Denali Here We Come!
~Friday, August 19, 2022~
Day 796 (Travel Day)
Day 60 of Alaska Trip
Sad to be “blowing this popsicle stand” but we’ve got to get the show on the road to Denali. The town of Palmer, at least from what we’ve seen both times of being here, is very special. So we’re glad we were able to visit once again. Situated in the Matanuska Valley and surrounded by the Chugach Mountain Range, it has a very hometown, down to earth vibe, maybe because of its agricultural roots. No wonder it’s the home of the Alaska State Fair.
As we were hitching up, the owner of the RV park came by to see if we enjoyed our stay and to ask about where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It appears we have a thumbs up on the rest of our itinerary in Alaska. When you get the thumbs up from a resident, you know you’re doing it right. Having come from Switzerland years ago, he’s called Palmer his home for over 30 years. We would live here too if it weren’t for those frigid winter temps and the high cost of living, though it seems to be a retirement friendly state.
Nice to see gas prices finally coming down a bit…..we’ve found diesel as low as $4.84/gallon. And we’re blowing through the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) like crazy with all the miles we’ve been putting on. Hank lets us know when we’ve got about 500 miles to go before that tank is empty (if you ever run out of the stuff, the truck is undriveable as it won’t go above 25 mph). I guess we’d never get home at that rate would we? We haven’t found one gas station in Canada or Alaska that has bulk DEF so we’re paying a premium right now for the boxed alternative.
Finally on the road and hopefully out of wet weather (though Denali’s wettest month is August), we’re on our way to the interior of Alaska at Denali National Park, a place I wasn’t sure I’d ever see. So it feels a bit surreal that we’re almost there. We made reservations to stay in the park, months ago, as soon as we had our Alaska route figured out Riley Creek Campground (near the entrance to the park), has a fool-proof reservation system whereby you book your dates, but not your site. Sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis. We’ve always said to never arrive on a Friday, and here we are on a Friday. Plus we had a significant mileage day putting us there a little later in the day than we would have liked. But if there’s one thing you gotta do with full-time RV’ing, it’s staying flexible. Originally our plan was to spend time in Talkeetna BEFORE Denali. But because Denali was one of the few places we had made a reservation, and one we’d be foolish to give up, we decided to backtrack about 120 miles to Talkeetna AFTER Denali. The schedule got weird after the axle fiasco. Hey, at least we’re not staying in some hotel waiting on repairs. The trip could have ended as we knew it had the trailer been in a shop. Approaching Denali National Park, the first thing we noticed aside from the perpetual beauty around us, was the dryer climate.
Moving into the interior doesn't feel quite as damp and moist as the coast. And the mountains are obviously getting bigger, even from a long distance. We seem to be getting away from the v-shaped glacial valleys of the south, and seeing more openness, and a greater expanse of land. You really have to be here to understand what makes this “Last Frontier”, so special, the way most of North America looked hundreds of years ago.
The majority of today’s drive was on the George Parks Highway which reminded us of the Taylor Highway a bit (one of the rough roads early on in our trip), where potholes and unevenness are all too common. At one point, we hit road construction, again. While waiting for our turn to cross, one of the workers was intrigued with Sadie and mentioned that it had rained for 2 weeks straight and that our arrival day was the nicest he’d seen in a while. We certainly couldn’t take credit for bringing the good weather with us since Homer was dreary most of the time. About a month ago, our new friends Katie and Wayne (the couple we met in Chicken), had the misfortune of seeing (or not seeing) the entire Denali Park covered in smoke. In fact, we think they shortened their stay because of it. It’s so sad knowing they didn’t get to witness the park in its full glory. Those all too common lightning caused fires up here, or any fire for that matter, can really make or break a trip. Hopefully, they’ll have another opportunity to come back.
Just outside an hour from the park, we passed the Southview Overlook, not seeing it in time to stop. Though it was a glance, we believed we actually saw the top of Denali only for a moment. There was no way we were going to keep going without checking it out further. It took about another 5 miles to get to a turn-around spot big enough for the trailer. But even in that short amount of time, the clouds
had moved into a different position. That’s how fast things change around here. And Denali creates its own weather. It was still worth the drive back though as we got to see the base of the mountain somewhat as well as her surrounding mountains. Seeing Denali in its entirety is evidently a rare thing….only about 30% of tourists are ever lucky enough. Hopefully, we’ll be one of them in our 5 day visit.
The park does not have a main gate, though it does have an entrance to remind you that you’ve arrived. About a minute past the entrance was our spot. The campground has A sites (for RV’s) and B sites (for tents or vans). While Jeff filled up the rig with fresh water, I went to the registration office/mercantile to get us checked in. Wow, what a nice facility…..a small grocery store, showers, laundry, $10/bundle firewood, etc. While there, I met a very nice couple from Washington state….Tim and Adele who were enamored with Sadie, missing their own dogs. They’re in the midst of a van conversion and while that’s getting worked on, they’re getting a more in depth perspective of one their renting (getting some ideas for theirs), during their time in Alaska. Knowing we were headed to their home state, Adele couldn’t say enough about visiting The Cascades. We mostly had the Olympic Peninsula on our radar, but evidently The Cascades are where it’s at. We anticipate being able to see both.
O.k. we’re official….now to choose our loop. After driving through all 3, we decided on The Bear Loop. It seemed to have a great layout and to be very well maintained. It would be the perfect place to call home for us and for Sadie with its forested, wide space. However, it’s a national park, so she won’t have the freedom she’s used to here……..6’ tether or a leash, nor is she allowed to join us on trails except for the short one that leads to the check-in office and she can get her walks in in the campground loops. So for this week, her job will be to hold the fort.