Denali National Park
On September 16, 2013, I drove into Denali National Park and Preserve with my parents. It was a spectacular day!
The remarkable thing about the trip was that we got to drive into the park in our own car. Normally, only busses are allowed on the park road. So if you want to see Denali, under normal circumstances you have to do it with a bus load of people.
Once a year, they allow cars to drive the park road. You ability to do so is based on winning a lottery. I don’t know all the facts, but only about 400 cars get to do this a year. The opening is in the fall for four days, usually at the tail end of the tourist season.
We were extremely fortunate to have crystal clear skies for nearly the whole trip. Each year, thousands of visitors come to Alaska, and many of them don’t ever get to see the mountain because of poor weather. We were truly blessed with these views.
The park road is 92 miles to a place called Kantishna where there is a landing strip. We made it the whole way!
In all, we were on the road for about nine hours from start to finish. The entire way into the park we were greeted with exceptional views of the mountain. Here was one of the first.
The road it paved for the first 15 miles. Beyond that the road is gravel and barely a land and a half wide. Regardless of the condition of the road, you are afforded incredible views of the mountain.
As you can see, the fall colors were out in force. I was told that the week before, the colors were even more intense. I was still very pleased with the level of color that we saw. Red, golds, yellows, and oranges abounded throughout the park. There was even some green here and there, but mostly that was from the spruce trees.
When we arrived at a place called Polychrome look out, were were rewarded with one of the most incredible natural sights I’ve ever seen-a sandhill crane migration.
The photograph doesn’t quite do it justice, but there were waves and waves and waves of cranes flying through the park. They would be flying in organized lines and then suddenly chaos would ensure. They would circle around in chaotic waves. Then after a few turns, they would form back up and fly away. We were told by a park ranger that they were gaining altitude.
Here is a video of the birds. Take note of the din that comes from these birds.
Polychrome Overlook was so vast. Here a shot of my Dad looking at the surrounding countryside.
Obviously the mountain is what you come for. It is truly spectacular. However, there are other gorgeous sights in the park.
The landscapes are tremendous and large. You get it all too. Snow, color, mountains, stream beds. Everything.
As we drove through, I was taken with the similarities between Denali and Joshua Tree. Both are hidden gems in the normal general surrounding landscape. The areas in and around both Denali and Joshua tree are nice and remarkable in their beauty. For instance, this shot was taken on the Parks Highway, about 20-30 miles from the entrance of Denali Park. I took it the night before as I drove up to the park.
That’s not too bad. Quite beautiful, particularly from the sunset standpoint.
But this is inside the park!
What is in the park, much like what is in the Joshua Tree Park, is so untouched and unspoiled, it almost seems like it is not of this planet. I admire the foresight to say, “This is hands off to development.” Because truly, what is in that park is special and should be beyond the scope of development and manmade change. The thousands of millennia that have shaped this place–the wind, glaciers, water, and ice–have shaped this into an amazing and breath-taking place.
I love the way the mountain slowly comes into view as you drive closer to it. It hides beyond mountains and then peeks quietly over the top as you get closer. I loved the illusion of it slowly revealing itself on the road.
This picture shows that as it peeks out across the golden landscape.
Denali is about four hours from Anchorage, so after the trip, I had to drive home. I hit the road at about 7:30. As I drove home, I was greeted with a lovely sunset in the pass, shortly before Cantwell.
It was a fitting view for a glorious day.
See below for the entire gallery of shots from the day in the park.