjoyed the festivities of the Alaskan fair, we drove from Palmer back to Anchorage, returned our rental car and headed to the airport while wishing we could stay longer. The Northern Lights eluded us during our week-long exploits through Alaska, so we surely have this magnificent spectacle of light yet to be witnessed as motivation to return back someday.