The Denali Park Road Lottery occurs annual in mid September, at the end of their season, weather permitting. The National Park Service conducts a drawing whereby 400 people are selected for each of the four days of the road lottery. This year there were more than 10,000 people who paid the $10 entry fee at a chance to drive the Denali Park Road. Those selected in the random drawing are also assessed an additional $25 for their road pass. Since entries are limited to one per person, David and I enlisted some family members (seven of them) to enter the lottery too as winning passes are transferable to others. Out of our nine entries, my sister's mother-in-law did win a Saturday pass. Hurray!
I had previously made my plans for this weekend that would include staying four nights at the Teklanika Campground (TEK). I also planned for camping using a rental car from the Fairbanks' Rent-a-Wreck office. Since many rental agencies do not permit their vehicles on unpaved roads, the Rent-a-Wreck option seemed most suitable for me. Driving car and sleeping vehicle all in one, for $100/day.
With one day inside the park secured, I then set about trying to make arrangements for additional passes to drive the Park Road. While the sale of passes is strictly forbidden by NPS policy, there were several being offered and sought for prices as high as $200-$300 on Craig's List. I refused to pay anything more than the face value of $35 which seemed to be acceptable in the eyes of the NPS. Unfortunately, there were none going for such a low price, which left me to more creative solutions.
I was able to secure a ride swap with a couple from Juneau. They had a pass for Sunday, but unfortunately no camping reservation as TEK was already sold out. We worked it out so that they could camp in my campsite and we'd ride together on Saturday on my pass and then on Sunday on theirs. Perfect!
The week prior to the lottery weekend, I had someone from another travel website offer me their pass for Monday as their plans had changed. We had previously communicated about the possibility of a ride share too, so they knew I was looking for a Monday solution. With my check for $35 off in the mail to them in California, I was now set for three days inside the park.
My original plan was to try to secure a ride for Friday once I arrived at TEK on Thursday, but it worked out well to not have any plans Friday as I used that day to see and do some things that I had never been able to do before. I especially enjoyed the Denali Kennel visit and demo . . . and my hot shower at Riley Creek Mercantile.
On Friday I was in bed by 9:00p and up around 5:30a the next morning. I awoke to a nice shimmering aurora curtain to the north. It lasted around 15 minutes as the twilight grew and probably faded out whatever was there. Friday night/Saturday morning was bitter cold. I was starting to question my decision to sleep in the truck!
Lottery Weekend: While the plan was for us to ride on "my pass" on Saturday and ride on "theirs" for Sunday it turned out the guy had "riding issues" so they drove both days and I paid for gas. That worked out for me since the Suburban was getting around 12-14MPG.
On Saturday 9/16 with them driving, it seemed they were more interested in seeing the mountain than wildlife, so our drive "in" was a bit more hurried than I like. We stopped long enough to get the photo, but not long enough to see what else developed. This included a stop & go where the three bears were at in the distance around MM64. We did arrive at the Stony Dome overlook of Mt McKinley in time for a full view photo op. It was breathtaking, as clouds seemingly appeared from the north. Just beyond there, we also saw a small herd of caribou . . . probably 12-15 animals of all sizes.
We continued on to the Eielson Visitor Center for a short stop, and then onto Wonder Lake and to the end at Kantishna. By Eielson the mountain was starting to be covered and at Wonder Lake, no view at all. BOO! While the drive to Kantishna was interesting, it was a long way to go to see no wildlife. For that matter, we saw nothing beyond Eielson until our drive "out" to Riley for showers. We saw moose along the posted "rut" area at MM9-10 but none very close to the road.
It was breezy and cold all day on Saturday. I was concerned about sleep that night, so I went to bed with double layers of thermals inside my 0 f rated sleeping bag. Saturday night was warmer; in fact, I woke up a bit on the "hot" side on Sunday morning.
Sunday 9/18 we got a late start because the gal of the couple was not feeling well. She went with us, but slept in the backseat for the entire trip . . . except for when she was barfing. ARGH . . . not a fun way to spend the morning.
The guy and I decided to take a bit more time with wildlife viewing, and was fortunate to see the momma + 2 cubs just before the McKinley Overlook at MM62, at approximately MM58-59. We spent some time there photographing, including when she and cubs wandered up the road right in front of us. Very cool.
We also saw a porcupine run in front of the car where the park road crosses the TEK River (around MM32) and a fox near Polychrome. The car in front of us stopped first, with their two kids and mom running AFTER the fox (who had gone behind our car). I could not believe it! I did get a quick photo as the fox run up into the bushes on the hillside.
We then headed on to Eielson where we filled up our water bottles and used the facilities. We headed back to camp, without much to see along the way. There were sheep up high on the cliffs near the Toklat River Visitor Center and a pair of bears again around Sable Pass, but very far away.
We arrived back at TEK campground at 12:30 and they broke down their camp and packed everything up. With them leaving the park, they left their road pass with me, which had been the prearranged plan.
Continued in Denali NP - Road Lottery Weekend (part 2 of 2) . . .