Denali Stories and Tips

Denali NP- Road Lottery Weekend (part 2 of 2)

That is One Big Bear Head! Photo, Denali, Alaska

Continuing with Sunday 9/18 . . .

I went back into the park, in hopes of seeing those sheep and the bears closer. I was fortunate to arrive at the location for the afternoon bear jam before there was anyone else (other than a park ranger) there. She said that the three had been sighted but headed down a ravine, not to be seen since for about an hour. I told her I would just park and wait to see what might happen. About 15 minutes later, they all appeared. Hurray - the bear jam was on.

I stayed for just under an hour, until the bears crossed the road and headed up high into the hillside. I got a lot of nice photos of them eating berries throughout this little valley area.

I was also able to photograph the sheep much closer (in both directions) at Toklat which made me happy.

I got back to TEK around 6:15pm and decided to head "out" of the park maybe for a shower, but for sure, for dinner in Healy or Glitter Gulch. Initially I was thinking of Rose's Cafe again, but instead opted for the Prospector's Pizzeria & Alehouse. They were very busy, with a long wait, but I was offered a seat at the bar so I took it.

Dinner was good - - minestrone soup and a steak/cheese sandwich. Got back to camp around 9:30 and went right to bed.

Monday 9/19 . . . busy day! Got up early and headed out at 7:30am. The mountain was out but with some clouds collecting nearby. It was very windy at the MM62 overlook. Headed on to Eielson. Not much in the way of animal sightings so far other than three caribou on the tundra just before the visitors center. Decided to use the time at Eielson to download photos from cameras to laptop and start packing up my car (rolling sleeping bag, bedding, etc). After about 90 minutes, headed east back out towards TEK.

Bears were seen up high just below Stoney Dome (MM63) so I stopped to see if they would come further down. They did, resulting in another hour or so of up close viewing of the mom + cubs. This bear jam was huge! People reported being caught in the back-up nearly a mile away, for a long time. Some of the best photographing of these three was during this time.

I continued on east, stopped at Toklat for lunch. Enjoyed watching the sheep work their way down about halfway from the top of the cliff. They still looked like "dots" to me, but I took a few photos just the same.

Once out at the entrance, my plan was to take a shower at Riley before heading to Fairbanks for my evening/red-eye flight. The mercantile was to be open until 4:00pm so I thought arriving at 3:15p would be plenty of time for a shower. NOPE - the laundry dept. needed all the towels at 2:00pm so the showers were closed. Because I had my own towel, I talked them into letting me take a shower . . . thank you! I couldn't imagine getting on a plane having not showered in three days. (I later found out I could have gone to an RV park nearby so it would have worked out.)

After my shower, came back to a dead car. It had been running but conked out while I was on my cell phone with my hubby. I called the rental company in Fairbanks, they thought I was out of gas (no way - - had a quarter tank when I got to Riley). They called someone and after a three hour wait, he arrived with 5 gallons of gas. "NOPE - you have plenty of gas" he told me. Seems it was the fuel pump going out and that the fuse was shorting out due to "cold gas". YES that is what he said "cold gas". WTH . . . I'm in Alaska in September and the gas is cold enough today (it was near 55f) to short out the fuses???

Anyway, he got it fixed up enough that I could limp the truck back to Fairbanks. I was told not to buy more than three gallons of gas at a time and that I should actually have enough to not worry about buying any more before getting to town.

The 130 mile drive was a bit nerve-racking since I had to worry about it cutting out again and getting stranded. I didn't dare stop along the way, just in case, as much as I wanted to take some photos of probably the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life. OMG was it beautiful. The reds in the sky, the glowing affect on the yellow birch trees along the hills . . . it was spectacular. Thankfully my friend Susan got some wonderful photos on her return from Denali that evening which will serve to refresh my memory in the future.

Anyway, I got back to Fairbanks without incident. I stopped for a chicken sandwich at KFC on Airport Way. I was feeling confident about the car, so I headed out to Susan's place in North Pole for a short visit before making my way to the airport for my 1:30am departure.

All in all, in spite of some of the inconveniences along the way, it was a wonderful weekend! I was fortunate to find the couple from Juneau to do the ride share with on Saturday & Sunday . . . and to obtain the Monday pass from another couple the week prior to the trip. Having the three days on the park road was perfect, especially since I made good use of Friday without a road pass.

I don't know if or when I might ever do this trip again, but I can say without hesitation, that it was great and I would recommend it to anyone interested in seeing the park at your own pace and comfort level.

p.s. I'd be remiss to not mention that the folks at the Fairbanks Rent-a-Wreck were very good in working through the fuel pump issue with me; assuring I'd get back in time for my flight that evening. They were very accommodating and "took care of me" in terms of my inconvenience that afternoon/evening. Thank you Peter & Andrew!!!

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