Fairbanks to Anchorage
We last left off over a week ago, sorry to be slacking off on the blog! Fairbanks was a city, not much to write home about, but we did head a bit north of there up the Chena River for a relaxing 4th of July away from the crowds. We hiked up a mountain and sat by the cool river in the sunshine, it was a good day. After a quick stop back in Fairbanks to stock up the truck we headed to Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America at 6193m. The Athabascan Indians who first lived bear the mountain called it Denali, “the High One”. It was then named after a presidential candidate from Ohio (much to the irritation of Alaskans). Mostly it is just called The Mountain, and it is pretty impressive.
There is only one road that leads into the park, it is 92 miles long and you can only travel it by getting on one of the many busses that shuttle people along. We decided to take the road to its end and camp the night at Wonder Lake. The bus is not free, it would normally cost $50 to make this trip, but they discount it for campers.
The ride out took about 6 hours, with stops along the way and wildlife viewing. We spotted 2 grizzly and a few caribou on the drive. And of course we had amazing views of Denali. Our bus driver kept telling us how lucky we were, apparently 2 out of 3 days it is covered in cloud.
We reached Wonder Lake hot and tired from a day on the bus, and found that the lake was surprisingly not cold, and a swim was exactly what we needed. With two new friends from the bus we walked out to the McKinley River bar, an impressive expanse of muddy, very cold, glacial water.
That evening we listened to the park ranger tell us the story of the first attempts to climb the mountain. Although not nearly as tall as Everest it only has about a 50% success rate for summiting. And we finally used our tent and sleeping bags that we have been carting around with us for the last few months! The next day we work to a sky filled again with smoke. The hot days seem to trigger the wild fires back into action. We could smell smoke and feel it when we breathed. Although the fires were no where near us we got back on the bus and headed towards the park entrance, where the air was much clearer.
We hiked out to Horseshoe Lake the next day and then went to see the sled dogs. The park rangers use huskies and sleds to get around in the winter, and I think they are a pretty big draw for the tourists. Alaskan Huskies can pull about 50 pounds each, which we got a good demo of as they raced off with a big sled and musher. The dogs were beautiful, and we could pet a few of them. There was also a litter of puppies, although we weren’t allowed to cuddle them.
After the park we continued our journey south with a couple stops along the way. First we decided to drive into the old mining town of Petersville, where there was another free gold claim. It was a very rough dirt track for our poor camper, but Luke did find more gold! We camped down by the river with a few other hardcore Alaskans who were out seeking colour in their pans.
Our last stop before Anchorage was in Talkeetna, a cool little town that has become a bit of a tourist trap, but still worth seeing. In Anchorage we wandered around down town, had lunch at the farmers market, and checked out the parks. Once again we were treated to dinner and accommodation by family (thanks Brain and Dana for a great night and amazing food). It is good to know people around the world!