This was my third trip to Denali National Park in five years. On my prior two visits to the park David and I used the required NPS shuttle bus service to enter and explore the park. This trip, however was different as it was during the annual "Road Lottery Weekend" when 400 cars per day (for four days) are allowed to drive the entire 92 miles, weather permitting. This entry will chronicle my first-time experiences utilizing some of the park services and programs during my lottery weekend.
I had camp reservations for four nights at the Teklanika Campground (aka TEK), located inside the park at MM29. This is the same location where we camped last summer and as luck would have it, I was able to get the exact same campsite next to the bathrooms and food container, that we had last year.
I arrived to the park on Thursday, the day before the lottery was scheduled to begin. Driving down from Fairbanks, time would allow me to schedule a ride into the park on the very last shuttle bus of the season. With the "Tek Pass" campers at the TEK campground can ride the shuttle buses throughout their stay at a significantly discounted rate. For me and just one ride, the price was the same as a one ride Eielson Shuttle ($31.50).
My pick-up time was 1:40p but the driver Travis was a bit early. No worries, however, as I was ready at the shelter outside the campground. It was a lovely day and the bus was less than half full. It was nice to have not only a full seat to myself (and my camera equipment) but also the seat across the aisle was empty allowing for easy back-n-forth access should a wildlife viewing be sighted on the other side of the bus.
The shuttle ride to the Eielson Visitor Center was rather uneventful as midday is not the best time for animal viewing. We did see a pair of bears, a small herd of caribou and some dall sheep . . . all at some distance from the road. Mt. McKinley was out in full view, making this a first for me at Denali National Park. Having been inside the park some five or six days previously, I had never seen "the mountain" before. The best photo op from the shuttle bus was at the Eielson Visitor Center, where we stopped for about an hour.
At Eielson, there are opportunities to hike up into the hillside or down on the tundra. They also have some very nice exhibits inside, along with flushing toilets and running water. This stop is the highlight for many on the shuttle bus system.
On Friday I enjoyed my time at some of the other park exhibit areas that I had not had the opportunity to do during past visits to Denali. At the Visitor Center "Campus" there are a number of exhibit areas including a small theatre where they were showing a 20 minute movie "The Heartbeat of Denali". While I enjoyed the movie and the beautiful scenery, I was shocked at the rudeness of several who talked through the entire thing.
After my time there, I headed over to the Denali Kennels for their 2:00pm demonstration. Arriving early enough to enjoy the place to myself, I got to see most of the 34 dogs that call the Denali Kennel home. It was especially fun to see Pingo and her three pups since I'd been following them on the webcam for the past seven weeks since their birth. They were so big now; ready to be weaned from momma.
The "demonstration" was more like a 20 minute show, featuring a historical explanation on what the dogs mean to the operation of Denali National Park and how their role is to help preserve the park's wilderness and heritage. There was a demo with a park ranger riding a sled being pulled by five dogs. These dogs, like all other working dogs I've seen in Alaska, really enjoy their work of pulling the sled.
We were told that their training was just beginning for the upcoming winter season. By late October or early November, they would be used to help patrol the park as well as to move park rangers throughout the park with supplies necessary to live remotely in the harsh winter of Denali.
The last "new experience" I had during this trip was the Riley Creek Mercantile showers. After camping without running water for a few days, being able to get out to the mercantile for a shower was very nice. Ordinarily when camping at TEK, vehicles are not permitted to depart the campground until leaving making this shower run impossible. Many will use the shower facilities in their RVs as we did last summer, or simply sponge bath for the time they are in the park.
The showers at Riley Creek cost $4 per person and are located inside the restrooms. The ladies side had six shower stalls; I'm guessing the men's had a similar number. For your $4 you not only get a hot running water shower, but also a towel. It did take a while for the hot water to come, but when it did, it felt very good. If you are considering this, be sure to have your own soap and shampoo as there is none provided. A nice feature of the restroom area is the electrical outlets available. I saw several women using curling irons and blow dryers on their hair. Me? I used the outlets to recharge my camera batteries while showering!
I really do like Denali National Park not only for its natural beauty but also for the services the National Park Service provides there.