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Old 06-19-2010, 05:15 AM   #99
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Yoweee! What a trip and what tales you tell!

Travel safe,

Maggie
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Old 06-19-2010, 08:29 AM   #100
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Great trip! We are really enjoying the chronicle.
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Old 06-19-2010, 09:53 AM   #101
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Wow Gene! You & Barb are to be commended for your fortitude. That is getting out to the edge of things. The thought of all that mud & junk working it's way into every little crack & seam would probably haunt my dreams. On the other hand you can say you've been to the end of the road where few seldom go. My hat is off to you.

Thanks for the informative travellogue & the dramatic intersesting photos Gene. I really enjoy these posts. Have a great time in Denali.
- evan
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Old 06-19-2010, 12:40 PM   #102
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Gene:

It is difficult to tell you how much I like reading your terrific travelogue. Your writing is clear, descriptive and totally enjoyable to read.

Considering everything you are doing how you find the time to write these postings is a proof of real dedication.

Thanks, and continue to tow safely.

SRW

PS. Love that Tundra.
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Old 06-19-2010, 01:41 PM   #103
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Thanks for the compliments. With my sleep patterns getting increasingly out of whack, staying up past midnight and posting seems to make some sort of possibly deranged sense. The time they are posted shows 2 hours later though because my laptop thinks we are in Colorado.

We've washed the rig, filled the water tanks and are about to fill an additional 5 gallon container for 4 days at Denali, flushed the tanks, washed the windows, done more laundry (I'm so glad Barb is obsessive about laundry), checked propane, filled one trailer tire that loses a little air (about 1/2 pound per day; other Michelins lose none), and stocked up on food.

We'll be at the absolute end of the road for private vehicles at Denali and have to take the bus to go further in. If you stay at the last RV campground, you get to drive further in than others, but you can't move your vehicle for 3 days. We got a 40' space and there aren't many of those. Reserving a week ahead of time worked out for us and there were spaces at all 3 campgrounds, but I don't know how many. Teklanika was the only one with 40' spaces left. The others are 30'. I don't know whether a 25' trailer and a tow vehicle can fit in a 30' space. Nothing on the website about that and I didn't ask the reservations guy figuring more space is better than less. You can't reserve a specific space, just a space from what is left. It would have been good to get an early start, but we were too tired to get up really early.

If you take the bus, it is a very, very long ride to the end of the road and being at the furthest in campground means we lop about 3 hours round trip off the ride. This makes it a 9+ hour trip instead of close to 13.

No wifi until we get to Anchorage. Campgrounds there look mediocre to bad and don't know what we'll do. I have to get an oil change soon and Anchorage may be necessary, but Wasilla and the Iditarod museum may be a better choice. It's so hard to change oil on our truck—I know, I always do it myself—that it may be better to go to the Toyota dealer in Anchorage.

Gene
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Old 06-19-2010, 09:40 PM   #104
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Oil Change

Gene:

Regards to that oil change I would let the dealer do it.

By the way have you had any trouble with the big Tundra acting jumpy or sort of jerking on slow acceleration.

I did on my 2007 Crew Max with 60,000 miles on the odometer, and finally took it to my dealer thinking it was related to the recent accelerator non-issue.

Turned out it was that the huge butterfly valve on the cold air intake was sticking. After the inlet around the valve was sprayed gunk remover and scrubbed with a toothbrush all is working good. No more jerking.
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Old 06-23-2010, 02:16 AM   #105
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Monday. On Saturday we started south for Denali. The Parks Hwy, after it leaves Fairbanks, follows a ridge top which affords long views to east and west. The Alaska Range was visible to the SE. It crosses a large part of the eastern part of the state, ending at Mt. McKinley. A small forest fire was visible to the east about 10 miles south of Fairbanks. Forest fires, some as large as 100,000 acres or more, are common in Alaska. The Parks Hwy is not named for Denali NP, but for George Parks, a long ago territorial governor.

Coming down from the ridge we drove by Nenana and followed the Nenana River to McKinley Park, commonly know as Glitter Gulch. It is so named for the collection of hotels, motels, tourist business and RV parks located just before the park entrance. It is not pretty. The Gullch part refers to the Nenana River Canyon which is mostly hidden from view there.

We entered the park, picked up our various passes and bus tickets, and started west. For the most part, no private vehicles are permitted to drive more than 15 miles into the park. Exceptions are us because we were going to Teklanika Campground, 29 miles in, and those who win the road lottery. Four hundred cars per day are allowed to drive to the end of the road in mid-September if they win the lottery—about half win. Given the narrownness of the road, steep drops and the many blind curves, it may be a harrowing drive with people staring at scenery and wildlife and doing a 200 mile round trip.

People come here for several reasons—wildlife, to see the scenery, because everyone says to go here, camp and hike in the wilderness and to maybe see the mountain. There’s a confusing array of options—tour busses (brown), free shuttle busses in the area around the entrance (green), not-free shuttle busses that go to the end of the road (also green), private tours provided by the expensive lodges at the end of the road. Other traffic on the road includes park service, researchers, road graders, surveyors, people breaking the rules after they get through the gate, and seasonal employees. There’s a lot of traffic, especially buses, through the wilderness.

The Park and Preserve is larger than Massachusetts and mostly empty of people. Some parts are for subsistence use by local Indians, but otherwise undeveloped. The town, Kantishna, at the end of the road, was once a minor gold mining town, but only has 4 resorts now. Several miles before is Wonder Lake. We couldn’t get tickets to the end of the road, so our bus pass was for there.

We drove to the gate amongst many busses. There was a moose jam, but all we could see were antlers as the brush was very high. Next we reached the gate where the ranger looked the part—perfect uniform, red hair, white beard—and then we drove to Teklanika. We were still in spruce forest. The campground has 53 sites in two loops. The sites are kind of small but we found the only pull thru in one loop and stopped. The sites are fairly close and we are surrounded by white boxes on wheels. Water is available, though some info about it says it isn’t. Some mountains are just visible above the trees.

It was mid afternoon and lunch time. We spent the rest of the day reading up on what we were to see the next day, figuring out what to take to eat (that can take a lot of time), and napping. The nap lasted until after 11 pm (our sleep patterns are still a mess), dinner at midnight, back to sleep for several hours, and then getting ready for the bus trip. It’s 60 miles from here to Kantishna, 56 to Wonder Lake. It takes 8 1/2 hours round trip to Wonder Lake. That accounts for bathroom breaks, stopping at several places for 40 minutes, and wildlife stops plus slow going on the road.

We picked the latest bus, scheduled for 11:25 since we knew we’d be slow getting ready. The busses are school busses with cushioned seats, but they bounce and jounce a lot. They have been described in the past as very uncomfortable, but in the ‘90’s the concessionaire, Aramark, stopped using them until the wheels fell off and the cushions lost all cushioning. They now retire them after 10 years. They are tolerable, though less so after 7 or 8 hours.

The bus came on time, we got seats on the south side, the place to see McKinley if it were visible. But showers and clouds dominated. The bus was less than half full. The early busses seemed to be mostly full. It included a Japanese family, a number of Europeans and the 4 Michiganders with whom we shared the back of the bus. Two of them had cameras with extra long telephoto lenses. These people proved to be excellent wildlife spotters.

The road passed through spruce forest for a while, going over a number of passes, and more and more we were in the tundra. The mountain was never visible, but we saw a lot of wildlife, especially on the return since it was early evening. Numerous caribou, all in small groups, many Dall sheep and around 8 grizzlies, some with cubs. They were all far away and our camera just doesn’t have enough telephoto capability to show them well.

Returning, we hit the wildlife bonanza. At a visitor center deep in the park, an Arcrtc Fox fast walked by the bus with an Arctic Ground Squirrel in his mouth. Everyone rushed off the bus to get photos and I got a few. He retreated to some bushes to make sure his victim was dead, then went across the tundra and was quickly out of sight. Just them a Golden Eagle dive bombed him. We couldn’t see the results (the bus was ready to leave), but the eagle flew away so he must have missed. The eagle could kill a fox, but would have to eat him there as the fox outweighs him.

Next a bull moose feeding in a small pond. He showed up well against the water and was close enough I could get some photos. More grizzlies, but far away. Then a wolf jam. Three young wolves trotting down the road in single file. They, seemingly uinconcerned with all the busses, nonchantly trotted alongside as if posing for pictures. Wolves aren’t supposed to act like that, but they have been doing this all summer, and have figured out the busses are harmless. One had a radio collar. I wonder if the radio collars affect the wolves behavior—I'm sure the researchers don't want to know. Wildlife, like humans, don't like their kind to look different.

Not far down the road we stopped to look down a couple of hundred feet on a wolf den amongst the brush by a river. A large female was lying on her side nursing some pups. Another wolf was walking around followed by another playful pup.

The scenery is magnificent, though McKinley is usually behind the clouds. Wonder Lake is wonderful and repleat with mosquitos and a couple of loons. Anytime someone sees wildlife, someone yells for the bus to stop, and it does. This driver did no commentary, but we had read enough to know where we were and what to expect.

Today is a rest day. There is some darkening at night as we move south, though not enough. Last evening the clouds broke up and it was sunny for a while, Broken clouds today, sunny tomorrow morning. So we will take another bus tomorrow morning and hope to see the mountain and more critters. Today we are lazy and need to plan way ahead so we can fulfill our plans and get home someday.

Into the Wild report: This was a book and a movie several years ago based on a true story of a man who died near here. This guy, who never fit in anywhere, came to Alaska to find himself. He arrived at the town of Healy, about a dozen miles north of the park entrance and set out out on the Stampede Trail. About 30 miles in, there was a 1950’s Fairbanks city bus someone had towed out there with a bulldozer. He started living in it. He knew nothing about the wilderness and apparently ate some berries than prevented him from absorbing nutrients and starved to death. It appears that by the time he figured out he had to seek help, he was too weak. He left a journal upon which the book and movie are based. The bus, falling apart by now, has become something of a shrine. It is about 20 miles north of this campground.

Gene

Photos:
#1 Proof that the double entendre is good advertising. Seen along the Parks Hwy
#2 Our campground in Denali
#3 Dall sheep.
#4 Denali.
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Old 06-23-2010, 02:23 AM   #106
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More photos:

#5 Flowers on the tundra. They were much brighter in person, but the grey skies washes out the color.
#6 Toklat River. A glacial river, the rock flour colors the water grey blue.
#7 Wonder Lake.
#8 Moose in pond east of Wonder Lake.
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Old 06-23-2010, 02:29 AM   #107
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And more:

#9 Arctic Fox taking his ground squirrel victim just before being dive bombed by an eagle.
#10 Wolf #2 of 3 on the road. The wolves are becoming habituated to people.
#11 Wolf #3.
#12 Sun breaks through and shines on snow covered peak.

We took photos of grizzlies, caribou and sheep, but they were too far away to show up. Did we ever see the mountain? You'll have to wait 'til I get that post done.
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Old 06-23-2010, 05:37 AM   #108
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Great pictures and narration.

Maggie
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Old 06-23-2010, 07:58 AM   #109
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Gene,
Keep posting whenever you can as we are enjoying your trip - some of us folks are stuck at work....... This just fuels my fever to go to Alaska some day.
Stay safe on the road.
Steve
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Old 06-23-2010, 09:03 AM   #110
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Thanx for the Moose photo.

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Old 06-23-2010, 10:05 PM   #111
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Wednesday. Monday evening the skies cleared and we went to an interesting Ranger talk about lynx. Mosquitoes remain rare, but one must be watchful. Though we were in lynx habitat, we saw none.

Tuesday morning was still clear, but no one can know whether the mountain will be shrouded with clouds or not. We were 3 hours from Eielson Visitor Center, the closest place we would be to the mountain and we wouldn’t reach it until about 11:30. But there are places along the road to see it too...Eielson was a pre-WW II Fairbanks bush pilot who crashed and died one month after he married a local belle.

This morning’s bus was driven by Sheryl and she knew her stuff. She talked and talked and was very informative. We wanted her to drive faster so we could get to the Visitor Center sooner, but a schedule has to be observed and she was a straight arrow. Finally, about half way, there it was—big and white and far away—maybe 50 or 60 miles. There was one cloud across the middle. As we proceeded, from time to time we would see it again, but we could also see the clouds thickening. We didn’t want to believe it, but we knew by the time we got to the Visitor Center it would be all clouds. And so it was. The mountain was so far away the photos aren’t all that great and I was wishing I has one of those cameras with the 2 or 3’ telephoto lens. A lot people have them.

We saw some wildlife on the way west, but the closest was a fox. There were two very blond grizzlies playing and eating, but pretty far away. We stopped at the wolf den again, saw some caribou, one bull crossing under the bridge the bus stopped on.

We got off at the Visitor Center, ate lunch and got a bus back. This driver’s only comment made it clear he didn’t want to stop for wildlife. The passengers were very quiet as if he had intimidated him. What driver you get is a crap shoot.

We arrived back at the campground at 2 pm and Barb suggested we leave and get closer to Anchorage and an oil change. This made sense and by 3 we were on the road. On the way we decided to make a side trip to Talkeetna and stay there. It is said Talkeetna was the town Northern Exposure was modeled after and many of the TV show’s character’s were copied from locals. I have no idea if it’s true.

We’be been here before and Talkeetna is certainly different. Most Alaskan small towns are different, but this one is extra different. It’s old and quaint and was in the past full of characters on the streets. It has been discovered and is being gentrified. The characters are vastly outnumbered by tourists now. Nonetheless, we were hoping to have dinner at Cafe Michelle, an excellent restaurant we ate at in 2002. We stopped at the Talkeetna Camper Park, a pretty crowded campground between the Alaska Railroad and the Spur Road. We are located close to the highway and it’s noisy, but the wifi is usually good and it has the hookups we need.

Then we discovered Michelle had recently sold the Cafe and it has been downgraded. We went to the Wildflower. When I wanted a pasta dish without the chicken, she refused to consider that and we ended up spending less and getting a pizza. The pizza was pretty good, the waitress not. She looked very stressed as she learned her summer trade.

Today I found a local garage that would change the oil. I didn’t tell them it is so difficult on a Tundra that it takes me 3 hours. Two guys took 2:40 to do it as I guided them through it. First time I did it ,it took me 5 hours (I also grease it too). They charged me for a normal oil change—that was very nice—but synthetic oil here is very, very expensive. We got that out of the way and we can ignore Anchorage.

We made reseservations in Homer at what looks like the best of a sorry bunch. I spent many hours getting info about the next 10 days—how to get to the Kennecott mine, food options while there, campgrounds in Valdez, lodging in Cordova and rental cars there ($75/day), ferry schedules, calling many places, checking websites, reviews of places, reading up. This takes many hours, but then things go smoothly and we can relax (our kind of relaxing would be frenetic for some) for the next 10 days.

Reflections on the mountain: We tried to fly around it in 2002, but only got to 7,000’ and never saw it. We didn’t see from anywhere else then. We didn’t see it several days ago. It is said 2/3 to 80% of tourists never see it. It becomes an obsession. When you see it, it’s anticlimatic. Being so far away, it doesn’t look any bigger as many other mountains we’ve seen—we live surrounded by mountains after all. But, if you come here, you have to see it. It’s mandatory.

Gene

Photos:

#1 Mt. McKinley, but everyone calls it "the mountain". Like many photos, clicking on it will make things more visible.
#2 Later view as the clouds were thickening.
#3 Caribou.
#4 One very blond grizzly stands up, the other keeps eating, and the one on the left is actually a white rock.
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Old 06-23-2010, 10:09 PM   #112
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More:

#5 Arctic fox with summer coat.
#6 Dall sheep resting
#7 Alaska range east of the mountain
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